Anne Frank exhibit set to open at Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum
Co-ordinator hopes inspire with young woman’s story of resilience, faith in the face of tragedy
Julie Couture grew up enjoying history — but something was amiss.
The education she received, even in university, rarely included stories from survivors. The history of Canada she was taught didn’t always include stories from Indigenous survivors of the residential school system, for example.
At 23, Couture moved to the Netherlands. Not speaking the language, she hoped history could help her find her way so she volunteered at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. That was in 2009.
Now, more than 75 years after the Second World War and over a decade since she worked at her house, Couture is helping to bring Anne Frank’s world-famous story to Iqaluit through an exhibition that opens April 9 at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum.
Frank was a teenaged Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis with her family during the occupation of the Netherlands in 1942 during the Second World War.
She was discovered two years later and died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in 1945. Her sister, Margot, and mother, Edith, also died during the war.
Following her death, Frank was recognized in 1947 with publication of her diary, titled, The Diary of a Young Girl, which she kept during the occupation and used to document her life in hiding.
In 1957, her father, Otto Frank, established the Anne Frank House to share his daughter’s story and honour her life.
For Couture, the Learning with Anne Frank exhibit is an attempt to honour the story of survivors, and connect communities that have known tragedy and shown resilience in the face of it.
It’s also a way to engage young people in conversations about history and the voices that are often left out.
“One of the beautiful things that Anne Frank left us with is how important youth voices are,” said Couture, now a project co-ordinator with the the Anne Frank House. “We want the young people, especially when they come to visit this exhibition, to know that their story matters too.”
Geared toward students aged nine to 15 years old, the exhibit aims to introduce young Canadians to the Second World War and engage them in conversations about the importance of sharing stories.
It consists of three panels that share interesting facts about Anne and show the place where she lived, including a scale model of the secret annex where the family hid for more than 700 days. There will also be a replica of Frank’s diary.
In 2011, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam developed a travelling exhibition that brought the story of Anne Frank to communities across Canada. It visited schools and museums across the country, reaching more than 80 Canadian cities and 125,000 visitors.
The exhibit has been translated to Inuktitut, and local youth are recruited as guides.
“The idea of the peer education method is really important for this work … [so that] young people are telling the story themselves,” Couture said.
“It’s a young person telling the story of a young Anne Frank to another young person.”
Jessica Kotierk, manager and curator with the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, said the exhibit will also include the local Inuit perspective. That includes the history of the city of Iqaluit, which became an important air base during the Second World War.
“We want to make sure there’s some direct context … just imagining things happening in the 1940s [in Europe], but also what was happening here,” she said.
According to Kotierk, the story of Frank will resonate with many young Iqalummiut and all Canadians today, many of whom have experienced different but equally profound challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other world events over the past few years.
“Through these stories, we can gain empathy and understand what’s happening in the world now,” said Couture.
The Learning With Anne Frank exhibit is part of the 2022 Toonik Tyme Festival in Iqaluit, and will be open at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum from April 9 to 16.