Keeping Anne Frank’s story alive in Iowa

Through the Let Me Be Myself: The Life Story of Anne Frank exhibit, a tree planting ceremony, and virtual webinars, Anne Frank’s story is taught, discussed, and kept alive at the University of Iowa.

The+University+of+Iowa+welcomes+an+exhibit+on+Anne+Frank+in+the+Old+Capitol+on+Friday%2C+Feb+4%2C+2022.

Jack McGuire

The University of Iowa welcomes an exhibit on Anne Frank in the Old Capitol on Friday, Feb 4, 2022.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter


The cascading reverse-spiral staircase connects the two elements of the Let Me Be Myself: The Life Story of Anne Frank exhibit — past and present.

The life of Anne Frank is chronicled from birth to death with photos and historical information presented in the exhibit, along with various artifacts that relate to her story. The contemporary portion of the exhibit describes the lives of four other young people who face adversity today and are on display in the first-floor rotunda.

Written nearly 80 years ago, the impact of Anne Frank’s diary has persisted. The diary, one of the most well-recognized pieces of literature of all time, has now taken form as a traveling exhibit that has made a stop at the center of the University of Iowa campus as part of the Provost’s Global Forum, an annual event on the UI campus that is focused on global issues.

As this year’s forum, the theme is “Teaching Anne Frank” — organizers have ensured that the exhibit maintains a distinct focus on education. The museum exhibit is one of many events that contribute to keeping Frank’s story alive in Iowa.

Russell Ganim, associate provost and dean of International Programs, said Frank’s story was chosen to be amplified this year because, along with the universal knowledge that surrounds her story, the general themes addressed in the exhibit are applicable to everyone.

“This is a universal story about persistence and personal triumph,” Ganim said. “Similarly, it’s about discrimination, prejudice, bias, persecution — I think that those are themes that Iowans and really everyone can understand and learn from.”

Despite Frank’s life being marked by tragedy, readers still draw messages of hope from her diary. Carolina Kaufman, director of education and engagement at the museum, said Frank’s story still connects directly with the present, and has the potential to resonate deeply with attendees on a personal level.

“1.5 million children died,” Kaufman said, referring to the children — most of them Jewish — who were killed during World War II. “These things, you know, are hard. They’re hard topics, but we have to talk about them, and we have to do it in a way that invites people to share their own experiences.”

The exhibit will remain open until March 2. Guests can visit on the weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a self-guided tour.  Tours led by peer facilitators can also be scheduled for middle school, high school, and university groups.

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Kael Sagheer, education coordinator for the Institute for Holocaust Education, facilitated the training with the peer facilitators at the UI. Emphasizing the importance of personal connection, Sagheer explained that the tour guides are not given scripts, and instead rely on their own knowledge and experiences to share Frank’s story with others.

“We want them to connect with themselves,” Sagheer said. “We want them to connect with each other, and then ultimately, we want them to connect to Anne Frank and the exhibit.”

The exhibit is also accompanied by two virtual webinars moderated by Kaufman. The first webinar will take place on Feb. 9, with a focus on historic events that tie Frank’s story to Iowa. The lens is widened in the second webinar on March 9, looking at the impact that Frank had on the literary world.

Both the webinars and the exhibit work in tandem to allow for discussion and communication. Kaufman said finding ways to remember both the historical content and modern applications is one of the most important aspects.

“The Old Capitol Museum serves as a center for discourse, and we want to continue inviting that discourse to happen,” Kaufman said. “Anne Frank is one avenue for that. We’ve been fortunate that we were chosen as a site to host that exhibit.”

Frank’s story has several direct relationships to the state of Iowa. As a UNESCO City of Literature, Iowa City is a hub for writers. UI German instructor Kirsten Kumpf-Baele saw the connection between Frank’s writing and Iowa City and developed a plan.

Through her own research and her passion for communicating Frank’s story to others, Kumpf-Baele founded the Anne Frank Tree: Taking Root in Iowa.

RELATED: UI instructor leads initiative to bring sapling from Anne Frank tree to campus

On April 29, the UI will plant a sapling at the Pentacrest propagated from a chestnut tree that Frank wrote about in her diary. Kumpf-Baele was involved in the whole process, from initially sending out emails during the foundational steps to planning the planting ceremony.

“Her tree represents so much: a reminder of her and many others’ horrible stories of persecution but also a symbol of beauty, of humanity, of an undying spirit,” Kumpf-Baele wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “May generations feel inspired for years to come.”

Frank wrote in her diary that she wanted to go on living even after her death — and she did, Kaufman said.

“Anne Frank was a writer. That’s what she wanted to be,” Kaufman said. “Through her powerful words, we were able to understand what it was like for her growing up as a teenager, being in the family, being a Jew, all these multi-layered aspects of her identity came out through her diary.”

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