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The Importance of Holocaust Remembrance

An interview with llana Cone Kennedy, the Director of Education at the Holocaust Center for Humanity

By KCTS 9
May 3, 2016
This blog post was created by KCTS 9 marketing and communications intern Xavier G. in collaboration with KCTS 9 staff.
 
Through community events, school visits, and stories from survivors themselves, the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle aims to teach “tolerance and citizenship through lessons of the Holocaust.” Recently, the center brought to Seattle an exhibit that looks at the life of Anne Frank from a contemporary perspective—the first travelling exhibit of its kind at the center. While stories about Anne Frank have been told for decades, there are many less familiar stories with interesting connections between the Holocaust, Anne Frank, and the State of Washington. 
 
Recently, KCTS 9 had the opportunity to sit down with Ilana Cone Kennedy, Director of Education at the Holocaust Center for Humanity, to ask her about the importance of Holocaust remembrance and Anne Frank’s interesting link to the Northwest.
 
Not many people associate Washington with the Holocaust. Why do you believe that it is important that Seattle have its own Holocaust Center?
 
Ilana: The Holocaust Center was started in 1989 by local Holocaust survivors. Holocaust denial and a share value of importance of education brought these survivors together. The Holocaust Center started as a small educational center supporting teachers in the state who wanted to teach about the Holocaust. Over the years the Holocaust Center has grown to a museum. However, our mission is still the same - to support teaching and learning about the Holocaust and its lessons. 
 
How does the Center further education and awareness around the history of the Holocaust, especially in connection to Washington?
 
Ilana: The mission of the center is education. Our focus is on learning about the Holocaust through the stories of local Holocaust survivors and their families. There are many Holocaust centers around the country and we feel that we are unique in that we really focus on this geographical area and the people that came here. The Holocaust is fascinating because it’s a timeless story; it’s genocide, and genocide has happened throughout history and continues to happen today, and it seems as relevant today as it ever was to learn about the subject.
 
 
You said that the Center actively collects stories from survivors and children and grandchildren of survivors. What value do these stories add to the Center and to those visiting the Center? Why do you think it’s important for these stories to continue being shared and told?
 
Ilana: We have so much to learn from these stories. There’s the historical aspect and the importance of remembering our history and trying to learn from the past and trying to not repeat these huge mistakes that were made; and there’s also the knowledge that these are real people and their stories are so important in informing us and telling us what is going on in the world today, and what they have suffered. So many people throughout our own country and other countries are still suffering and we have the responsibility to not let this happen again. We have to try and see the patterns that happen with genocide, and then just stop it before it becomes a genocide. So we feel that these stories are so important to hear and learn, to recognize that these individuals and these stories are a part of our community. We have a responsibility to make choices and to pay attention to our choices, and to speak out.
 
Can you give us a little insight on your Speakers Bureau program? 
 
Ilana: It’s a fantastic program that we have. Our Speakers Bureau is comprised of Holocaust Survivors, their children and grandchildren, liberators, and individuals who volunteer their time to share their stories with students and community groups. They are wonderful because they are a real living face behind the history. Even the children of the survivors, they are a direct connection. That is so much more powerful than just reading a story in a book. I mean, to have somebody in front of you saying ‘I was there’ is incredible, so as our survivors become older and older and less able to speak in the schools, we’re really depending on the children of the survivors, even the grandchildren of survivors in many cases, to sort of pick up the baton and learn their family’s story and then go and share it.
 
 
Currently on display is the Anne Frank exhibit “A History for Today.” Aside from Adolf Hitler, Anne Frank is probably the most well-known individual associated with the Holocaust. Why do you think her story continues to live with such strength? Why is it important that her story live on? 
 
Ilana: Anne Frank is such an icon of the Holocaust, and people love her. She is such a regular kid, she’s 13-, 14- and 15-years old, she’s totally innocent, she’s very articulate, and we hear her story while it’s happening. So rather than someone telling us what happened, we hear it in her diary in the moment. There’s something so intriguing about that, and something so normal about her, that you can’t help but connect with her on a certain level. I’ve read different accounts of people who knew her, and I love their descriptions of her of being this talkative, outgoing kid, and a little chatty, even a little annoying at times. She’s just a regular kid, and I think that’s why we like her and why her story has persisted over the years and has become one of the most popular and widely read books on the Holocaust.
 
When you first experienced the exhibit, was there anything that stayed with you even after you left? Did you learn anything new?
 
