Visit Baltimore This Spring for Some Holocaust History

A special anniversary.

A historic partnership.

A meaningful opportunity for your next trip to say something about the kind of world you’d like to live in.

Anne Frank would have turned 90-years-old this summer.

Frank was a Jewish girl living in Amsterdam who kept a journal while hiding from the Nazi’s in secret rooms behind a bookcase in the family home. She hid for more than two years before being found, arrested, sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp and then transferred to the camp at Bergen-Belsen, where she died in 1945.

While Frank’s life was short, just over 15 years, her diary changed the world.

The Diary of a Young Girl has had an estimated 35 million copies printed in 60 different languages. In 1999, Time included Frank among its list of the 100 most important people of the century.

Frighteningly, Frank’s story, and that of the Holocaust, is fading.

Half of all Millennials can’t name a single Nazi concentration camp.

Four in 10 Millennials believe two million or fewer Jews were killed during the Holocaust. A more accurate total is six million.

More than half of all Americans think something similar could happen again.

All of which inspired the arts community of Baltimore, Maryland to partner around the theme of Holocaust remembrance and the effort to combat hate. A wide coalition of the city’s cultural institutions are presenting programming recalling the Holocaust, celebrating Frank, and attempting to put the lessons from that horrific chapter of human history into a contemporary context.

“Museum visits and theater experiences all produce inspiring memories, but in the case of the ‘Spring of Remembrance,’ our goal is not just passive memories, but active engagement,” Jewish Museum of Maryland Executive Director Marvin Pinkert said. “We want our visitors and audiences to think about the impact of this history on the world we live in today.”

That impact has a contemporary and widespread effect far beyond the descendants of European Jews from the 1930s and 1940s.

“Genocide is not an exclusively Jewish concern; in my own lifetime I have witnessed horrible ethnic violence in Rwanda, Serbia and Iraq to name just a few,” Pinkert said. “Moreover, the precedent steps that came before genocide—the fomenting of prejudice and the inhumane treatment of ordinary people based on ethnicity, gender or other characteristics of identity—is to be found in the contemporary life of almost every nation, including our own.”

On October 27 of last year, 11 people were killed and seven injured in a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“Recent incidents across the country bear out the truth that our communities and especially our youth are vulnerable to the lure of divisive messages when they have not been taught the history and consequences of hatred writ large, and how fascism can spin out of control into madness and evil,” Managing Director of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Lesley Malin said. “They need to know it’s not a joke or fantasy.”

Malin helped start the ball rolling toward Baltimore’s broad community arts partnership. Once her company determined to present The Diary of Anne Frank (April 26 – May 26), she reached out to colleagues and found that many of them had related exhibits planned.

“I think we are all, in different ways, offering a response to the revival and rise of blatant anti-Semitism—and intolerance in general—in America,” Malin said.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s version of the play comes from a newer adaption which includes what Malin describes as a “shattering” final scene.

Throughout the run of the show at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, guests can further acquaint themselves with Frank via 15-minute virtual reality tours of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. These opportunities will be held when the theatre is open for production, with the best chance to experience the tour coming before or after the show.

Virtual reality provides a rare ability to feel the cramped living conditions of Frank’s world in hiding.

Remember that she is a 13-year-old girl when her family is forced hide. Remember that neither she, nor the seven other people sharing the claustrophobic, 500-square-foot space with her, are ever allowed to go outdoors. Ever. They must live silently—don’t cough, don’t sneeze—in constant terror of a crash at the door which means the Nazi’s have found them.

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Adding to the story of Frank is the Gordon Center for Performing Arts which exhibits Anne Frank: Private Photo Album (April 25 – June 13), a collection of over 70 Frank family photographs, many rarely shown in public. Theater Morgan at Morgan State University offers Anne and Emmett, a play depicting an imaginary conversation between Anne Frank and Emmett Till. Both teens were killed in acts of racial hatred, only 10 years, but seemingly worlds, apart.

This is admittedly heavy material for a vacation, but the payoff proves more meaningful than a tan.

“We must consider the sublime heights humanity can achieve as well as the horrific evil it is capable of,” Malin said. “Taking serious stories seriously allows us to develop empathy and compassion, and that is one of the highest and best achievements that great art can enable.”

A story of the Holocaust much less well-known than Frank’s is that of Paul and Hedy Strnad.

The Strnad’s were Jews living in Prague in 1939. Their best idea for fleeing the country and the onrushing Nazi’s was appealing to one of Paul’s cousins living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, hoping he could find sponsorship for the couple to immigrate to America on the basis of her being offered a job as a dressmaker.

All efforts failed. The couple was doomed.

Color sketches of Hedy’s innovative dress designs sent in letters to America have been carefully crafted into stunningly vibrant, stylish, modern garments on display through August 4 in Stitching History from the Holocaust at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

More uplifting, indeed downright buoyant, are the embroideries created by Holocaust survivor Esther Nisenthal Krinitz on display at the American Visionary Art Museum. Since debuting at the Museum in 2001, these works have traveled the world, being displayed in over 40 other institutions.

The images seen in Esther & The Dream of One Loving Human Family mirror the words of Frank in their positivity and hopefulness. These two Jewish teenage girls—and tens of thousands like them—were living through hell on earth, yet both found a way to remain optimistic, to allow themselves dreams of a better future.

It was grown men of this period—among them two of the most famous artists who ever lived—having difficulty imaging a better future. Their despair can be seen in the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Monsters & Myths: Surrealism and War in the 1930s and 1940s, which includes the work of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, on display through May 26.

“Baltimore, the birthplace of both Henrietta Szold and Thurgood Marshall, has been on the frontlines of the struggles for civil rights and human dignity for more than a century,” Pinkertt said.

“To the extent that we remember the Holocaust with purpose, not as a tragedy for just one group of people, but a universal lesson about the worst consequences of ‘dehumanization’ and a celebration of ‘upstanders’ who fought against this cruelty, there are few cities in a better position to have this conversation than Baltimore.”

We travel for an endless number of reasons. A trip to Baltimore this spring should be made for the best reasons of all.

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