Anne Frank still speaks to us

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank lived here. For two frightening years of World War II, Prinsengracht 263 was the secret address of the world’s most famous diarist.

Queuing outside, I try to imagine this street as it must have looked 70 years ago. The gabled canal houses are the same, as is the canal flowing by. Bicycles are still a major means of transportation in the Netherlands. These bicycles even look like they could have been in use in the 1940s.

Bicycles, Amsterdam

Entering the Anne Frank House, I’m struck by the subdued atmosphere. I’m by no means alone, but voices are low; the mood is sombre, respectful. There’s a ban on mobile phones and people seem to respect it.

Anne’s words

Poignant excerpts from Anne’s diary are written on the walls:

9 April 1944 – One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we will be people again, and not just Jews. We can never be just Dutch, or just English or whatever; we will always be Jews as well. But then, we’ll want to be!

Others chillingly hint at the atmosphere in the house:

11 June 1942 – We will have to whisper and tread lightly during the day; otherwise the people in the warehouse might hear us.

The helpers

From what was the original house entrance, I walk up a steep and narrow stairway, typical of Dutch canal houses. On top of the stairs is a door with a glass window marked Kantoor, office. Notes here concern the helpers.

22 January 1944 – Mr Kugler brings me “Cinema and Theatre” every week.

The helpers, risking their own life, were Otto Frank’s employees: Miep Gies, Bep Voskuijl, Victor Kugler and Jo Kleiman.

26 May 1944 – Kugler, who at times finds the enormous responsibility for the eight of us overwhelming, can hardly talk from the pent-up tension and strain.

In the front office, an interview with Miep Gies is running continuously. Miep’s typewriter is displayed in a glass case.

This is how Anne and her sister Margot used this room:

29 September 1942 – Margot and I have declared the front office to be our bathing grounds. Since the curtains are drawn on Saturday afternoon, we scrub ourselves in the dark, while the one who isn’t in the bath looks out the windows through a chink in the curtains.

Peeking out through that same window, through a chink in the curtains, I get a glimpse of a young couple on a green bench; the dark waters of the canal flowing past. It’s a frisky March day and the girl’s long hair is blowing in the wind. Anne must have looked out the windows on spring days like this, probably wishing she could feel the breeze in her dark locks.

Amsterdam canal
Amsterdam canal on a windy March day

Other scenes from the window must have been horrifying:

19 November 1942 – Countless friends and acquaintances have been taken off to a dreadful fate. Night after night, green and grey military vehicles cruise the streets. It’s impossible to escape their clutches unless you go into hiding.

12 December 1942 – I saw two Jews through the curtains yesterday, it was a horrible feeling, just as if I had betrayed them and was now watching them in their misery.

The higher up you ascend Amsterdam canal houses, the steeper and narrower the stairs. I climb the long, “leg-breaking” stairway. On top, I’m met by a display of yellow cloth stars with the word Jood written on them. As of 3 May 1942, Jews were required to wear these.

20 June 1942 – After May 1940 good times rapidly fled: first the war, then the capitulation, followed by the German invasion which is when the sufferings of us Jews really began. Jews must bear a yellow star, Jews must hand in their bicycles, and Jews are banned from street cars. Jews may not visit Christians; Jews must go to Jewish schools and many more restrictions of a similar kind.

Also displayed is a formal letter titled oproeping! – a call-up notice for a work project in Germany. Margot’s oproeping was the immediate cause for the Frank family to go into hiding in the first place. The next room is simply decorated with black and white photos of the eight.

The eight people in hiding

  • Auguste van Pels-Röttgen, born 29 September 1900 in Buer, Germany.
  • Hermann van Pels, born 31 March 1898 in Gehrde, Germany.
  • Peter van Pels, born 8 November 1926 in Osnabrück, Germany.
  • Fritz Pfeffer, born 30 April 1889 in Giessen, Germany.
  • Otto Frank, born 12 May 1889 in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany
  • Edith Frank-Holländer, born 16 January 1900 in Aachen, Germany
  • Margot Frank, born 1 February 1926 in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany
  • Anne Frank, born 12 June 1929 in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany

Living in eternal dusk

During the war, black-out curtains covered all the windows. The families could not go outside and the curtains could not be opened during the day. Fresh air was available through a small window in the attic; dark, damp, inhabited by rats.

