I knew I’d cry. She was an ordinary little girl, living through an extraordinarily difficult situation where one wrong step at the wrong time could cost the lives of her whole family.
Growing up protected in a small country that had felt the effects of World War I and II (in a much different way), as school children we read the Diary of Anne Frank in an attempt to understand and empathise with what happened half the world away. In many ways we could never truly put our feet in her shoes, but it helped us to understand why our servicemen were so proud to help in any way they could.
There are a few ‘must do’s’ when visiting Amsterdam, none so seemingly so busy as a small canal house a few blocks from the shopping streets (and red light district) directly in the centre of the city. Hundreds of visitors queue for hours outside the house & museum to physically inhabit the tiny space that has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions. If only Anne Frank somehow knew.
Her ambition as a thirteen year old was to be a famous writer and journalist, but sadly it was her posthumous diaries of the two years and a month hiding from Nazi persecution that made her one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust. German-born, her family moved to Amsterdam in 1933 to set up a new life free of the restrictions places on Jewish families. With the dawn of 1940 and the German occupation of the Netherlands, by 1942 the Frank family were forced to go into hiding in a cleverly crafted ‘secret annexe’ where they relied upon staff working in the front warehouse to supply them with essentials and keep their enormous secret.
We were struck by how small a space the family inhabited – Mother and Father, Edith and Otto Frank, and her older sister Margot – to then be joined by their 3 friends the van Pels family and additionally Fritz Pfeffer. Living within 500 square feet of walls that they could never leave created a maelstrom of pressure, personality conflict and self-awareness that leaps from the penned prose of her diaries.
“I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve
never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why
I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to
develop myself and to express all that’s inside me!”
We shuffled through the few small rooms with respectful hushed tones through to the permanent exhibition with carefully spaced videos of painful holocaust facts and memories, original pages of her diaries and finally a theater room with the gathered reactions of famous and thoughtful visitors. Set up through her Father, sadly the only surviving member of the German camps, the museum is a beautiful testimony to the individual suffering affecting thousands of families so cruelly troubled by horrific atrocities committed. Of an estimated 107,000 Dutch Jews said to be deported from the Netherlands between 1942 and 1944, it is thought that 5,000 survived.
If you are visiting Amsterdam, it really is an experience that must be undergone (but to avoid the hours of queuing behind other tourists, book ahead online as early as possible before you go. Seriously, it was wonderful to be able to queue jump the hoards of people waiting around the block). Oh, and that Oscar? It’s the Academy Award given to Shelley Winters for her portrayal of August van Pels in the movie The Diary of Anne Frank.
Lest we forget.