13 October 2023

Anne Frank’s sculpture
in the British Library
is a reminder that
antisemitism is alive

The sculpture of Anne Frank by Doreen Kern in the British Library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The death toll from the Hamas assault last weekend has risen to over 1,300 people in Israel and 1,500 dead in Gaza. According to the World Jewish Congress, this is the largest number of Jewish people killed – because they are Jewish – in any one single day since the Holocaust.

Teenagers, children and infants are among the dead and the hostages in Israel, all on Simchat Torah, a day that should have been filled with rejoicing and celebrations in all Jewish communities. But the attack also came on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, which I am old enough to remember in detail.

It is only a short while since I visited the British Library in London to see the bronze bust of Anne Frank by the sculptor Doreen Kern. Some weeks before, I had found the Anne Frank tree in the library courtyard, planted 25 years ago on 12 June 1998 and now difficult to find.

The sculpture of Anne Frank was commissioned to commemorate the 70th anniversary of her birth on 12 June 1929. When she died in Bergen Belsen in 1945, Anne Frank was as young as many of the young people taken hostage or murdered last weekend.

Annelies Marie (‘Anne’) Frank (1929-1945) is one of the most renowned and most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Her diary has become one of the world’s most widely read books, and it has been the basis of several plays and films. Her diary documents her experiences hiding during Nazi Germany’s occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.

Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt am Main in Germany and lived most of her life in or near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933, the year the Nazis gained power in Germany. By early 1940, the family was trapped in Amsterdam by the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Anne Frank was a German national officially until 1941, when she lost her nationality under the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany.

As the Nazi persecutions of the Jewish population increased in July 1942, the family went into hiding in the hidden rooms in the office building of Anne’s father, Otto Frank. They were betrayed after two years and were transported to concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margot were eventually transferred to the Bergen-Belsen, where they both died of typhus in February or March 1945.

Otto Frank, the only surviving member of the family, returned to Amsterdam after World War II to find that Anne’s diary had been saved. Her diary, which was given to Anne on her 13th birthday, chronicles her life from 12 June 1942 to 1 August 1944.

Otto Frank’s efforts led to the publication of her diary in 1947. It was translated from Dutch and first published in English in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl. It has since been translated into many languages.

Doreen Kern had help from Anne’s step-sister Eva Schloss and her step-mother while she was working on her bronze bust of Anne Frank. The piece was placed at the British Library on the 70th anniversary of Anne’s birth, on 12 June 1999. It was a gift of Richard and Yvonne Sherrington.

Doreen Kern (1931-2021), who lived in Edgware, was a sculptor in bronze. She acquired her technical knowledge while working at the Morris Singer Foundry, and she also studied at the Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute. She showed at Bristol Cathedral, London University, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Waterloo Fine Arts, and widely abroad, and also did consultancy work for the British Museum.

The inscription on the base of the sculpture reads: ‘Anne Frank, 1929-1945, Sculptor Doreen Kern’. An inscription on a nearby plaque reads: ‘Anne Frank 1929-1945, “A triumph of the spirit.” To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the birth of Anne Frank 12 June 1999. Gift of Yvonne and Richard Sherrington. Sculptor: Doreen Kern.’

There is also a life size bust of Anne Frank by Doreen Kern in the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. A second copy was made for a museum in Israel.

Doreen Kern’s sculpture of Anne Frank stood in the forecourt of the British Library in 1999 and stood there until 2003. However, it was subjected to vandalism, and when it was repaired it was moved to the lower ground area, near the cloakroom.

The crisis in Gaza demands a humanitarian and compassionate international response, that it is unquestionable.

But the cruelty and barbarity of last weekend’s attacks in Israel were cruel and barbarous beyond words. Babies were maimed and beheaded, elderly people were burned to death. People who tried to hide like Anne Frank in secure rooms were burned out of their homes. The sad irony is lost on many commentators that the residents of the kibbutz that was attacked were committed to peaceful solutions and negotations, and many were involved in working actively for peace and for Palestinian rights.

Revenge and retribution or ‘collective punishment’ have no moral underpinning, and are contrary to all principles of international law. Nor can anyone be silent in the face of the kidapping or slaughter of innocent civilians, whether they are people or cramped into a tighly-controlled and overpopulated tiny strip of land, or the young people enjoying a weekend music festival, elderly peace activists who have retired to a rural kibbutz that they thought was their idyll, or babies sleeping peacefully. We need to avoid terms like ‘innocent casulaties.’ In any conflict, all civilians are innocent. There should never be such a phrase as the ‘wrong person in the wrong place.’ All of us have a right to live in peace, without the threat of violence, hatred, racism, revenge, retribition, antisemitism or murder.

I have not been silent when it comes to the Nethanyahu government’s police and actions in Gaza. I am vocal in condemning Nethhanyu’s corruption and his efforts to destroy the democratic, judicial and legal structures of Israel. I have long been committed to and active in both Jewish-Christian and Christian-Muslim dialogue. But the events of the past week are a heart-breaking reminder, and also an alert, that antisemitism is rife and that we must always separate it from any political programme or cause.

Antisemitism is always a hate crime, it is always racist, and it can never be extended any understanding, under any pretext.

May their memories forever be a blessing, זיכרונם לברכה זיכרונן לברכה

Shabbat Shalom.

Anne Frank depicted in a mural in Berlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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