Today, the house is dimly lit, possibly to simulate reality back then. This lack of daylight, any light, leaves me feeling annoyed, angry even.

When two kids accidentally tear down a window-cover, I’m immediately filled with a great sense of relief at the unexpected light and breeze coming through. The church bells are louder and clearer; it’s easier to breathe. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like, living in this eternal dusk – day in, day out; in constant fear of discovery.

The frustration is palpable in this quote from Anne Frank in a film excerpt:

I wander from room to room, down the stairs and up again. A voice in me screams: Go out, breathe air, have fun.

After a while, security measures for the families in hiding had to be increased.

21 August 1942 – Now our secret annex has truly become secret. Mr. Kugler thought is would be better to have a bookcase built in front of the entrance to our hiding place. Now whenever we want to go downstairs we have to duck and then jump.

In the evenings, the two families in hiding use this staircase to sneak downstairs. During the day, the helpers use the stairs to get to the secret annex.

Above the movable bookcase, I spot a map of Belgium. The shelves contain binders marked Verzekering (insurance), Onbetaalde Rekeningen (unpaid bills), Contracten (contracts), Reclame material (Advertising). It all looks matter-of-fact, businesslike – in a time-warped sort of way. I sneeze. The room smells dusty, of old papers and books.

In the bedroom 17-year-old Margot shared with her parents, her sister Anne noted this:

17 November 1943 – Mother reads a prayer book – Father reads Dickens with a dictionary, of course – on the edge of the sagging bed.- Margot sends her Latin lessons to a teacher, who corrects them and then returns them. I bet he’s glad to have such a smart student.

2 May 1943 – Margot and Mother have shared the same three undershirts the entire winter.

Next is the bedroom Anne shared with the middle-aged Mr. Pfeffer.

As we walk through the room, the atmosphere changes ever so slightly. The visitors are quiet; even three teenage boys who have been joking and laughing a bit, stop talking now. Anne’s room, sacred almost, to those who have read this young girl’s diary. The room is decorated with pictures and newspaper cuttings of the stars and heroes of the day. This could just as well have been my mother’s bedroom wall in 1943.

We all gaze silently at pictures of the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, Ginger Rogers, Sonia Henie, Greta Garbo in Ninotchka. ..

 

Washroom.

3 August 1943 – Shh… Father, be quiet, Otto.

At the strike of half past eight, Father has to be in the living room. No running water, no flushing toilet, no walking around, no noise whatsoever.

It’s half past two. As I enter the sitting room, the neighbouring Westerkerk begins to play. Anne talks about Westerkerk in her diary – how hearing the bells gives her hope.

The sitting room also served as a bedroom for Mr and Mrs Pels. It contains the remnants of an old iron stove, a cupboard where a draft comes through and an open wardrobe with two shelves and a hanging rod. Through the blacked-out windows, I see vague silhouettes of trees and neighbouring canal houses. Humourously, Anne observes:

10 December 1942 – Mrs van Pels was trying to do everything at once, learning Dutch out of a book, stirring the soup, watching the meat, sighing and moaning about her broken rib.

Betrayed – unknown by whom

Next are these chilling words:

4 Aug 1944 – found!

Betrayed – unknown by whom. Bookcase torn apart and secret entrance discovered.

Friday 4 August 1944 was a day like any other for the people in hiding. Otto Frank writes:

It was about ten-thirty. I was upstairs with the Van Pelses in Peter’s room and I was helping him with his schoolwork. I was showing him the mistake in the dictation when suddenly someone came running up the stairs. The stairs were squeaking, I stood up, because it was still early in the morning and everyone was supposed to be quiet – then the door opened and a man was standing right in front of us with a gun in his hand and it was pointed at us.” SS-officer Karl Silberbauer, assisted by 3 Dutch SD officers supervised the arrest.

