Anne Frank + You

At the Alley Theatre, Holocaust refugee Inge Radford recalls the past and looks to the future. Watch Radford talk about her experience below

Inge Radford knows exactly how much her life was worth as a child: £50. That was the amount needed to rescue a Jewish child from the Nazis.

Radford is at the Alley Theatre in Strabane to see the launch of the Anne Frank + You exhibition that runs from May 10 - 29. It covers modern examples of prejudice and oppression, tackling bullying and racism too, but Radford is drawn to the sections on Anne Frank.

The pictures of Nazi Germany, the insensate malevolence that permeates the cannister used in the gas chambers and one of the bright yellow patches that Jews were required to wear all bring back memories for Radford. The composed 77 year old who lives in County Down talks matter of factly about the horrors of the past.

'It was needed for bribes, I suppose,' she says of the £50 that saved her life. It seems like a paltry sum now, but Radford points out that it was the equivalent of £5000 then. 'People formed committees all over England to raise the money the government needed to bring children out. Such an English way to do things.'

There is genuine affection in Radford’s voice when she talks about those long-disbanded committees. They saved her life. Four of her siblings, two sisters and two brothers, also escaped before the Final Solution was put into practice. Her mother and five of her brothers were not so fortunate.

'They were taken to the ghettos in Minsk, where they lived until they were taken to the concentration camp at Maly Trostinec. It was a small camp, brutally run by the Nazis. This concentration camp had no gas chamber, so people were taken out into the forests that surrounded the village and while loud music was played they were shot and then buried in mass graves.

'Before they were shot they had to hand all their personal possessions over to the Germans and walk in their underclothes to be shot. Every possible degrading thing that could be done to them was done to them.'

Radford witnessed none of this. ‘I am a refugee,’ she stresses, ‘not a survivor.’ It was only after the war that she and her siblings pieced together what the rest of their family had gone through at Maly Trostinec.

The Austrians, Radford recalls sharply, kept meticulous records. ‘You would think they would want to burn them, to hide what they did,’ she says. ‘Not a bit of it.’

The memories are second hand but no less raw for that. If anything the burden of escaping her family’s ‘unspeakable ordeal’ weighs heavily on Radford. It is her self-imposed duty to bear witness to the suffering that her family endured.

Of what little she was able to take on the train to safety much is gone: the papier-mâché suitcase, the red ball and smoked cheese sandwiches. She still has her passport, stamped with a big red J and bearing the Nazi seal, the paperwork allowing her to leave the country and a much loved Miraculous Medal of the Virgin given to her by the nuns who took care of her on the train.

‘I take them to schools,’ Radford explains, laying them out carefully for everyone to see. The paper is yellowed with age and brittle, but the inked swastika is still clear enough to shock.

The staff of the Alley Theatre, many of whom have received special training to oversee the exhibition while it is in Strabane, are visibly stunned to see, even touch, these little bits of history. ‘I show them what it was like for me. It says that I am not a citizen of Austria, that I am a Jew.’

As she walks around the Anne Frank + You exhibition - lingering over images of Anne Frank with her family and the recreation of the famous diary - Radford thinks that the most powerful impact will be on children.

‘Everyone has heard of [the Holocaust] but to actually see how children lived, to hear about it from a child’s perspective, they can identify with it. They can identify with Anne. If they read her diary, or bits of it, it’s all about things that young girls talk about: their boyfriends, their hairstyles, who likes them, who they don’t like, what scares them. It is brilliant to get children to empathize with someone who had such a sad life at the end, although she’d been so plucky all the way through it.’

Radford pauses in the tiny room that recreates the annex Anne Frank spent two years of her life in. She points to the faded posters carefully glued to the wall. ‘Isn’t this just such a typical young girl’s room?’

Phillip Faithful, Chief Executive of Strabane District Council, echoes Radford’s sentiment as he talks about why he felt it was important to bring the exhibition to the Alley Theatre.

‘It’s important that children learn from this. When I do talk to children quite a few of them have no idea what happened during the war years. We’re now obviously 60 years divorced from that period and while their grandparents might have fought during that campaign and might have learnt from it, it’s important that reflects into the future.

'People cannot simply forget the 6 million Jews killed during this period. Or the 60 million that they estimate were killed worldwide during the Second World War. It is important we bring that to life.’

Equally important, to Faithful and to the Anne Frank Trust, is that they 'learn from the past but look to the future'. Faithful points out that, '[The Exhibition] doesn’t just look at the past, at the two years Anne Frank spent in that annex, it asks us to look at what’s happened over the last 60 years worldwide. It asks youth to look towards the future, to make them think about segregation, sectarianism and racism.'

Anne Frank + You exhibition will be at The Alley Theatre from May 10 - 29.

Tammy Moore