Hundreds mark 90th birthday of Anne Frank in her birth city of Frankfurt

(JTA) — Several hundred people gathered at a church in Frankfurt, the city of Anne Frank’s birth, on the occasion of the teenage diarist’s 90th birthday.

The event, organized Wednesday at the iconic St. Paul’s Church by the municipality of the German city and the Basel-based Anne Frank Foundation, featured an address by philosopher Agnes Heller, a Hungarian-Jewish Holocaust survivor who was born one month before Frank.

After surviving the Nazi death machine, Heller was inspired as a young woman when she read Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl.” The book chronicles Anne’s two-year stay at a secret annex in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam with her family and several other Jews. The family was caught in 1944 and sent to death camps. Only Anne’s father, Otto, survived.

“She was like one of the relatives and friends I lost, kids killed by the Hungarian Nazi Arrow Cross,” Heller said. “Her story belonged to all of us.”

Audrey Azoulay, the director-general of UNESCO, the United Nations agency for education and heritage, in her speech touched on an ongoing debate concerning Anne Frank’s legacy and whether it should be taught as a specifically Jewish story or a universal one.

The diary “is an intimate story of a teenager and that of the Shoah,” said Azoulay, who is Jewish, using the Hebrew-language word for the Holocaust.

Separately, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign minister criticized German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas for a statement on Anne Frank’s birthday that did not mention Jews. Her story, Maas said, is a “warning against discrimination, marginalization and persecution and as a symbol of humanity.”

Emmanuel Nahshon, the top spokesman of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, responded on Twitter.

“Anne Frank’s diary is NOT a warning about wishy washy pseudo universal values!” he wrote. “Anne Frank’s legacy is a warning against the hatred and persecution of JEWS. The attempt to ‘universalize the lessons of the Shoah’ is nothing less than a dishonest rewriting of history.”