In the final room, I’m greeted by blurry photos and a sobering death list. Faded index cards coldly describe the details.

  • Van Pels, Auschwitz mid-1944
  • Pfeffer, Neuengamme, Dec 1944
  • Edith, Auschwitz, 6 January 1945
  • Margot, Bergen Belsen, March 1945
  • Anne, Bergen Belsen, March 1945
  • Auguste, Theresienstadt, April/May 1945
  • Peter, Mauthausen 5 May 1945
  • Otto, Auschwitz, survived

 

In the words of Hanneli Goslar, a former neighbour, who met Anne in Bergen Belsen: April 1945 – Anne died only one month before liberation – alone, having no one (she thought, after her sister died).  

Anne Frank
Mari Andriessen’s statue of Anne Frank outside Westerkerk

Anne’s own words seems a fitting end:

25 March 1944 – Liebe Kitty, I want to be useful and bring enjoyment to all people. And therefore I am so grateful to God for giving me this gift of writing, of expressing all that is in me.

Emotionally draining though it is, the Anne Frank House is one of my favourite museums. It’s so simple, yet so powerfully presented – and so real. I don’t think I’ve ever been in Amsterdam without walking through it.

What is the memorable museum you have visited?

This is an excerpt, somewhat altered, of my article on the Anne Frank Huis on Boots’n’All. Photo of Anne Frank by wikilivres.info. All other photos by Anne-Sophie Redisch.

38 Responses to “Anne Frank still speaks to us”

  1. Lisa 5 November 2011 2007 #

    I have never been to the Anne Frank house but your description made me feel as if I was there. Emotionally draining indeed! My younger daughter is 8 and has been asking about reading Anne’s story and visiting Amsterdam to see the house (I don’t recall exactly how she learned about Anne in the first place). I’ve told her that I think she is too young but I’m wondering at what age you think it would be appropriate to visit the museum with a child?
    Lisa recently posted..Lost in Mykonos

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 5 November 2011 2045 #

      Hi Lisa,
      My daughter had Anne’s diary as part of the curriculum in school last term (when she was in year 4) and I’m taking her along to see the house this winter (she’s now 10). I think it’s wonderful that your daughter is interested and curious about Anne’s story – it sounds like she is ready.. Maybe read (at least some of) the diary and talk about it this year, then visit next year…

  2. Sonja 5 November 2011 2214 #

    We visited the Anne Frank house 2 summers ago after my daughter had studied her diary in school. Both she and my younger son were very moved. It is a sad, yet very meaningful and enriching museum.
    Sonja recently posted..Link Up to Monkeying Around

  3. Cathy Sweeney 5 November 2011 2256 #

    Excellent account of your visit to the Anne Frank House with the facts and your perspectives. I visited there in June and was so moved by it. I hope that everyone traveling to Amsterdam will take some time to experience Anne Frank House, too.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..The Heat Was Hot: My desert road trip

  4. Anne-Sophie Redisch
    Anne-Sophie Redisch 5 November 2011 2301 #

    Sonja and Cathy – Thanks. It’s important to remember.

  5. David Bennett 5 November 2011 2302 #

    Lovely article.

    I have been to the Anne Frank museum twice. The second time, three or four years ago, I looked out of the window where the cafe is and looked into the mirror hung in the window.

    Are you familiar with these mirrors? They are like the wing mirror on a car and they give a reflected view down the street. Many Dutch apartments have them.

    So this particular mirror in the Anne Frank house had an old black and white photograph pasted into it. It showed German soldiers marching, as though they were marching down the Prinsengracht.

    Despite it being only a photo, it was difficult to look at.
    David Bennett recently posted..The Scottish Parliament Building

  6. Anne-Sophie Redisch
    Anne-Sophie Redisch 5 November 2011 2316 #

    David – Thank you. I’ve not noticed the mirror windows, but definitely will next time! So glad you pointed it out.

