Dave Woodhall has an illuminating visit to a thought-provoking event.
We live in a society where death and destruction have become packaged for mass consumption, an entertainment almost, to watch on TV, read about, not really think too deeply because it’s just another story, another statistic.
Then you see something like the Anne Frank + You exhibition currently running at Millennium Point. There are no flashy graphics, no rolling images, just the poignant story of one young girl, with her life ahead of her until she was caught up in the most barbaric event in history.
The story of Anne and her family is world-famous, but what isn’t so well-known is that she was born in Germany, part of a family that had been German for generations – her father had won the Iron Cross during World War One – until Hitler’s rise to power caused them to flee to Amsterdam.
We may have become desensitised to such stories, but it’s impossible not to be moved by the mundanity of the Frank family’s existence – the diary exhibits, the life-size mock up of Anne’s bedroom during her captivity. These are haunting images which we forget at our peril, and we are also reminded that such obscenity can happen today, only too easily.
On the night I visited there was a talk by Mindu Hornick, at 85 the last Holocaust survivor living in Birmingham. She spoke of her life in pre-war Czechoslovakia, of being taken to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, of how she and her sister survived because of “sheer luck”. Most grippingly, she described how Jozef Mengele, the Auschwitz Angel of Death, would calmly select the next victims to be killed in his twisted experiments from amongst the prisoners; “White gloves. I remember he always wore white gloves”. She goes on to describe how she was unable to talk about her experiences until 2001, but now visits schools, telling young people of the horrors she endured. Mindu has also worked with the Anne Frank Trust training young volunteers to take school groups around the exhibition
Also present was Mohammed Nawaz, whose two sons were victims of the Taliban’s attack on Peshawar school massacre last December. One son died, another was seriously injured and is now being treated in Birmingham. Mohammed himself has been threatened by the Taliban for speaking out but as he stresses, “Education is stronger than bombs.”
A European Jew and an Asian Muslim. Almost half a century’s difference in their ages, half a world’s difference in their homelands. In the normal course of events they would never have met, nor known of the existence of each other, yet because of an almost unimaginable suffering they find themselves in Birmingham, united in a common cause.
Prejudice, bigotry, extremism, whatever the term it comes in many guises. It has many starting points but Mindu Hornick and Mohammed Nowaz, two people who speak with great dignity and enormous bearing, both know where it ends.
Ann Frank + You, Millennium Point, daily until 15th July. www.annefrank.org.uk