12th June 2021 would have been Anne Frank’s 92nd birthday had she survived the Holocaust. To mark this occasion and the end of the exhibition’s time in Napier, St Paul’s Presbyterian Church held a closing ceremony for ‘Let Me Be Myself’ on this significant date. Reverend Sally Carter also took the opportunity to thank the volunteer visitor hosts who acted as kaitiaki (guardians) for the exhibition during its time in this venue. Leo Te Kira, Anglican minister of the Gisborne/Hawkes Bay region, blessed the exhibition for its onward journey to Nelson, the next venue on our touring schedule.
During its three months stay in Napier, the exhibition was seen by over 1,000 visitors with several local schools participating in the peer guide programme or visiting independently. Some of these students recorded their experiences in our visitor book, noting that this ‘amazing experience allows you to understand more about Anne’s life.’ Adult visitors also reflected on the exhibition’s impact as ‘a stark reminder of hate and inhumanity. Yet the bursts of love and friendship shine through. May this horror never happen again.’
Year 7 and 8 students from Tamatea Intermediate School, who visited the exhibition during its last week in Napier, reflected on the learning opportunities it offered them. One student said that it was ‘very eye opening into how life was back then’ and that seeing the exhibition was an ‘incredible learning opportunity’. Another student commented that ‘this interesting exhibition makes me want to learn more about Anne Frank and how she survived two years in the annex. She was a brave young woman.’
Visitors to ‘Let Me Be Myself’ particularly appreciated the connection made between historical and contemporary discrimination in the exhibition. One visitor noted that the causes and consequences of prejudice ‘must never be forgotten’ and that it is vital ‘to tell of how this discrimination affects people today … It is our duty, each and every one, to speak out against any prejudice. Do not be silent in speaking against it.’
In addition, the focus on upstanders in the exhibition, specifically those who helped the Franks hide for two years, had a positive impact on visitors. One adult commented that we should ‘look and learn what people are capable of – the worst and the best. Peace is an active process that we all need to be part of … to prevent the awful consequences scapegoating and prejudice can have in society.’
With such wonderful personal responses to the exhibition, we are hopeful that residents of Nelson, and visitors to the city’s Provincial Museum, will gain similar insights from having the exhibition in this South Island city for the next few months.