Anne Frank story moves Osborne to tears

By Barry Toberman, June 10, 2011
George Osborne with the trust’s Daniel Mendoza, Bee Klug and Gillian Walnes at 11 Downing Street

George Osborne with the trust’s Daniel Mendoza, Bee Klug and Gillian Walnes at 11 Downing Street

George Osborne paid tribute to the enduring emotional appeal of Anne Frank's story as the Anne Frank Trust UK celebrated its 20th anniversary with a reception at 11 Downing Street.

Chatting to key figures from the trust, the Chancellor revealed that he had visited Anne Frank House in Amsterdam three times, most recently last year.

"It is the most moving experience," he said. "It always brings me to tears." But amid the sadness was "an enormous sense of the triumph of hope over evil".

Mr Osborne's children, aged nine and seven, had both read The Diary of Anne Frank and he "would love to take them to Anne Frank House".

He went on to express his admiration for the work of the trust, which promotes tolerance and understanding in communities, schools and prisons across the country. It had an important role "in tackling division and hatred in society today".

The Chief Rabbi, Lord Janner and Esther Rantzen were among a multi-faith gathering of more than 100 supporters. One of the overseas guests was Jan Erik Dubbelman, head of the international department at Anne Frank House, who has been impressed by the development of the UK organisation.

He recalled that at the outset, "we were outsiders. The story of Anne Frank was known to the older generation, less so to the younger generation. Now it is mainstream, educating about Anne Frank, the Holocaust and issues of diversity in a way that people take to their hearts.

"When we started, there were no organised school groups from the UK visiting the house. Now we have to turn down three in four requests. We appeal to a younger generation despite the fact that the history is further away."

He complimented trust co-founder and executive director Gillian Walnes for "bringing it from local to national in a natural way. I've learned so much from their programmes. I am their biggest thief. They are copied all over the world."

Ms Walnes reflected that so many had contributed to the trust's growth that, had capacity allowed, 1,000 invitations could have been issued to the reception. "When we started we had one travelling exhibition. Now there are eight. My hope is that in another 20 years, there will be no need for our work."

The trust's 91-year-old life president Bee Klug, another co-founder, attributed the continuing relevance of the Anne Frank story to its presentation of the Holocaust in a different manner. "It is a book young people can read because it's not about the camps."

Speakers included children's TV presenter and author Baroness Benjamin, who graphically recounted her own experience of dealing with prejudice and stressed her "great empathy" with all the trust stood for.

Although discussion of government spending cuts might have seemed indelicate in the Chancellor's residence, vice-chairman Daniel Mendoza's speech - made before Mr Osborne's arrival - did feature a brief reference to the impact of slashed funding.

Elaborating later, chief operating officer Robert Posner spoke of the damaging effect of an estimated £350,000 in lost revenue from national and local authority sources.

"Every charity is fighting for funds," he pointed out. Some donors had responded to an appeal to double their contributions, "but it's a massive hole to fill".

Last updated: 3:30pm, June 10 2011