The other Frank girl

19th January 2007 at 00:00
Shadow Life: A Portrait of Anne Frank and Her Family. By Barry Denenberg. Hodder Pounds. 6.99

The Life of Anne Frank. Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol. The Anne Frank HouseMacmillan Children's Books. pound;7.99

One Small Suitcase. By Barry Turner. Puffin. pound;5.99

Hana's Suitcase. By Karen Levine. Evans. pound;4.99

The Underground Reporters. By Kathy Kacer. Evans. pound;5.99

Holocaust Memorial Day site

As Holocaust Memorial Day approaches, Tom Deveson selects classroom resources, including a first glimpse into Anne Frank's family album and the recreated diary of the sister who died alongside her

There is the well-known face on the cover, and the famous prelude - a Jewish family in Frankfurt moves to Amsterdam when the Nazis come to power - fills the opening pages. Then a diary begins to mark the terrible passage of days in 1942.

But author Barry Denenberg has a surprise. This is not Anne Frank speaking, but her older sister Margot. We know she kept a diary too and, in Shadow Life: A Portrait of Anne Frank and Her Family, Denenberg has brought together careful research and a sensitive imagination to suggest how it might have read.

In this account, Margot sees Anne as less pious than herself, spoilt by their father and, by summer 1944, "obsessed with sex". After the family's arrest, a mosaic of real voices creates a horrifying picture of life in the extermination camps. We read how Anne and her sister were stripped and shaved, we learn of their deadly illness, we watch the smoke rising from the chimneys of the crematoria.

The book deliberately avoids the upbeat ending of the 1959 film, The Diary of Anne Frank, which quoted Anne's passing observation that "people are really good at heart". Thoughtful children who read this version will realise that history and biography aren't fixed forever, but subject to interpretation.

Also released this month is a new-look version of Anne's life from two Dutch authors, Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol. It is chunky and full of pictures, many of which are pages from the diary itself, with its girlish handwriting, pasted-in photographs, quirky drawings and captions, and a satisfyingly secretive lock.

It seems quite fitting that Jacqueline Wilson provides the introduction to the British edition, as Anne seems rather like one of her heroines translated into the middle of a murderous nightmare. Many new images from the Frank family album illustrate Anne's gradual progress from day-old baby to self-communing teenager, while other pictures take us behind the doors of the secret annexe in Amsterdam.

There is a short background section on the family, an account of the politics, diplomacy, gangsterism and betrayal that provided the context for the Franks' tragedy, and a useful glossary covering words such as collaboration, deportation and resistance.

But the main effect of reading the whole book is, of course, to be drawn into the slow, sickening, accumulating process that turns inconsequential childhood into industrialised murder. It should also make readers think about how evil is allowed to happen. As the map shows, the concentration camps of Belsen, Auschwitz and Mauthausen are not far from Berlin, Paris and London.

The emphasis on the worldwide danger of deadly intolerance, and the need to combat it, is the essential message of Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27. The related website provides an excellent archive of materials for use in schools, including those related to this year's theme - the Dignity of Difference. There are also some chilling case studies: Amalie Schaich, a Roma girl, lost her brothers, sisters and parents to the Nazis; Kemal Pervanic, a Bosnian Muslim, was guarded in a camp by someone he used to sit next to in school; Rwandan witnesses explain how nose-length and hairstyle were used to give a "scientific" index of ethnicity that weighed the balance between life and death.

A briefing paper suggests how teachers might emphasise three themes: history - how the Nazis organised an entire state around the concept of enmity; reflection - why we need to remember this history and how we might define a "universe of moral obligation"; and action - the need to deal with genocidal tendencies.

A fine statement from chief rabbi Jonathan Sachs invokes the memory of the Holocaust victims as creating an "immune system against hate". As he points out, not only Jews were victims of the Holocaust. He also appears in a 10-minute film that contains enough matter to fuel hours of discussion in history, RE or citizenship lessons.

It begins with questions: Do you respect others? Would you stand back? Are you proud of who you are? Actors portray true stories of victims of ethnic and religious intolerance. Perhaps the most telling is from an old woman speaking about Zara. We think she must be describing someone from Europe in the 1940s, then realise that the setting is Darfur now.

Two books from 2004 are well worth revisiting this month. One Small Suitcase tells how 10,000 Jewish children were saved by being brought to England under the Kindertransport scheme. And Hana's Suitcase traces the story of a Czech girl whose drawings miraculously survived her terrible death. Also out this year, from the same publisher, is The Underground Reporters, about a group of Czech children who create their own newspaper when the Nazis occupy their town. Both books are about rescuing something - life, memory, dignity - from a flood of destruction.

Finally, there is an exhibition in honour of Janusz Korczak, the Polish Jewish doctor who chose to die with 200 orphans in his care in the Warsaw ghetto rather than abandon them. It's a powerful reminder that "children's rights" don't fall from the sky, but have to be gained by courage, conviction and love

Champion of the Child: Janusz Korczak is at the Jewish Museum, London, until April 8, 2007

Holocaust Memorial Day is on January 27

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