Anne Frank & Family Photo Exhibition launch at The Forum, Norwich, with a talk by Anne Frank’s step-sister and Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, 20 January, 2014.
A beautiful and moving exhibition of photos by Otto Frank, largely of his daughters in Amsterdam was opened with a launch at the Forum which included a powerful, moving, and incredibly humbling talk of 45 minutes or so by Eva Schloss, photographer, writer, step-sister of Anne Frank, and Holocaust survivor. Her family were friends with the Frank family but all ended up separated at various death camps after some years in hiding. Eva and her mother at Auschwitz, whilst her brother and father were sent to Mauthausen and tragically lost their lives a matter of days before the liberation of the camp. After the war they returned to Amsterdam where they met again with fellow survivor Otto Frank who was desperate for news of his own family – sadly we know that they were all victims of the camp and died though few details of this are known. Eventually in the 1950s Otto was to marry Eva’s mother Elfriede and they slowly rebuilt their lives, both agreeing that they could only marry someone who has shared such a horrific experience and lost family.
Otto was never to use his Leica camera again, which he passed on to Eva who became a successful photographer herself. Speaking of Anne’s diary she explains how children struggle to comprehend the scale, the numbers, and the brutality of mass extermination, but that Anne’s diary, of an ordinary girl in extraordinary times, where she shared the same dreams and hope and everyday concerns as children the world over, is something in which they can relate to.
The photos make great use of light and shadows, Otto’s own shadow appearing many times, almost as a signature. They show such scenes of family and of his girls Anne and Margot growing up, with not a hint of the horrors to come. Despite the creeping threat, rumours, and occupation he and his wife Edith did everything they could to try under these impossible circumstances to let the girls have as carefree a childhood as possible. As Eva mentioned, during these times the changes were not so much sudden as creeping and incremental. No longer being allowed to use public buses, curfews, and all that followed.
The talk by Eva was massively humbling, delivered in her candid, matter-of-fact style, not hiding the fact that she spent decades so angry and how although she eventually managed to reconcile her own past she was never able to get over the loss of her family. It was not until 1986 when she attended an Anne Frank exhibition and started to write about her own experiences that she felt she started to calm down and heal. She talked movingly about her brother, and the promise to make his name live on, this sensitive boy who was so artistic was haunted by death as shown by the incredible poem of his as a 16 year old that she closed the talk with. She has a book for younger readers, dedicated to her brother. The promise was from her father to her brother, promising this worried and thoughtful 12 year old boy that one way or another his memory will live on.
She has written several books: Eva’s Story, The Promise, and After Auschwitz.
The exhibition runs until 6 February at The Forum, Norwich, with films also in the Fusion Gallery.
One of the speakers before Eva made the powerfully valid point quoting the warning that it is not necessarily the “monsters” that are the biggest threat, it is the ordinary people who unquestioningly believe and follow, and persecute others.
words and photos, richard shashamane 2014