Ilana: I’ve been working at the Holocaust Center for thirteen years and I knew a lot about Anne Frank already, but I really learned a lot from this exhibit. I was really touched by her story in a whole new way. This exhibit does a great job of personalizing her and making her seem really human, along with her family. I read her story many times as a younger person, but now I’m a parent, and now I see so much more.  I now see her father’s story, who was the only Frank survivor, who lost his children and his wife and then felt this incredible need to publish this diary after the war. There’s a part of me that feels like in a way, his story is the real tragedy of all of this. After all of these years in hiding and after all of his efforts to save his family, he loses his entire family and is the only one to survive. And that ongoing tragedy of how you pick the pieces up, in whatever way you can, and make something out of it—this has touched me in a way that I think hadn’t maybe prior to this. His efforts and his drive to do that, it honestly makes me think of people all over the world who have experienced extreme loss and horrible circumstances; where it’s no fault of their own, and how they keep going in whatever way they can. How can we let that happen to them? 
 
How do you think that this exhibit connects personal experience with current social and political issues?
 
Ilana: There’s so much going on in our world today; when we look at the presidential campaign and the refugee crisis, there are so many parallels with what we see in history. People are fleeing persecution, trying to find a better life for themselves, and constantly running into roadblocks, trying to get into other countries, or trying to get to safety. There’s ongoing racism and general persecution just because of someone’s race, ethnicity, gender, or religion throughout the world, and the fear that it instills in children and the difficulty in parents, and the wars it creates—I think when we look at that, we’ve learned a lot from the Holocaust, but we haven’t learned enough. And in a microcosm, I look at Seattle or our schools: we have so many classes come and visit and see this exhibit, and I hope that as individuals we think ‘I can’t fix what’s going on in Syria, but I can be nice to the person that everyone picks on,’ or ‘I can tell that person who’s bullying them to leave that person alone. I have a choice to speak up and say something, and I have to make that choice,’ and I hope that students come away from this exhibit realizing those little things are just as important as the big ones.
 
 
The story of the ‘Anne Frank Tree’ is one that has been circulated throughout history. Can you give us a little background on the story, as well as its interesting link to Washington State?
 
Ilana: Yes, I love this story! When Anne Frank was in hiding—and she was in hiding for two years—there was only one window that was uncovered, and it was up in an attic. From that attic window she could see this really large, beautiful Chestnut tree outside her window, and if you can imagine, this is a 13- or 14-year-old who never goes outside for two years. She writes frequently in her diary about this tree, about the leaves changing color and it blowing in the wind, and it gives her inspiration, and hope, and a connection to the world outside but also the hope that there’s something more, something better out there. You know, of course, that Anne doesn’t survive the Holocaust, but after the war, the tree becomes kind of famous because she’s written about it, and when the tree became ill, the Anne Frank House took some of the chestbuts from the tree to grow new trees - a new generation of Anne Frank Trees to inspire hope. Many of the saplings were planted in Europe, and they brought 11 of them to the United States; our Holocaust Center received one, which was a huge honor because the other places that got them were the U.S. Capitol Building, and the 9/11 Memorial and the Clinton Library. Our tree spent several years being cared for by Seattle Parks and Recreation because it was too small to plant. It’s beautiful, and now it’s over six feet tall. It’s really touching to look at it and think of this connection with history and its regrowth, and it’s also a reminder that we’re all so connected, that history doesn’t exists in a bubble. Everything just keeps going, and here’s this tree that is from the original tree. We actually have a writing and art contest now, and it’s based on the tree. The deadline is May 31st for Grades 5 through 12.
 
Holocaust Remembrance Day is coming up. What are some ways that individuals in the community can further expand their knowledge and understanding around this period of history? 
 
Ilana: I’m glad you asked, because we have so many events going on for Holocaust Remembrance Day. May 1st we had our big community program at the Seattle Center. It’s the largest Holocaust Remembrance Day program we’ve done. It was in conjunction with the Dedication of the Anne Frank Tree Sapling. We listened to a survivor’s story, and dedicated the tree, which was a forward symbol of hope and a positive symbol of trying to create more tolerance and respect in our community. On May 4th, we have another event on Mercer Island where survivor Henry Freidman will be sharing his story. It is free and open to the public.
 
The Anne Frank exhibit will be on display at the Holocaust Center for Humanity until May 25th. You can learn more about the center, the Anne Frank Exhibit, the Speaker’s Bureau, and the Writing & Art Contest by visiting the center’s website at www.holocaustcenterseattle.org.
 


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