Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

Anne Frank: ‘History for today’

13 Jun 2016

In Bosnia this spring, a travelling exhibition, is going from city to city. It is called ‘Anne Frank – History for Today’ and I was present at the openings in Mostar, Sarajevo and Banja Luka. The Netherlands embassy financially supported the tour, organized by the local NGO’s Youth Initiative for Human Rights and Humanity in Action.

I am glad to say that these presentations attracted a large number of young visitors. At every stop, groups of students were guided through the exhibition by a person of their own age group, that’s what they call ‘peer-to-peer education’.

I had read her dairy a long time ago. In preparation of these opening ceremonies I revisited some of her writings. Although the actual images and texts will tell the story of Anne Frank much better than I ever can, I would like to say a few words, while this exhibition is still travelling your country.

So, just a few words on the relevance of her message to the world – and to this country in particular, from a representative of the country where Anne Frank lived for most of her short life and where she wrote her famous dairy,

The English translation of the 324 pages of the notebook, found on the floor of the ‘Achterhuis’, the secret Annexe, after the Gestapo had left with their prisoners, is called ‘Dairy of a Young Girl’.

And that is what it is: the expressions of the hopes and fears of a girl 13, 14 years old. Reflections on her feelings for the others in the hide-out, her observations on the quarrels of her parents and – most of all – her thoughts about what the future might have in store for her.

In short: the thoughts that all 14 year olds have. Indeed: ‘the Dairy of a Young Girl’. But a famous Dutch historian said:

for me, in this seemingly trivial dairy of a child, all the horror of fascism is embodied, much more so than in all the case files of the Neuremberger Process together.”

In March 1945, Anne Frank was not even 16 years old, when she perished in the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. In her short life, she had to flee the country of her birth – Germany -, she had to adapt to life in a new country, The Netherlands, in a new town, in a new house and in a new school. And after May 1940, in Amsterdam under Nazi occupation, she lived the perilous life of a child of Jewish parents. A life, that became more difficult by the day. Before she turned 15, she had spent two years in total seclusion, cut off from the outside world, denied the life every teenager takes for granted.

But still, still she had it in her to write in that terrible year 1944 the following sentence:

“It is a wonder that I have not given up on my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet, I cling to them, because I still believe that, in spite of everything, people are really good at heart”.

More than one hundred thousand Dutch citizens of Jewish descent were rounded up, deported and killed. The loss of human talent, wisdom, ambition and creativity to our country and to our society is immeasurable. Anne was just a one of the 106.000 that did not return. Had she survived, she would have been ‘only’ 86 years old. I say this, because it gives you an idea of how young she was when she died at Belsen.

One can only wonder what would have become of her, had she lived. We will never know. But what we do know, is that the tragic fate, the loss of that obviously very talented girl, has become a universal warning not to forget. It warns us to put the lessons that history teaches us to good use. That warning applies to all of us.


I believe that, after having served for 3 ½ years in this country, her message has a special relevance for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Here, – and in particular in the cities of Mostar, Sarajevo and Banja Luka – coming to grips with a troubled, complicated and painful past is still a daily challenge. And so is finding the courage to reconcile and to connect with others, who think or act differently in political, cultural and religious matters. And so is the search for common ground to build a common future on.

I strongly feel that Anne Frank’s death at 15 as a victim of intolerance, exclusion and discrimination has significance for all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because, I don’t think the visitors of the exhibition need to be reminded that in their country, not even 25 years ago, children her age died for the same reasons.

Her message challenges the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina to break with the evil routines of ultra-nationalist sentiments, hate speech, divisive rhetoric and the refusal to face the past. The citizens of Mostar, Sarajevo and Banja Luka – and all the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, wherever they live – understand, better than most Europeans do, what these practices can lead to, if they are taken to their extreme consequences.

In particular, the refusal to face the past by denying that genocide took place in this country will prove to work out badly in the end, especially for future generations. If the deniers persist, Europe will shrug its shoulders and write their parents off as people who simply do not have the guts to confront the facts, who are unable and unwilling to find redemption by recognizing their responsibility and by taking, at least part, of the blame.

And then history will leave them behind, frozen in time and space, the sons and daughters cut off from their contemporaries in the rest of Europe.

Any comparison won’t hold, yet, it is useful to see how young Germans did it: they did not want be shunned and ostracized for the sins of their parents. They persistently questioned their fathers about the past, aware of the old dictum that knowing the truth will make you free.

That is why I feel her message has a particular urgency for the younger generation in this country – because it says: listen to and understand the lessons of history. Indeed: ‘Anne Frank – History for Today.’

It would help, if everybody shared her conviction, that “in spite of everything, people are really good at heart”. That is why I sincerely hope that this exhibition ‘For Young People by Young People’ will take on that challenge. And the challenge is: don’t give up on ideals, even if they seem absurd and impractical.

So, let me conclude with another quote from that young girl from Amsterdam:
“How wonderful it is that nobody needs to wait a single moment before beginning to improve the world”.


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About the author

Jurriaan Kraak
Written by Jurriaan Kraak

Dutch ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina

Jurriaan Kraak was born on 24 August 1951 in Jakarta (Indonesia). He started his diplomatic career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1978. After postings to Mexico and Canada, he worked for twelve years in Brussels at the Netherlands Permanent Representations to the European Union and to NATO. Between 1991 and 1995 he was seconded to the Royal Household as Private Secretary of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix and HRH Prince Claus of The Netherlands and of HRH the Prince of Orange. Prior to his posting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Latvia. He is married and has two children.