  7. Kelly 6 November 2011 0000 #

    Thanks for this moving post. I always find visiting places like this draw up a mixture of emotions, and you captured that well.
    Kelly recently posted..Girls that Go! – An Interview with Stephanie of Twenty-Something-Travel

  8. Alouise 6 November 2011 0116 #

    Great post. I remember reading The Diary of Anne Frank when I was 12. But even knowing the history, the visit to the Anne Frank House was one of the sombre travel experiences I’ve had.
    Alouise recently posted..Goals, Embracing Change, Music, Mistakes and Kindness

  9. Amy 6 November 2011 0211 #

    I visited there back in 1998, and was shocked at how tiny the space was. It actually looks larger in your photo than what I remember it to have been! What a terrible time it must have been!

  10. Jarrad 6 November 2011 0214 #

    Couldn’t imagine having to keep kids that quiet and still for so long. My kids are reading her diary at the moment, and it’s definitely one that has raised a lot of discussions and questions.
    Jarrad recently posted..Pelicans

  11. wandering educators 6 November 2011 0229 #

    what a powerful post – thank you so much. i love the photos – they really help bring the area to life.
    wandering educators recently posted..Digital Media School Project in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

  12. Gladys | ByahengBarok.com 6 November 2011 0322 #

    one of my fave books during high school was the Diary of Anne Frank. at my age now, i still can’t imagine what her life was like during the 40s compared to how i live mine. how i wish i get to netherlands in this lifetime and see where she lived.

  13. Muza-chan 6 November 2011 0857 #

    Great article, thank you (^_^)
    Muza-chan recently posted..A Japanese Song per Day: FLOW – Hey!

  14. ItalianNotes 6 November 2011 1408 #

    There are a great many memorable museums, but Anne Frank House is deeply moving and one of my favourites too.
    ItalianNotes recently posted..Radici arrostite

  15. Anne-Sophie Redisch
    Anne-Sophie Redisch 6 November 2011 1415 #

    Kelly, Alouise, Amy, Jarrad, wandering educators, Gladys, Muza-chan, ItalianMotes – thanks so much for reading and for your kind words.

  16. Mark Wiens 6 November 2011 1417 #

    I visited the Anne Frank house a number of years ago and just like you, I was impressed with how simple it was, yet how powerful its message was. I remember thinking the same thing about the curtains and the constant darkness – that really is enough to make one depressed and down. It really takes a strong mind (and emotions) to persevere and not give up.
    Mark Wiens recently posted..Theva Residency: Blissful Retreat in the Mystical Hills of Kandy, Sri Lanka

  17. Anne-Sophie Redisch
    Anne-Sophie Redisch 6 November 2011 1603 #

    Mark – thanks. I think that constant lack of light would make me crazy. Makes it more difficult to breathe, somehow.

  18. Vera Marie Badertscher 6 November 2011 1659 #

    I was so sorry to miss the museum when I was in Amsterdam briefly last year. Travelers need to be aware that they do need advance reservations because the museum is so popular. I waited too long, so want to be sure to let other people know so they won’t make the mistake I made.

    Meanwhile, your post brought it to life for me, and set me to pondering the fact that Anne died in the month I celebrated my 6th birthday. Although I’m not Jewish and have never had such a horrible experience, I have always felt close to her, as I know millions of people do.
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..The Light of Venice

  19. Anne-Sophie Redisch
    Anne-Sophie Redisch 6 November 2011 1723 #

    Vera – good point. There’s almost always long queues, and there isn’t really an off-season. reminds me a bit of the Vatican museums in that way. Even though this a small museum, one needs to plan on at least half a day with the queueing. Going very early is a good idea.

