Chugoku Newspaper Junior Writers’ Interview with Stefan Vervaecke
ANNE FRANK HOUSE AMSTERDAM
(Showing a bill of Euro,) What is this?
Yes, it is money. It is Euro, currency of, the money in EU. Maybe you can see on this side a small map of EUROPE.
We had different kinds of money in each country in Europe before. We had war many times in Europe. Now we have EU and people don’t need their passports to go to other countries in EU. Going to the Netherlands to Germany is like going to Hiroshima Prefecture to Yamaguchi Prefecture. We made this system and this organization also for peace and better understanding. All of these countries had war for many centuries. Now we have peace only since 1945.
Let me introduce you Anne Frank. Anne’s sister Margo received a letter of order to go to work for a factory for war. Then Anne’s parents told Anne to pack important things in her bag. They said that it will be very cold in winter so you would need a lot of clothes and socks. What would you bring if you were Anne?
A junior writer: “I would bring things about good memory, for example, photo albums, presents I received and so on.”
Another writer : “I would bring my pencils because I love drawing”
With a small bag, Anne went to a hidden house with her family. They went to the hidden house and spent 760 nights. It means 2 years and one month and a day. Today is 0. From tomorrow, you count 1 to 760 days. Please imagine how long it is.
How old are you now?
“11 years old.”
You’ll be 13 years old in 760 days.
“15 years old.”
You’ll be 17 years old.
When Anne and her family arrived, her parents drew a line of her height on the wall.Anne became 13 centimeter taller in 760 days. In two years, you might go to a different school, you might have your younger sisters or brothers, or someone in your family might die. You might think what you want to be in the future. Anne watched many movies and had a dream of becoming a movie star. But in the hidden house, it was impossible to become a movie star. She liked writing, so she thought about becoming a writer and a journalist.
She lived with her family and 4 more people in the hidden house. She also wrote about other people in the house. Her diary was her secret and private writing. She and her diary. She didn’t think of showing it to other people.
What she missed most was “freedom.” I want to go out but I have to stay here all day every day. They had to be very quiet during the day. They couldn’t wear shoes. (,walking slowly and quietly without his shoes.) (Dropping a pencil case on the floor, ) when Anne dropped something like this, everyone scolded her. All the windows were closed. They had to hide there secretly.
They had a radio and they could listen to it in a small volume at night. They could read newspaper and learned what was happening about war. It was hard to know the details, but Anne knew the outline. I hope there will be peace. Why do these people fight? I cannot understand. They heard that Jewish people were sent to gas chambers. Anne was shocked. But she kept on writing day and night.
What do you like to draw?
“I like drawing not people but landscape. I also like writing poems.”
She often saw a tree outside of the house. I am happy to see this tree. I can see the four seasons in the changes of the tree. I can also see birds.
What kind of poems do you write?
“I write reflections of my thoughts.”
Anne wrote; If I don’t write, I would be suffocated.
In Europe, some writers start drinking when they cannot write what they want to write.
Now I would like to ask you to ask me questions.
“Why did you get interested in Anne Frank?”
I am almost 66 years old now. When I was 7 or 8 years old, I watched a movie about Anne Frank. It was very impressive. After watching the movie, I asked my teacher or my parents, “I want to read Anne’s diary.” I got interested in the movie very much.
I am from Belgium. When I was 7 or 8 years old, I could see some traces of war. In Belgium, we had not only one WWII but two World Wars. We had World War I from 1914 to 1918. My grandparents told me what the first World War was like. When I went to a train station with my parents, I saw the damaged train station. The train station in my city was bombed. Many things were destroyed. I asked my parents and grandparents questions: ”What is this?” “What is that?”
I read Anne’s diary and I visited the hidden house many times. It was interesting to see the real house she lived in. We can see everything there. You feel the history. You feel the atmosphere of their lives. They spent 760 days there.
In the last year of the war, there was hunger not only in the hidden house but in the city of Amsterdam and the whole country. We called this period “The Hunger Winter.”
Anne wrote, I know what the menu is today. Always the same.
1 million 200 visitors visited this museum this year. Sometimes they have to stay outside for a long time to enter. But they want to see the house with their eyes.
