The Holocaust remembered
The Anne Frank Center at USC celebrates its first anniversary, acquires an important collection and praises Ken Burns's new documentary The U.S. and the Holocaust
In the 1930s and ‘40s, the mad ravings of Adolf Hitler led to the carnage of World War II and the tragedy of the Holocaust, which saw the Nazis murder approximately six million Jews and many other innocents. The story of that world-jarring event is preserved at the Anne Frank House, now a museum in Amsterdam, where the Frank family hid for two years before being discovered, arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, who was separated from him wife and children after their arrival, survived the camp and the war.
To carry on its work of combating racism and hatred, the Anne Frank House has established branches around the world. The only one in North America is the Anne Frank Center at the University of South Carolina. Director Doyle Stevik recalled how USC was chosen.
“In 2012 I was able to be a visiting scholar at the Anne Frank House, and I was so impressed with their programs around the world, I wanted to write about it for my scholarship. But the truth was, the staff was so dynamic and compelling, I wanted to get involved in the work itself,” he said.
“So we brought the traveling exhibit to South Carolina and one thing just led to another. And the Anne Frank House director visited. He saw how meaningful this work was, and how deeply it was embraced by the community and by South Carolina. And he knew when he was looking for a long term partner to carry out Anne Frank House work in America, that this was the place.”
When USC President Harris Pastides offered a building to house the Center, the deal was sealed, and the Anne Frank Center opened in August, 2021.
The Center works through education to fight antisemitism and all forms of hate. Unfortunately, Stevik said, these sentiments are increasing throughout the world.
“The attacks on Jewish communities are rising rapidly, and it’s a horrifying development. The expressions of (Holocaust) denial, those are often the hard core idealogues. But we hope that we can help people understand early in life, how absurd all of those ideologies are, and hope to prevent people from falling for the nonsense and the hate that’s just a click away.
“So if we can just help people ask a simple question: ‘Is it true? What’s the evidence?’ - we call it building a culture of evidence - that might help people not fall for the garbage that’s out there.”
The Center recently received a valuable donation of letters written over two decades between Otto Frank and Cara Wilson-Granat, who began writing Frank as a teenager in California after she read Anne Frank’s famous diary. He became a trusted mentor and adviser, she said, giving an example of his wisdom after a particularly stressful series of events as a young adult.
“In the ‘60s we had the assassination of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, our president, and then Bobby Kennedy, and then the Vietnam War and race riots and on and on. And when Bobby Kennedy was killed, I wrote to Otto Frank and said “I don’t know why you have so much hope for the world, because I have none. I will never bring a child into a world this cruel.” And he wrote back to me, a long and really beautiful letter. And he said, ‘no matter what, you must never give up hope.’ Now this is a man who lost his entire family, his beloved daughters, everything. And he’s telling me not to give up hope. I couldn’t give up if he didn’t give up.”
Wilson-Granat said the letters will be used for education about understanding and tolerance, qualities exemplified by Otto Frank.
Recently, PBS aired the newest Ken Burns documentary, “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” Stevik himself was involved in reviewing the film. “The new Ken Burns documentary actually begins with Anne Frank,” said Stevik. “And for that reason, the Burns team got in touch with the Anne Frank House, and I got to be part of that call. When Ken Burns’s team produces a film, it goes through a dozen drafts before it sees the air, and they bring in experts, and I was privileged to be part of that panel of about 20 people who reviewed the fifth draft. I saw the whole six hours and that version, it was extraordinary.”
Stevik said the Anne Frank Center presents tours and outreach programs, aiming to face the complex past and its consequences. Wilson-Granat, through her work as a writer and public speaker, seeks to help end the hate and increase hope.
“The only thing we can do, other than help each other in any way we can,” she believes, “is to stay the course in a positive energy that I believe will reach out to each other. And we will change the world.
“Slowly, ripple by ripple, seed by seed, but I have to believe that change will happen in a positive way.”