Anne Frank exhibit at the Pella Opera House

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I learned this past week that an Anne Frank exhibit was on display at the Pella Opera house, so I took a quick drive down there on Friday.

I’ve visited Pella many times, but I don’t remember ever being inside the Opera House, which was built in 1900. Back in the day, nearly every town in Iowa had an “opera house” – really, they were theatres and very rarely housed opera performances – but of the 1,500 or so built in Iowa, only about 300 remain.

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I’m sure you know the story of Anne Frank, the young Jewish German girl who moved with her family to Amsterdam during World War II to escape the tyranny of the Nazis. Anne’s story is famous because of the detailed diary she kept while her family – sister Margot and parents Otto and Edith – hid in a secret annex above her father’s former warehouse.

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The exhibit tells the story through a series of panels consisting of photos, quotes, and historical information, with the larger WWII story being told on the top of each panel and the story of the Frank family below, in a corresponding timeline. It’s an interesting and enlightening way to view the parallel stories. Although the display itself isn’t anything fancy, the photos and quotes were well curated – many of them were quite rare. A 30-minute video was also available for viewing.

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Before the family left Germany, Otto Frank said, “When many of my fellow countrymen changed into hordes of nationalistic, cruel, anti-Semitic criminals, I had to face the consequences, and though this hurt me deeply, I realized that Germany was not the world and I left my country forever.”

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Anne and her sister, Margot, went to school in Amsterdam, made friends, and lived a happy life, even for a time after the Germans invaded the country. And then, of course, Hitler made it impossible for Jewish families to stay in their homes and also impossible to safely leave the country. Rather than face certain death in the concentration camps, the family hid.

The display includes actual photos of the annex and this drawing of the interior:

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A revolving bookcase concealed the entrance to the annex. During the day, when staff members were at work at the office below, the Franks and the others who were in hiding in the annex, had to be completely quiet. Anne spent her time studying, playing quiet games, and writing in the diary that she was given on her 13th birthday. Anne hoped to grow up and become a writer and journalist.

In her diary, Anne wrote letters to an imaginary friend, Kitty. “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support,” Anne wrote on the first page of her diary in June 1942.

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The family was found by the Nazis, and both Margot and Anne died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February 1945. Their mother died in Auschwitz. Only Otto Frank survived.

Anne’s diary has been translated into more than 60 languages.

The Anne Frank exhibit ran at the Pella Opera House Feb. 3 through March 3. Although the exhibit is gone, the building is still worth a visit. You can take a self-guided tour of the four-story structure, which reopened in 1990 after being closed for many years. The building was bought and sold many times (22 times between 1900 and 1918 alone!) and housed a variety of businesses, from a skating rink to a hardware store to a bowling alley. Today the great hall serves as a reception center and meeting hall, and it’s available for rental.

 

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