Only the father survived. When he came back to Amsterdam, Ms. Miep Gies handed him Anne’s diary. Ms. Miep found it after Nazi took all the family to a concentration camp. She handed it to him. After reading it, he thought “I knew she was writing a diary, but I didn’t know she could write so well.”
“What does Anne Frank Foundation do?”
To help people know and learn Anne’s life. We show the house to the public and stimulate people especially youngsters to read the diary. We work for anti-racism, against anti-Semitism, for peace, and for mutual understanding and human rights.
After Anne’s diary was published, many people in Japan wrote to Anne’s father and asked what they can do to make more peace in Japan. Universities, schools,churches, and many individuals in Japan asked for information about Anne Frank. Otto Frank also met a choir from Japan. He in person promised to help and support people of Japan who work for peace.
Also from China, Taiwan and other countries many letters came to Anne Frank House. I coordinate and answer all these questions and requests from Asia. People in Anne Frank House sometimes call me Mr. Asia.
Anne’s diary was published in many countries in their languages.
“You explained that Anne’s diary was published by her father and became very famous. What do you think is the reason why her book became so famous?”
I think one of the reasons was that she was very young. She was just 13 years old. She understood what kind of situation she was in. She was smart. And for more than two years, she wrote her very personal story in a unique style. So many people not only young people like you but older people read her book and they felt the same. They sympathized with her. After reading it, many people wanted to know more.
“When did you learn about Anne Frank for the very first time? Would you tell me what you thought about it?”
As I told you, I watched a movie about her when I was 7 or 8, and read her book.
“What kind of vision of the world did Anne Frank have?”
Anne liked freedom very much. She went swimming, she liked dancing, she liked riding bicycles, and she had fun in the freedom before. In the hidden house, she found her freedom only in writing. She could not go out with her friends, but only dance with her sister sometimes. She couldn’t go out. She had to stay inside of the house. She wanted freedom, freedom for everybody. She dreamed for the world in which everyone can understand each other, and the world without war.
Not only in the period of Nazism, but also in many periods, there has been anti-Semitism, discrimination against Jewish people. You have to be very conscious about this. It’s sometimes open discrimination and sometimes indirect, hidden discrimination. Many people have a lot of prejudice about Jewish people. Discrimination appears in new forms. Every time the sense, ”We are superior to other people. Our color is the best. Our race is the best. Our race is the most intellectual.” can make discrimination. Some people say the history of discrimination against Jewish people was a fantasy, a story. They mislead people. They make people anxious about other people. And the result is discrimination, not harmony, not cooperation. They think of fighting and conflicts.
“Is this your first time to come to Hiroshima? What did you think about Hiroshima?”
In 2010, when I came to Hiroshima for the first time, there were many school trips to Hiroshima. So I have seen many school students and teachers in Peace Memorial Park. The students had workbooks to prepare by reading books and they were very attentive. I was also impressed by their presentations. I saw principals make speeches and also students make their speeches and they were good. And the museum have excellent education program to support the students to prepare for the visit.
“What is your most important message for young people?”
My most important message is “Please read Anne Frank’s diary again not just once but many times.
And please write your own diary. Please write your feeling, and poems are good, too.” Improving your talent is important. Take your time to concentrate on drawing or writing. Do it for yourself for your private thing, a secret. Write about everything, also about your deepest feeling. Don’t worry.
Third message is: Learn about history. Please learn about anti-Semitism and discrimination. It is important to develop your skill for communication to develop peace with your family and your friends. Sometimes in your class or in your school, you might find some discrimination. Some boys or some girls cannot be accepted. Try to help them. Ask the teachers for help. Your school, your house must be a place of peace and understanding.
How do you pronounce your name?
“When is your birthday?”
On June 12 in 2014, if Anne were still alive, she would be 85 years old. We are going to ask schools, newspapers, radio stations and so on to read Anne’s diary or broadcast storytelling of a part of Anne’s diary. It is to remember Anne Frank and to celebrate peace and understanding. We start from Japan and go on to all the other countries. And we’ll end the program in Hawaii.
I am 65 years old now. My birthday is November 23, 1947. But Anne Frank’s birthday is more important.
“Thank you very much.”
Thank you very much. Please read Anne’s diary on Anne’s birthday in your school next year.