Response To Vandalism Prompts Reflections At The Wassmuth Center For Human Rights
On Dec. 8, stickers with swastikas and the message “WE ARE EVERYWHERE” were found plastered over Boise’s Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. This was the second time Nazi imagery damaged the only Anne Frank memorial in the nation.
“We have to each of us examine ourselves in this moment. Who am I and what am I doing to be the values that we want the community to have?” asked Dan Prinzing, executive director of the Wassmuth Center, in an interview with Boise State Public Radio a day after the vandalism.
The memorial is one part of the Center’s mission to “promote respect for human dignity and diversity through education.”
A few days after the memorial was defaced, the Downtown Boise Association approached the Center with the idea to reclaim the message. Together, they put up 50 banners around downtown with an image of Anne Frank and the phrases “Love Is Everywhere,” and “We Are Everywhere.”
Don Murray, president of the Wassmuth Center’s governance board, said their staff turned to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the Anne Frank USA organization in New York to sign off on the imagery.
“They both approved of the design of the campaign and loved it,” Murray said. “A strong amount of feedback that we've received from the public has been extremely positive and accepting of it.”
But not all community members felt the same way about the campaign. Prinzing turned to Rabbi Dan Fink, a member of the Center’s advisory board, to understand the differing perspectives.
“You know, it's not like I've done a poll and I have any kind of good information. So I don't know where the community stands,” Rabbi Fink said. “I will say I know there are folks out there who are uncomfortable with this, amongst whom I count myself.”
Rabbi Fink said, for him, there was “something off” about the picture of Anne Frank -- who was killed in the Holocaust -- being paired with the phrase “Love Is Everywhere.”
He brought up the sentiment in Frank’s Diary “in spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.” But he points out that her diary was written before she was taken by the Nazis.
“We don't know what Anne Frank, who was dying of starvation and hunger and disease, who was essentially murdered by the Nazis along with her entire family, save her father—would she have said ‘I still think people are good at heart’ and that love is everywhere? At that point in her life? You know, my inclination is to think maybe not so much.”
He also drew a parallel with imagery used by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We've seen a lot of images of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor ... I don't think the message under those images is love is everywhere. The message under those images is say her name and we want justice,” he said. “For me, the message that goes with that image is justice. We need justice.”
But Rabbi Fink emphasized that if the pairing “was a mistake ... it was one made in good faith.”
“I know that the people who put up the banners and the people who support the banners, their intentions are good. They meant to spread a message of love and … it's important to keep in mind motives and intentions,” he said.
The vandalism and subsequent campaign helped the Center raise nearly $70,000 in donations primarily used for an updated security system that can track the number of visitors at the memorial. Fundraising for the Center’s recently-announced education facility came from a separate, silent campaign.
The Center also received donations last time the memorial was vandalized, about four years ago. But this time, at least two donations came from sources that sparked some questions, including a $1000 donation from the Idaho Three Percenters Militia, which the Anti-Defamation League calls an “anti-government extremist” group.
“We encountered a situation that we hadn't anticipated or experienced before,” Murray said.
After an internal review process with the Wassmuth Center’s advisory board, Murray says the board of directors voted unanimously to return the Three Percenters’ donation, as well as one from a private donor the Center wouldn’t reveal. A statement from the board said the donors’ “demonstrated actions and posture within the community are at odds with the Center’s mission.”
This is the first time the Center has returned donations; Murray agrees with the decision.
“I'm really happy that we went through the process … where we can learn from and grow from the experience so that we can make sure that as an organization, we're living the mission that we have for education on human rights,” he said.
The Center’s gift acceptance policies are also under internal review. Rabbi Fink suggests using lists of hate groups from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League as a possible starting point.
“That puts you in a different place than, say, those with whom you have profound political disagreements … you know, again, this is an organization that's promoting and has used violence,” he said.
“Taking money from them lends them a kind of legitimacy in the realm of public discourse, and it's not worth the cost.”
Speaking on Idaho Matters, the Executive Director of the Wassmuth Center, Dan Prinzing, said when it comes to the campaign, Prinzing said that upon reflection, "I'm sorry that it offended some in the community, I'm sorry that there wasn't more of a discussion at that point but we are an education center and we are in the process of learning."
He says the Center wants to recognize how the campaign caused some people pain. "I think what we're learning in the whole process, and what we're certainly inviting, [is] can we have a conversation?"
The Center is still exploring exactly what that policy change will look like.
Copyright Boise State Public Radio 2021