Metro November 8, 2017

An Idaho Voice for Human Rights

The Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial celebrates 15 years

A stroll through The Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, a nearly one-acre educational park adjacent to the Boise River Greenbelt, might unlock an entirely new perspective. The words etched on a stone wall showcase more than 60 reflections from human rights leaders, poets, presidents, and Native American chiefs.

“Never again is obsolete. Never again is now.” Holocaust survivor, Boise resident, and passionate human rights activist, the late Rose Beal’s words remind all Idahoans to take action.

“How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world!” Anne Frank’s voice for hope casts a bright light for all who visit.

Whether reflecting on hardship or triumph, each quote represents a single voice powerful enough to evoke change and hope.

The Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial is the only Anne Frank Memorial in the United States. The educational garden is a space for quiet contemplation, learning, and inspiration for all who visit. A life-size bronze statue of Anne Frank, created by Boston-based sculptor Greg Stone, gazes out a window welcoming visitors. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is on permanent display for all to read. A circular stone wall stamped with remarkable quotes welcomes reflection. Lush gardens and scenic backdrops create a space meant for a peaceful moment.

To mark the memorial’s 15th anniversary this past summer, the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights, which constructed and now oversees the memorial, broke ground on the final piece of the master plan: an outdoor community classroom to depict the history of human rights in Idaho. Reaching the final step is an exciting milestone, illustrative of the memorial founders’ efforts to change how the nation views the Gem State and how far they’ve come.

Photo by Chad Case

Idaho is celebrated for its lush landscapes, pristine mountains, endless recreational opportunities, and deep-seated agriculture roots, but some 20 years ago, a small but vocal group was making headlines for discrimination and racism in parts of the state.

“The state had been marred with a reputation as a haven for hate,” said Dan Prinzing, the executive director of the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights since 2011. Painful stories of racism spreading from hate groups were carving a deep scar on the state’s national reputation. “But this was not who we are. It is not who Boise is, and it is not who Idaho is.”

In 1995, a traveling exhibit on Anne Frank and her diary stopped in the capital city at the State Historic Museum, enabling nearly 5 percent of the state’s population to learn about the young victim of the Holocaust who, despite overwhelming circumstances, penned her still hopeful views on humankind.

“What resonated out of the exhibit was not just a tribute to Anne Frank as a person but her words of hope for humanity. This fueled a conversation on what we want our city to be,” Prinzing recalled. A seed was planted with a group of women known as the Founding Mothers. The four women, Reverend Dr. Nancy Taylor, Lisa Uhlmann, Leslie Drake, and the late Marilyn Shuler, rallied around the new goal: What if a permanent Anne Frank Memorial were constructed in Boise?

A campaign was soon launched, “Changing Hearts and Minds,” that empowered students around the state to collect pennies, nickels, and dimes to set the plans in motion. More than $40,000 later, the plan had momentum, and the bronze sculpture of Anne Frank was erected.

Idaho native and philanthropist Greg Carr stepped in and donated $500,000 of the $1.5 million project. Idahoans worked to raise the remaining money with gusto. More than 3,000 people and businesses donated to the plans. The project was met with enthusiasm and vigor.

For Carr, the impact of the efforts of so many in Boise is still expanding. Carr has spent recent years working to help rebuild Gorongosa National Park, after 25 years of war in Mozambique, Africa, left the land barren and destroyed. During a visit prior to Nelson Mandela’s death, Carr was able to speak with him about their efforts in Boise and the memorial that features his words.

“I was able to tell him that, in my home state, we have a human rights memorial with a quote from you on the wall,” he recalled. “It was such a special moment to be able to look him in the eye and say, ‘Look how far your influence has gone, sir.’”

Thanks to the effort of so many, Boise has reclaimed its legacy.

“Boise has turned that place into something incredibly special for people,” Carr said.

Visitors are welcome at the memorial throughout the year. Free public tours are given from April through the end of October, but a private tour can be scheduled at any time of year through the Wassmuth Center.

Beyond the memorial, Prinzing and the team at the Wassmuth Center work year-round to promote respect for human dignity and diversity through education and discourse, from creating educational programming for teachers and students, to donating backpacks and bikes to students in Cambodia.

An outdoor community classroom is currently under construction. Illustration courtesy of Erstad Architects

This article appears in the Fall 2017 Issue of Territory Magazine.