Robert Hampton

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30th March 2014

A Frank Discussion
Posted by at 10.16pm | No responses | Out and About

Anne Frank HouseOne of the first places that Ian and I visited in Amsterdam was the Anne Frank House.

Thanks to her diary, Anne Frank has become one of the most well-known of the millions of people murdered by the Nazis. Her family fled from Frankfurt to Amsterdam in 1933 to escape Nazi persecution, only to find themselves trapped when Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940. In July 1942, as the German occupiers began rounding up Dutch Jews to send to their deaths, Anne’s father Otto decided to take matters into his own hands. He organised a hiding space in the warehouse of his business. In this “Secret Annexe” – a series of small rooms accessible through stairs hidden behind a bookcase – the family lived for over two years. Eight people holed up in a tiny space, unable to go outside or even open the curtains, and remaining completely quiet during the day in case the employees in the warehouse below heard them.

The plan ultimately failed; the Frank family was betrayed by person or persons unknown, and they were arrested in August 1944. Soon after, they were sent to concentration camps. Of the eight house residents, only Otto Frank survived.

Anne Frank HouseThe secret rooms were subsequently been opened up to the public and the Anne Frank House is now one of the most popular tourist attractions (if that is the right word) in Amsterdam. We arrived at 4pm and even that late in the afternoon there was a lengthy queue to get in.

I don’t have any pictures of the inside of the house. There was a strict “no photography” rule and, while many museums have similar rules which are often flouted, here it was strictly observed by everyone.

After a brief introductory video giving some background information on the German occupation of the Netherlands, we walked on through the lower floors of the warehouse before climbing the narrow staircase to the family’s hiding place. The house is largely devoid of furniture; after the family’s arrest, most of the items were removed. However, there are still some relics which give some insight into daily life under the most stressful of circumstances. There are posters of film stars glued to the walls, a map which kept track of the Allied advances after the D-Day landings, and – most poignantly of all – the patch of wallpaper where Otto and his wife, Edith, marked the heights of their children as they grew up.

Seeing the cramped conditions that the residents had to endure, and the humanity they managed to maintain throughout, had a profound effect on me. Knowing their ultimate fate only made me sadder. One of the final sights on the tour is an image of Otto Frank, standing alone in the empty attic of the house. The pain and sorrow on his face is obvious. My stiff upper lip crumbled at this point, and real tears started to flow for these ordinary people, condemned to die by a barbarous regime.

The excerpt below is one of the film clips that can be viewed in the museum, in which Otto Frank talks about his daughter, her diary and the ongoing legacy.

There is also a video interview with Miep Gies, one of the helpers who aided the family and subsequently kept Anne’s diary safely until after the war. “Those people were in need,” she says, “and I could help them. You don’t say no to that, do you?”

Scattered throughout the house are quotes from Anne Frank’s diary. Throughout the hardship of those two years in hiding, she remains remarkably stoic. Her writings reveal an intelligent and literate girl, with dreams, goals and ambitions like any other teenager. Who knows what she could have achieved had her life not been so cruelly cut short, along with the lives of millions of others snuffed out prematurely by murderous hatred.

“I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I’m free.”

Anne Frank Statue

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