Monday, 19 July 2010

Anne Frank exhibition comes to Morocco

In a first for the Arab world, Fez is to host an exhibition on the life of Anne Frank, the teenage Holocaust victim who would have been 81 this year, had she lived.

Anne Frank: A History of Today opens at the Fez Centre for Human Rights this week.

Marietje Peters of Radio Netherlands takes up the story:

Despite her famous diary, many Moroccans have never heard of Anne Frank. Now an exhibition about the teenage Holocaust victim is being premiered in the Arab world for the very first time, set against the backdrop of anger and frustration at ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

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Anne Frank: A History of Today will open in Fez this week, after two days of training for young Moroccans who will act as guides during the event. A handful have heard of the Holocaust, but for most the story of the secret annex in an Amsterdam canal house - where the Frank family were in hiding - is new. Anne Frank's diary, in which she reflects on daily life during the Nazi occupation until her family was deported to a death camp, was only recently published in Arabic.

Hafsa Aloui Lamrani (19) says she had been told millions of Jews were killed by the Nazis, but before the training, questioned whether it was true or not.

'Here in Morocco we're always shocked by what we see on television, the Palestinians, Iraq, Afghanistan', she said. 'We're always shocked, so this isn't something new. But we still experience this story of Anne Frank.... That there's nobody to help you, that you're all alone in the world and that you're always attacked. One’s race is like a terrible thing.'

The exhibition features 36 panels on the young A
nne Frank and her family, as well as photos showing Jews being deported. There is also a focus on other crimes against humanity including the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia. During the training, participants are shown video clips of anti-Jewish protests in Berlin, followed by a violent anti-Islam film, and are challenged on whether freedom of speech should apply to both examples.

It's a different way for these young people in Morocco to learn about a delicate topic that clearly provokes emotional reactions. As well as expressing scepticism about the aims of the organisers and concern about pro-Jewish propaganda, they ask why Anne Frank has been singled out from all the other victims of discrimination.

History lessons in Morocco focus little on World War II, and in the past have tended to skim over the subject of the Holocaust, according to teacher Hassan Moussaoui:

'The reason for this is primarily political, and secondly, religious', he explains. 'The Arab-Israeli conflict is a conflict Arabs feel is unfair. They're mistreated, they're marginalized. It's normal that there are negative repercussions. Of course we don't teach this history because the ministry of education is responsible for the curriculum .... It's not that they don't want to include it, but they're hiding from repercussions on the street, from parents.'

Amsterdam's Anne Frank Museum has already taken the exhibition to more than 60 countries, and works with local partners to adapt it where necessary - in this case, the Fez-based Moroccan Centre for Human Rights. Director Jamal Chadhi admits it was a difficult decision to become involved. There were calls for the project to be scrapped after the recent Israeli attacks on aid ships bound for Gaza in which people were killed.

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Mr Ch
adhi expects criticism in the national press if, and when, it attracts more publicity. But he says the time is ripe for a dialogue on these kinds of issues in Morocco thanks to a change in the political climate in recent years:

'There's also work that needs to be done alongside this exhibition, education, work on improving knowledge of rights', says Mr Chadhi, 'to root out stereotypical images that exist in traditional culture. Because at the same time, we also have extremists who use sophisticated techniques and have more money... They are there to spread an anti-human rights culture, a discriminatory culture.'

Despite invitations from other Arab countries, this is the Anne Frank Museum's first experience of working in such a sensitive environment. 'If, out of a group of 16, three youngsters are more open to learning about the Holocaust and the complexity, then you've achieved something. And you hope that they will be kind of ambassadors,' says organiser Karen Polak.


The trainees say they've learned a lot from Anne Frank's story. Most importantly, says Hafsa, it is just one of many tales that needs to be told:

'There are also other children who haven't written anything', she says. 'There are always Anne Franks... in the past, in the present - I hope there won't be any in the future.'

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