Solveig Coles had 3 1/2 weeks to recruit, train, coordinate and schedule the volunteer docents who would guide visitors through "The World of Anne Frank" exhibit at the City-County Building from March 25 through April 22.
"I was told to recruit 100 docents, but I realized we'd need twice that many," Coles said during a Deseret News interview. As a result, Coles spent 14 hours a day on the phone. "The first three weeks, the exhibit took over my life and the life of my family. There was a lot of hard work to do in really too short a time to do it."Coles named a captain for each of the four weeks of the exhibit. Eleanor Whisenant was captain the first week of the exhibit and estimates she put in 73 hours in coordinating her group of docents. That first week, over 1,800 Utah schoolchildren toured the exhibit as part of scheduled tours.
Captain Naomi Jergensen's second week was even busier, with 2,700 children and 5,000 general public visitors, not even counting drop-ins who didn't go on an organized tour. Sondra Schumann was the next team captain, and Barbara Finlayson is captain this final week of the exhibit. "Each week the attendance picks up more," said Coles. "Monday night was just amazing. We had over 700 people come through in the evening. There would be 40 to 50 people gathered for each tour, and we were taking them through every 10 minutes. I sent a lot of people to the video rooms so they weren't all waiting," Coles said.
The docents have not only had touching exchanges with the public - visitors have rolled up their sleeves and shown the tattooed numbers on their arms - but have opened their past to share troubling memories. Docent Fokje Gunn was a member of the Dutch underground and told many school tours how she obtained false identification papers for hidden Jews. Coles tells of one older Dutch man who was taking a group of children through the exhibit when he became very emotional. "He had to wait while he composed himself, but the children were as quiet as can be," she said.
Docent Debbie Coury's mother is a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, and she has told her story to countless visitors. A visitor shared what psychologist Bruno Bettleheim, a Holocaust survivor, told him at an airport in New York, "It can happen here, it can happen here!"
Sponsor Geneva Steel recorded much of the exhibit on videotape. Sytske Woodhouse had six members of her family sign up as docents, and when they brought in their family photos to be taped, it was a real time of reflection, so they also brought their children to share the experience.
About 20 high school honor students have served as docents. Natasha Ahanin is a junior at East High School, and another docent said of the Iranian girl, "She knows as much as a college professor!"
While team captain Naomi Jergensen was taking a tour through the exhibit, one woman identified herself as the niece of Miep Gies, the courageous woman who helped to hide and feed the family of Anne Frank. The woman told Jergensen, "One day the Franks were there, the next day they were gone. We wondered for two years what happened to them." Miep Gies didn't tell her own family that the Franks were in hiding.
One man in the Gies family said to Jergensen as he looked at the photos, "I call those people by name, they are my family. And the victims, I call them by name. . . ." Then he turned, walked to the stairway and wept.