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Proposed Anne Frank Memorial Divides Amsterdam Neighborhood

December 8, 2003
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It seemed a good idea at the time: a memorial for Anne Frank in front of the apartment building where she lived from 1933 to 1940.

But the proposal soon became mired in controversy.

Actor and film director Jeroen Krabbe — who also is a visual artist — designed the memorial, a sandblasted shadow of Anne playing in front of the building. The long shadow would cover part of the sidewalk and the stoop leading to the entrance of the building at Merwedeplein 37.

Many considered the symbolism clear and appropriate — reflecting the lasting absence of Anne and so many other Jewish children in this neighborhood where many Jews lived before World War II, frozen in time.

However, after a neighborhood meeting last month in which vociferous opponents succeeded in thwarting the plan, the local Borough Council decided to examine other options.

After much deliberation and talks with neighborhood residents, the Labor Party proposed a traditional commemorative plaque. Joost Verbeek, leader of the Labor Party faction on the Borough Council, says his consultations in the neighborhood convinced him that most people wanted a simple and modest memorial.

However, the Borough Council meeting where the proposal was to be discussed ended in fighting and name calling.

Verbeek, who had taken the initiative for the proposal, was infuriated by a last-minute counterproposal from the Christian Democratic Party fraction for a statue instead of a memorial plaque.

In the end both proposals were withdrawn, Frank’s neighborhood remains without a memorial — and the money for a memorial even has been taken off the borough’s budget.

The Christian Democratic fraction leader, Evert van den Hout, denies anything amiss with his last-minute proposal for a statue.

“The Labor Party does not have a monopoly on memorials,” he told JTA. “If we decide to have a memorial, why not a statue in good likeness? Why modern art?”

Neighborhood activists as well as politicians have called the Borough Council’s handling of the issue “shameful,” and accuse one another of politicizing the subject.

The Jewish community has not weighed in on the issue.

Neighborhood activist Gert-Jan Jimmink, a bookstore owner who was one of the strongest opponents of Krabbe’s original design, hopes to raise enough money from private donors to place both a plaque and a statue at the site. In fact, he says he thinks he can have them up by the end of the year.

He says he is tired of the political fighting, and that now it is up to private citizens to make sure the neighborhood gets an Anne Frank memorial.

If he succeeds in his own initiative for a memorial, he says, there will be “only one thing left for the Borough Council to do: Rename the Merwedeplein as Anne Frankplein.”

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