Why Gillian had designs on refusniks and Anne

ANNE Frank Trust UK co-founder and executive director Gillian Walnes draws on the power of Anne's life and diary to educate the next generation of British youngsters.

More than 20,000 people benefit annually from educational programmes in schools, prisons and communities.

Founded in 1990, the Trust challenges prejudice and reduces hatred by embracing positive attitudes, personal responsibility and respect.

Coming up to 70 years since Anne's death at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March, 1945, her enduring impact lives on.

"Anne's story is poignant and young people can identify," Gillian said.

"We have her words of what it actually felt like to be a victim of persecution and how it felt to be an ordinary teenager.

"There is also the richness of photographs that her father, Otto, took of Anne and her sister, Margot, growing up.

"Otto was a very keen photographer and this is a very unusual resource from those days."

Gillian, the daughter of Harry and Eileen Goldblatt, grew up in Walthamstow, where she had a traditional Jewish background.

She attended Bournemouth School for Girls prior to gaining a Licentiate of the Society of Artists and Designers degree at Bournemouth College of Art and Design.

"Fashion is in my genes," she said. "My grandfather, Abraham Goldblatt, was a Russian-Polish born tailor and dad sold his beautifully tailored coats."

Gillian's second cousin, Rosalinde Gilbert, was a famous fashion designer in the 1940s and her daughter, Tilly, has clearly inherited the family genes as she was a contestant in BBC2's Great British Sewing Bee.

Moving to London, Gillian's knitwear company, Bach'o, sold top quality goods in boutiques in the 1970s.

"During one season, Selfridges dedicated a window to my design collection, which was very exciting," she recalled.

Moving back to Bournemouth with first husband Peter Walnes in 1975, they started a mail order antiquarian book business, specialising in costume and fashion books.

"I loved trawling Parisian bookshops and the London book fairs for my stock," she said.

Gillian's son, Joe, was born in 1978, followed by Tilly in 1980.

Gillian was a campaigner for refusniks in the 1980s as chairman of the Bournemouth committee for Soviet Jewry.

"Natan Sharansky's wife, Avital, visited the town when he was in prison and I was very moved by her story," Gillian recalled.

"My grandparents came from Poland and, if they had survived the Holocaust, they would have been trapped behind Soviet lines."

Organising demonstrations, hunger strikes and letter-writing campaigns, Gillian visited Russia twice taking supplies and moral support to refusniks.

Campaign efforts included high level meetings with political party leaders, including Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and opposition leader Neil Kinnock.

Gillian also lobbied world leaders including Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan.

"Like many women who were active in what became known as the 'housewives campaign', I developed enormous chutzpah," she said.

"Mrs Thatcher was very vociferous and supportive, but to be fair they all were."

Gillian has kept press cuttings detailing the worldwide coverage of Sharansky's release on February 11, 1986.

"We watched on television, but also did TV, radio and newspaper interviews locally," she said.

"The campaign was so well known in town, not only in the Jewish, but wider community.

"We were always holding demonstrations."

As the Soviet Jewry campaign winded down, a new challenge emerged.

Gillian's involvement with the Anne Frank Trust came about after an invitation from a friend, Rabbi David Soetendorp, helped bring an exhibition to Bournemouth in 1988.

"David's father knew Otto Frank and, of course, I agreed," she recalled.

"The exhibition was fantastic and attracted 10,000 visitors over three weeks. We then decided to keep it touring the UK."

Gillian met the director of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, who appointed her British representative.

The Anne Frank Trust was founded by Gillian, Eva Schloss, Bee Klug and Rabbi Soetendorp and launched at the House of Commons in 1990.

"Eva is Anne's posthumous stepsister and has just published another volume of her autobiography," she said. "Bee was also a friend of Otto."

By now married to Tony Bogush, Gillian ran the Trust from her home until 2004 when it moved to its current Kentish Town premises.

"Tony was very involved in all aspects of the Trust until his death from cancer in August, 2006," Gillian noted.

She married Israeli journalist Elon Perry in 2012.

Based in Hendon, Gillian made addresses at Anne Frank exhibition openings in Hong Kong, Sao Paulo and South Africa.

Landmark Trust initiatives have included the creation of the Anne Frank 'Children to Children' appeal for Bosnia when 100,000 children participated in a letter writing campaign.

The Anne Frank Declaration was signed by world leaders including Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

And the Anne Frank tree planting programme, national educational projects and prison project have been hugely successful.

The Trust's activities have also developed from one travelling exhibition to seven touring concurrently.

And the story has proved powerful for teens through the generations.

"Anne's story is so poignant and why many young people feel outraged and committed to telling her story.

"Anne was like them, experiencing all the things they are going through like rebelling against parents, sibling rivalry, falling in love, changes in their body, hopes, dreams and fears, and concerns about the world.

"These are things young people so strongly identify with."

The Trust has also developed a peer education programme in Yorkshire with exhibitions about Anne at local schools.

"It's been incredibly successful because people go on to become Anne Frank ambassadors," Gillian said.

"We've had three exhibitions in Bradford since 2008 and there is huge support from Bradford Council.

"It is also amazing to see Muslim children proudly telling the story of the persecution of a Jewish girl."

The ongoing interest in Anne Frank is a phenomena.

"There continues to be a succession of books, artistic interpretations and theatre productions," Gillian said.

Looking to the future, she noted: "The generation which experienced the war in terms of Holocaust survivors and those who fought the war are not going to be with us for very long.

"It's a question of imparting Anne's story to make sure the next generation carries it with them.

"Whenever I speak to young people I remind them they have a responsibility to tell the story to their children and grandchildren."

The legacy of Anne will evolve, Gillian added.

"It has to fit with the times. We must make sure the story is constant and the messages we tell of Anne's persecution remain relevant.

"Whether young people identify with a story on television or of a global issue of suffering or if they see a child being bullied or victimised in the playground, they understand that this is a person like themselves.

"That is legacy of Anne and what she would have wanted."

© 2013 Jewish Telegraph