Anne Frank. Not an exhibition


Dr. Meron Mendel

The Anne Frank Educational Centre (Frankfurt/Main) opened a learning lab in 2019. How does it work? We talked to Centre Director Dr Meron Mendel

Why did you not choose to plan a new exhibition?

In an exhibition or museum, young people are rarely asked about their own views or encouraged to share their opinions. Instead, the focus is on the exhibits themselves; with visitors being the passive recipients of information or impressions. Our interactive learning lab encourages children and teenagers to take a stance and share their opinions. Visiting the learning lab is unlike a visit to a museum.

The learning lab communicates its content entirely through human interaction. The visitors, young or adult, explore the lab with a digital tool/tablet. It is up to each visitor to choose a theme that appeals to them. They may be more interested in the story of Anne Frank and her diary. Or maybe some want to find out more about hate speech. Others might be interested in learning about discrimination in languages and words or to look at stereotypes as part of images, e.g. in advertisements. And some may want to find out what a “garden gnome” or beer has to do with migration.

What is most important is that each visitor is asked to share his or her opinion. This can be done by responding to the questions in the tool, which may be: what did you know already? Which theme (migration, justice, courage ...) do you consider the most important? When and where did you hear about Anne Frank and her diary for the first time?

In this way, the learning lab constantly asks and encourages young people to take a stance and share their opinions.

Does the learning lab also tell the story of Anne Frank?

It does not tell the Anne Frank story but it does include a story about her. It also tells stories from very different contexts.

For example, we tell the story of Jamie Raines, a young transgender man, living in Essex (England), who started his hormone therapy when he was 16. He is a blogger on YouTube and shares his story and responds to questions around transgender issues.

Another person whose story is presented in the lab is Rania Mustafa Ali. Rania was born in Kobanî in Syria and escaped to Austria in 2015. Her story is a refugee’s story– like many others. The fact that she filmed her escape makes her story special: crossing the Mediterranean Sea on an overloaded boat, riding in crowded buses, staying in dirty shelters. Particularly her story became famous because The Guardian published her video. Her story has given a face, an identity, to thousands of anonymous people who escaped to Europe.

Charlotte L. B. Forten Grimké’s biography – she was a black teacher, author, and activist – is the oldest biography we present. She fought for the end of slavery and for equal rights for women and black people in the US. She also wrote a diary.

We also focus on Zlata Filipović, who wrote her diary during the siege of Sarajevo and is often called the Anne Frank of Sarajevo. She called her diary Mimmy, remembering Anne Frank who called her diary Kitty.

And then there is Dragiza Pasara Caldaras, a young Roma, who created a video with her friends about the situation of young Roma in Frankfurt.

Another famous story, which is told in the learning lab, is the one of Malala Yousafzai. As a young teenager, she campaigned for girls’ rights in Pakistan and was shot by the Taliban. She has become the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her blog has attracted worldwide attention.

All in all we tell nine different stories. Each one opens a window to another world. They not only convey a shared message; they also ask the same questions: how do young people experience their world? How do they respond to and comment on injustice?

What is your basic educational concept for linking past and present?

In the learning lab, we do not want to fall back on simplistic messages, such as “very few people did anything to help back then, so you need to do something now”. Instead, we say: get involved, share your opinion, but also listen when other people have a story to tell.

So the principle underlying the learning lab is YOUR OPINION COUNTS. We create linkages between young people’s perspectives on the world and their opinions. Young people are always affected by what is going on around them. They have opinions and express them clearly. Anne Frank’s views are some of the most well-known, shared by a young person – her diary has been translated into more than 70 languages and her belief in a more just and fairer world still provides the motivation for many people to continue campaigning for a fairer world today.

Anne Frank’s diary entry for 10 August 1943 reads: “I don'tthink my opinions are stupid but other people do, so it is better to keep them to myself.” This is where the learning lab comes in: Anne Frank’s opinion counts and young people’s views count – in fact, they are essential in opening up a space for dialogue.

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Dr. Meron Mendel is director of the Anne Frank Educational Centre (Frankfurt/Main).

Issue: Youth

Those born afterwards bear no direct responsibility. They may choose to ignore history or identify with perpetrators or victims. What can be done to awaken young people’s interest in history and motivate them to engage in building peaceful relations between communities?