By ALAN SMASON
The National World War II Museum, the Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust and members of the Jewish community came together on Thursday, Sept. 12 to dedicate a life-sized sculpture of Holocaust victim and posthumously famous author Anne Frank.
Placed on Founders Plaza off Andrew Higgins Boulevard, the statue was commissioned by the museum and took approximately one year from its inception to its installation, financed by a generous donation from the Tolmas Trust.
Prior to the unveiling of the statue, ceremonies were held inside BB’s Stage Door Canteen, where a number of museum officials, members of the Jewish community and a representative of the artistic studio behind the work’s creation were invited to speak. National World War II Museum CEO and president Stephen Watson served as emcee during the ceremonies.
Watson called upon the museum’s chairman of the board, C. Paul Hilliard, to give his thoughts first on the legacy of Anne Frank, the young victim of the Holocaust whose family hid away from the Nazi occupation in Amsterdam for more than two years before being discovered and later sent to concentration camps. Only Anne’s father Otto Frank survived the ordeal and it was he who discovered and later published her words as “Diary of a Young Girl.”
“I can’t help reflect on some of the remarks that she made,” Hilliard said, noting that both his family and Frank’s had their origins in Western Europe. His family settled in Midwest America in Wisconsin, while hers remained in Amsterdam when evil ruled Europe, he continued. “She wanted to go on living after her death and I think one of the missions of this museum is to make sure that stories such as Anne Frank and millions of others continue to resonate with free people not only across America, but around the world,” Hilliard noted.
“I think the story of Anne Frank is one that we need to tell and to continue to tell and remind the millennials and those of today that freedom comes at a very high price,” he added. “A lot of people paid the extreme price so that we in America and in the free countries around the world might have it all.”
Speaking on behalf of the Tolmas Trust, Vincent Giardina said that the organization was pleased to take part in the opportunity to remember Anne Frank through their sponsorship and her humanity as expressed in her writing. “The statue complements our Anne Frank exhibits within the gallery named ‘And Then They Came for Me’ in the soon-to-be-built Liberation Pavilion,” Giardina acknowledged. The museum will be breaking ground on that pavilion next month, he added.
“We believe that these sponsorships will honor Mr. Tolmas’ Jewish heritage and his wartime service for our country,” Giardina stated.
He closed his remarks by quoting from a speech given by President Bill Clinton four years ago. “‘In this deeply troubling time, when so many people around the world are divided by religious, racial and ethnic differences, the lessons of Anne Frank’s life are more important than ever. We would all do well to remember the wisdom of a young girl who taught us that we are all diminished when any person suffers unfairly because of who he or she is and that our differences make life more interesting, but our common humanity matters much more.”
Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans CEO and president Arnie Fielkow acknowledged the important mission being fulfilled by the Tolmas Trust not only in the Jewish community, but in their outreach across the entire area. “Personally and on behalf of the entire Greater New Orleans Jewish community, I want to thank the Oscar J. Tolmas Trust and the National World War II Museum for this marvelous addition to our campus and to the community of New Orleans,” Fielkow said.
“As Anne Frank would remind us: ‘I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that remains.’ And today is a beautiful day,” he concluded.
StudioEIS sculptor and artist Ivan Schwartz, profiled in the CCJN, employed the French term of éplucher meaning “to peel back” as a way of describing how the unveiling is meant to be observed and experienced. “Today we peel back the veil covering the new sculpture of Anne Frank, which gives us a new opportunity to see Anne much as she was as a young girl,” Schwartz began.
“To see the sculpture today has the dual importance of reminding us of the extent to which evil and inn0cence dwell in the same place,” Schwartz continued. “And so the development of the sculpture of Anne had to succeed in representing her innocence, which therefored also reminds us of the barbarism surrounding her life…lest we forget.”
Schwartz cautioned audience members to be mindful of what the Anne Frank represents and not be tempted to forget the horrors of the Holocaust. As the son of a World War II soldier who returned after the war, Schwartz said she and her diary were ever present from the time he was a child. “She was a year in the making, an effort that probably involved as many as 20 people, all working in concert – sculptors, historians, mold makers and foundry men and women,” he explained.
Schwartz credited his studio, staff members of the National World War II Museum and the Anne Frank House as having been integral to achieving the final result. He paused to have his studio’s head sculptor, Jiwoong Cheh, rise to be acknowledged.
Rob Citino, the museum’s Samuel Zemurray Stone senior historian and executive director of the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy, cited the fact that young women rarely get statues dedicated to them. “Anne Frank wasn’t a king or a conqueror or a great patron of the arts or a successful football coach. She apparently wasn’t any of the things that go into making a person ‘statue-worthy’ in our culture,” he opened.
She was, after all, just a normal, bright young woman who wrote in her diary, as others had done before her and someone who died far too young, he mused.
“But that, perhaps, is the whole point,” Citino continued. “Adolf Hitler had created a horrible world in which all the normal virtues and values were stood on their head, inverted, where mercy was seen as a form of weakness, where manliness was measured in how many millions of people you were willing to kill, where an ordinary young person could legitimately be labeled an enemy of the state.”
Hitler considered Jews as less than humans and unworthy of life and a threat wherever they lived, he noted.
“But the diary that this young Jewish girl kept proved something else altogether – that human brilliance blossoms early, that young people can often perceive a reality that adults can’t – they can recognize the true nature of things with an almost frightening clarity,” Citino opined. “If any two books of the 20th century deserve to be labeled as true polar opposites, they are Hitler’s fanatical political biography ‘Mein Kampf’ and ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.'”
Frank’s biography is the most widely read book in America on the Holocaust, he stated. “In fact, it may be the only book Americans will ever read on the Holocaust,” Citino said.
Finally, Citnio introduced local Holocaust survivor Anne Skorecki Levy to give her own recollections of her own survival and that of her sister and parents. The family emigrated to New Orleans and has been a volunteer for the museum for many years, Citino acknowledged.
Levy thanked . “The Anne Frank history has always been special to me. My husband and I visited her hiding place in Amsterdam many, many years ago, but that time was too close to our own survival,” Levy recalled. The rush of memories she had her of her own hiding places was too much for her, she said, and she suffered a panic attack.
Some years later, Levy continued, a traveling exhibit on Anne Frank came to New Orleans and she was invited to speak to area schoolchildren. It was the first time she spoke publicly and shared the story of her survival. “As my children got older, I knew I had to leave something as a child survivor. The right thing for me was to teach young people about the war and what prejudice and hate can bring.”
Levy described the museum as her second home. “It is such a special place to me,” she said. “Thank you to the (Oscar J.) Tolmas (Charitable) Trust for your generosity that will forever keep this history forward.”
Following the official ceremonies inside, the dignitaries and museum officials went outside and unveiled the statue, taking time to take photos with donors and volunteers.
A gallery of photos from the event follows: