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Saturday, December 4, 2021
ArlingtonOpinion'Old School' column: A museum tale

‘Old School’ column: A museum tale

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by CAROL McEWEN, for the Sun Gazette

I recently had a conversation with Arlingtonian Jan Burns, my friend for 30-plus years.

Jan hails from Danville, Iowa, with a population of less than 1,000, just 15 miles west of the Mississippi River and 40 miles north of the Missouri border.

While we were chatting, she mentioned an Anne Frank Museum in her hometown.
While I’m all for it, I couldn’t figure out what in heck it was doing there, in a place neither Anne nor anyone in her family had ever visited. Jan gave me the low-down.

It seems that Miss Birdie Matthews, the local elementary school teacher, was touring Europe in the 1930s. While in Amsterdam, she visited a Montessori school and asked if any children there would be interested in having American Pen Pals.

Once Miss Birdie returned home, two local sisters, Betty and Juanita Wagner, became the lucky pen pals of Margot and Anne Frank.

Only one letter, containing pictures of the Frank girls, and one postcard survive. Both are written in English, which, it was later learned, were translated from Dutch by their father.

During the war the Wagner sisters continued to send mail to the Frank address, but received no responses. About three or four months after the war, they received a five-page handwritten letter from Otto Frank, explaining what had happened to both girls.

This was the genesis of the Anne Frank Museum, which houses the documents, pictures of the girls, and a filmed interview with the now deceased Betty Wagner.

We all know that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, but what we may forget is that one and a half million of them were children.

The museum is trying to collect the same number of postcards, to remind people of all the children who died.

So if you have old postcards from Uncle Louie’s visit to the Poconos, or ones you bought and never got around to sending, mail them to: Danville High School, 419 S. Main Street, Danville, Iowa 52623.

If you have a little extra money, you can mail a donation to Danville Station, P.O. Box 304, Danville, Iowa 52623. Your donation will help pay the $85,000 needed to buy, transport and restore a pre-World War II boxcar for the museum. This will show visitors the concentration-camp transportation for Anne and the millions like her.

We Old Schoolers aren’t the only ones who say “small world.”

Reach Carol McEwen at carolwrites4fun@gmail.com.

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