Following the vandalism of the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in downtown Boise, the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights has embraced many changes as part of its response to this act of hate, many of which were made possible by the support of the Boise community.
Several parts of the memorial were found defaced by Neo-Nazis with swastika stickers displaying the words “we are everywhere” on the morning of Dec. 8, 2020.
News of the vandalism received national attention from organizations such as CNN and NBC, which in turn prompted a response from national audiences.
“We got cards and letters from across the country,” said Dan Prinzing, executive director of the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights. “We received an outpouring of support.”
In addition to this response, the center also received support in the form of donations from both individuals and larger corporations such as Chobani and Micron, both of which have facilities in Idaho.
One of these corporations, the local branding firm Oliver Russel, raised the funds necessary for the Wassmuth Center’s new security system. The GoFundMe fundraiser met its goal of $5,000 within 24 hours.
Additionally, construction for a new Wassmuth Center for Human Rights is set to be completed by the end of 2021, which will include a full work area open to students who want to become more involved with the center.
“There’s this almost visceral sensory aspect to it that you don’t get in a classroom,” said Erik Hadley, a history professor at Boise State University.
Hadley has incorporated trips to the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial into the classroom since 2016, through which he aims to contextualize what his students are learning.
“Because you can go there and you can feel something; you can take what you’ve learned and look around you and it makes more sense,” Hadley said. “It serves as a vehicle to talk about issues of human rights and tolerance in Idaho.”
The lesser-known part of this story, however, finds itself in the active involvement of the Boise community in fighting this act of injustice.
“I see the yard signs… what it tells me as I’m walking through the neighborhood is that there’s a house that believes in justice,” Prinzing said. “Look what’s happening right now; we’ve got some folks marching in the streets as upstanders, we have some that are donating to organizations doing the work as upstanders, we have some that are educating themselves.”
Whether it be through sporting a bumper sticker or marching through the streets of Boise with signs proclaiming that “love is everywhere,” many Boiseans have found a way to make it known that December’s events are not representative of their values.
One of the most publicly visible responses to the vandalism has been the banners which currently line the streets of downtown Boise.
The banners, hung by the Downtown Boise Association, show a picture of Anne Frank along with messages combatting the threatening words left behind by the vandals like “love is everywhere,” “we are everywhere” and “we choose love.”
The Wassmuth Center was named after Bill Wassmuth, who became a human rights advocate against the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho in the 1980s. When choosing how to respond to the December vandalism, Prinzing took inspiration from Wassmuth.
“How do you react to hate? Bill [Wassmuth] did not shrink, he did not shrink away, he got louder,” Prinzing said. “Hate cannot become our narrative.”
Matthew Naples, a social work major at Boise State interning with the Wassmuth Center, believes in the importance of letting love and tolerance control the narrative, rather than hate.
“Sometimes the voice of a small minority gets a lot of attention,” Naples said. “It makes sense, but at the same time, has the outspoken love that was articulated afterwards, has that gotten the same level of attention? My hunch is no, but I think that is something worthy of talking about.”
Recently, Boise State President Marlene Tromp has sparked conversations with the Wassmuth Center to discuss tightening the relationship between the center and academic studies, as well as how students can become involved with furthering the center’s mission of Human Rights.
“We look forward to opportunities to interface with Boise State students because the students possess a talent, an interest, a passion, a new generation that can proclaim in their own way: we are everywhere,” Prinzing said.
Naples said that as a student, he sees his peers wanting to engage in that conversation too.
“I think there’s a movement towards wanting to educate as many people as possible,” Naples said. “How can we encourage people to have conversations over confrontation?”
With the construction of the new Wassmuth Center and future opportunities for Boise State students to get involved, the message that “we are everywhere” begins to take on a new meaning.
“When you come to the memorial, make sure you smile, because we’ve got you on camera,” Prinzing said.