  20. Christopher 6 November 2011 1746 #

    Excellent post. It is good to be reminded.
    Christopher recently posted..Expat Author Interview with David Brazier

  21. inka 6 November 2011 1823 #

    Yes, she still speaks to us and she will…..forever.
    inka recently posted..Lamb and sweets – kurban bayram in Turkey

  22. adventureswithben 7 November 2011 0132 #

    I think Dacau in Munich, another WWII-related museum.
    adventureswithben recently posted..Sign Spotting: New Urban Male Logo

  23. i just read another post about the anne frank house / museum but a few days ago, and now reading yours as well makes me regret not making the effort while i was in amsterdam to get there. i think it is amazing that a book written by a young girl still has this power, even after many years on. lets hope that in the future we can still learn from it.
    jamie – cloud people adventures recently posted..Border Crossing: Guatemala to Honduras

  24. jenjenk 7 November 2011 0909 #

    I cried when i went through the house. I couldn’t imagine what it would’ve been like there…
    jenjenk recently posted..30 Days of Indie Travel: Day 1, Goals

  25. robin 7 November 2011 1102 #

    Very powerful. Unimaginable to us and yet not all that distant in time. We need these reminders.
    robin recently posted..La Torre

  26. Anne-Sophie Redisch
    Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 November 2011 1550 #

    Christopher, Inka – Thank you.

    Ben – Yes, walking through Dachau is another very thought-provoking experience.

    Jamie – Such a simple, yet powerful book, isn’t it… I’m encouraged to know children still read Anne’s diary in school.

    Jen – Funny, isn’t it… it isn’t much there, yet it feels so real. A deeply touching place.

    Robin – Thanks. And yes, we really do.

  27. Anna 7 November 2011 1823 #

    What an excellent writer she was! And she seemed to be able to see in the future. Great reminder!
    Anna recently posted..When wisdom tooth extraction cost is not a priority question.

  28. Anne-Sophie Redisch
    Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 November 2011 2306 #

    Anna – She really was an excellent writer – such simple, yet so compelling words.

  29. Jenna 8 November 2011 0759 #

    What a powerful post, Sophie. I have read her diary but did not go to the museum when I was in Amsterdam. Your post made me feel like I was there. The most memorable museum ai have visited was the museum at Auschwitz. The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Is also very moving.

  30. Sabina 8 November 2011 0844 #

    I would really like to visit this house. It’s unbelievable how many anti-Semitic people there still are in the world, even after what happened in the Holocaust.
    Sabina recently posted..Celebrating Islam’s Eid al-Adha Holiday…By Sacrificing Sheep?

  31. I’m drained just reading this! When I get to Amsterdam I won’t miss the Anne Frank house. I get the same type of feeling when I was at Dachau, the Normandy beaches and the synagogue in Budapest. Such a tragic part of history.
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Innsbruck You Captivated Me!

  32. Anne-Sophie Redisch
    Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 November 2011 1010 #

    Jenna – Thank you. I haven’t visited the one in Washington DC yet, thanks for pointing it out. Auschwitz is sad, heart-wrenching, exhausting… and the particularly inhuman mechanics of Birkenau provoked and infuriated me.

    Sabina and Debbie – thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  33. Dian Emery 11 November 2011 1613 #

    Sophie, what a beautiful post to write for this special day. It touched my heart, thank you.
    Dian Emery recently posted..Hot Chocolate Heaven: Where to get the Best Cocoa in Mexico

  34. Anne-Sophie Redisch
    Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 November 2011 2323 #

    Thanks so much for your kind words, Dian.

  35. Eileen Ludwig 12 November 2011 0747 #

    The museum is emotional draining and steals your breath to think of all the atrocities of that time period
    Eileen Ludwig recently posted..Lunch Date Harry Potter Three Broomsticks Universal Orlando Wizarding World of Harry Potter

  36. Stephanie - The Travel Chica 17 November 2011 1904 #

    Wonderfully told!
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..My Biggest Fear: Dental Work in the Third World

  37. Anne-Sophie Redisch
    Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 November 2011 2318 #

    @Eileen – It is draining, but all the more real for it, I think.

    @Stephanie – Thanks!

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