Not long ago, the mention of Idaho conjured up images of neo-Nazis of the Aryan Nations goose-stepping at their forest redoubt in this Northwestern state.
But now, Idaho will draw some more welcome attention as the home of the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial and Park, in the heart of Boise, the state capital.
The park's dedication in August drew thousands, affirming Idaho's commitment to tolerance, civil rights and rejection of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, who until recently marred the state's reputation.
The 30,000 square-foot park, on the banks of the Boise River, includes a life-size bronze statue of Anne Frank, peering through an "attic" window, two reflecting ponds, three waterfalls, reading circles, children's plaza and an amphitheater.
Engraved on tablets of Idaho sandstone and travertine are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and 60 quotes from such figures as Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Chief Joseph and Confucius, ending with the quote from Anne Frank's famous diary, "If God lets me live ... I shall not remain insignificant. I shall work in the world and for mankind."
More than 3,000 individuals and businesses contributed toward the $1.5 million cost of the project, including students from 40 Idaho schools who staged plays, washed cars, sold candy and friendship-grams and collected pennies for the $40,000 statue of Anne Frank by Massachusetts sculptor Greg Stone.
More than 250,000 visitors, including 25,000 school children, are expected at the memorial annually, according to Les Bock, executive director of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center, who spearheaded the project.
These are huge figures for a state with a total population of less than 1.3 million. The miniscule Jewish community of about 1,000 makes up less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the state's total and supports one synagogue, Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise.
The origin of the memorial park dates back to 1995, when an Anne Frank exhibit went on display in Boise. It attracted 45,000 visitors, at that time about 5 percent of the state's population.
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Boise Mayor Brent Coles formally dedicated the memorial on Aug. 16, while New York actress Aysan Celik read excerpts from Anne Frank's diary.
Some of the thinking that went into creation of the memorial is discussed in an informational bulletin.
"Why, in Idaho, do we work so passionately on this endeavor?" it asks, and responds, "Some may say to offset the vocal hate groups who tarnish the reputation of our state; others may say to build a lasting legacy for generations to come; and still others may say it's simply the right thing to do."
But why name the memorial for Anne Frank? The answer is that "Anne Frank's story teaches us about human rights in a way that everyone can understand. From her tragic experiences, we can learn how human rights issues affect us all and how to safeguard against similar human rights tragedies."
For more information, visit www.idaho-humanrights.org/anne.htm.
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