By Jan Jaben-Eilon
In the next few weeks, the Sandy Springs City Council is expected to vote on a proposal to procure property and help build a new cultural center that will house the “Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945” exhibit, which will relocate from its current space in the Parkside Shopping Center on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust will also move to the center, which will become the new home for the Sandy Springs Chamber of Commerce and the city’s hospitality board.
“We are working on the final stages of the design and cost estimates,” Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul told the AJT. “We are still refining the details. It’s a tough construction environment. There is a shortage of construction workers and the tariffs on steel” are raising the projected costs.
According to Chuck Berk, secretary of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, the city is hoping to purchase land adjacent to City Springs on which a 20,000-square-foot-plus building will be constructed. The Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with Sandy Springs that spells out “what each party is responsible for and the costs involved,” Berk said.
The 2018 Georgia legislature passed a resolution to create a Georgia Holocaust Memorial. “We determined that we’d like to combine it with the Anne Frank exhibit,” he said.
“We raised money to bring the Anne Frank exhibit to Sandy Springs, and we hope to keep it here,” said Gary P. Alexander, a Sandy Springs resident who was instrumental in moving the exhibit at the urging of the city’s first mayor, Eva Galambos, whose family fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Berk, Alexander and Sally N. Levine, executive director of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, all emphasized how important it was for Galambos to locate the Anne Frank exhibit in Sandy Springs. “This was something that really motivated her,” said Levine, who added that the commission is a nonpartisan, secular state agency. They will be responsible for fundraising for the approximately 7,000 square feet of the proposed building that will house the commission offices and the Frank exhibit. “The day after it passes, we will start working on the exhibit.”
Berk envisions six steps to the new Anne Frank exhibit – to be an educational experience. The first step will provide the “big picture” of what led up to the Holocaust. The second step will offer an updated exhibit on Anne Frank, who would have celebrated her 90th birthday this month. The third step will display visual histories of Georgians in the Holocaust, including survivors and liberators.
Taking a page from the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., the fourth step in the exhibit will show chronologically what newspapers and magazines reported as the Holocaust unfolded. “Part of that are the surveys that were conducted during that time, with the actual questions and answers,” Berk said. For example, people were asked whether they approved or disapproved of the Nazi treatment of Jews in Germany. Ninety-four percent disapproved. But when they were asked whether they wanted to do anything about it, the answer was a resounding “no.” They also responded that the United States should not allow more Jews into the country.
As Berk noted, the survey was conducted in November 1938, when unemployment in this country was still over 20 percent.
The fifth step in the memorial will be artifacts, while the sixth step will talk about current genocides in the world and what actions should be taken.
Levine has already been in touch with the executive director of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam which has updated its exhibit in the last few years, part of which will be available to the new Sandy Springs location, Berk said.
Readers of Anne Frank’s diary recall how the young teen’s only experience with the outside world during the two years she hid from the Nazis along with her family and other Jews, was the chestnut tree outside the attic window. Several years ago, when the tree appeared to be dying, 10 saplings were sent around the world, Levine said. The Amsterdam museum executive director recently told Levine that there is new growth on the tree “and we are on the list to get a cutting.”
Alexander, who will be visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam with his wife in a few weeks, said he sees the Sandy Springs exhibit as a voice for the “1 1/2 million children killed in the Holocaust who can’t speak. We use Anne Frank’s voice to educate and teach.”
Berk and Alexander have spoken to both Jewish and non-Jewish clergy in the city, all of whom support the new cultural center.
“I grew up in Birmingham,” said Mayor Paul. “I know what hate looks like. I think it’s very important to teach the lessons” of the Holocaust. “Hate and evil have real and serious consequences. I would be very disappointed if we didn’t do this project.” He said he believes the proposal will pass, but support for it is not unanimous. “It’s important for residents of Sandy Springs to let their council people know what they feel. The community should let us know that they want this.”