Last week I shared our trip to Amsterdam, and no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a visit to the Anne Frank House. I thought I would share why I wanted to visit so badly, my experience visiting the house, my emotions before and after and my overall impressions.
I have been fascinated with Anne Frank and the Holocaust in general since I was in middle school. I think it all started when I was watching a 7th Heaven episode (don’t judge, you watched it, too) when Simon had to do a project for school surrounding the Holocaust and he meets a neighbor who survived a concentration camp. He asked if she would be willing to tell her story to his class and she timidly agrees. I don’t remember much about the episode, except how she motions with her thumb how the SS officers would point right and then left to the women as they stood in line, with one way being work and one way being a gas chamber. I remember crying thinking that this story was so sad and that I had so many questions for my parents. I didn’t believe that this story could be true.
I spent the next few years reading and researching about this tragic time period. In English class I read Night and then Anne Frank’s Diary. Night is still a personal favorite but I just couldn’t finish the diary. I don’t know why, something too real, something too boring about it to my fourteen year old self. You would think that I would be able to put myself in her shoes being the same age and the fact that her birthday is one day before mine, but I just couldn’t get into it. Her words made it really real and I don’t think I was mature enough to handle it at the time.
Fast forward to being 28, I started reading the diary again determined to finish it. And as an adult I was intrigued. Anne writes so beautifully about everyday life in the ‘Secret Annex’ and about a teenager’s view on what was happening throughout the world during that time. I finally finished the diary a day before our visit. Some of my favorite passages:
“One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll e people again and not just Jews!” – April 11, 1944
“Nice people, the Germans! To think that I was once one of them too! No, Hitler took away our nationality long ago. In fact, Germans and Jews are the greatest enemies in the world!” – October 13, 1942
“I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I’m free.” – December 24, 1943
“When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived!” – April 5, 1944
While I was reading the diary, I could just picture Anne sitting at her desk writing. I could picture her climbing up the ladder to hang out with Peter. I could picture the two families sitting around the kitchen table trying to keep down potatoes for the third day in a row. It gives me chills just typing it. And as I finished it, I became more and more excited to see the house in person.
When the morning came to visit the house, I felt…strange. Calm, nervous, excited and sad. I mean, I would be walking through the bookcase that blocked the entrance to the annex. The experience did not disappoint.
I purchased tickets ahead of time and walked right through. I picked up the English guide and took a deep breath. When I turned the first corner and saw pictures of Anne on the walls, I got super teary, like almost embarrassingly teary. I felt a wave of emotion, like one of those moments in life when you are doing something you always wanted to do.
You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside to preserve the integrity of all the old pieces. The building has been preserved from the once jam factory owned by Otto Frank into the museum. The first few rooms give you background on the time period and shows the area that used to be the factory with the warehouse, offices and storeroom. This section has displays everywhere, including the yellow badge they were forced to wear to show they were Jewish, product information on the different kinds of jams and a replica of the hiding place.
The next stop was to the hiding place or the annex. The rooms are empty because the Nazi’s emptied everything once thy found the Frank’s and their friends.
You go up some steep stairs and approach the landing with the movable bookcase. The bookcase is surprisingly short, just a little bit taller than I am and I am 5′ 2″. This is the section of the museum that hit me the most. That just beyond this bookcase seven people feared for their lives every single day for two years. I was struck by the moment and stood in front of the bookcase for a good 15 minutes. It is also the original bookcase.
And then climbing up the stairs was also incredible. The stairs are incredibly steep, even for me. I can’t imagine how someone even remotely average height would be able to walk up these stairs.
You then walk through Otto, Edith and Margot Frank’s room first where you can see the markings on the wall with how much the Frank girls grew during their time in hiding. It reminded me of my great-grandmother’s house who had similar markings on her door for my dad and uncle. Then you go to Anne’s room with all of her pictures on the walls with film stars and the queen. It looked like every other 14 year old girl’s bedroom. The bathroom is next, which I thought was quite big. Although, I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be able to use the restroom for parts of a day for fear of someone hearing you. And finally you see the van Pels’ room/communal living room and then Peter’s room, which has a ladder with a glimpse to the outside world. The windows are totally covered, no light can come in, just as during their hiding periods.
As I walked through these rooms, I had a lump in my throat. I felt a rush of emotions standing in a room that symbolizes the worst time in our history. I felt overwhelmed and sad. I also felt grateful to be fortunate for my life and everything I have.
This picture is of the church that could be viewed from the window of the annex. Anne wrote about listening to the bells but how the rest of her family grew annoyed since they would go off every 15 minutes.
After climbing down stairs, you reach the Shoah, which has pictures of the time period and a video with Anne’s best friend talking about seeing Anne at the concentration camp.
The next room is a video of Otto Frank, the only member of the secret annex members to survive the Holocaust. He talks about finding out both his daughters are dead and how he felt finding the diary. After hesitation, Otto decides to find a publisher and Anne’s diary is published.
The final room shows original excerpts and pages from Anne’s diary. To see her handwriting and to see how much she actually wrote just hit me.
To sum up the visit, it was somber, sobering, monumental and magical at the same time. Walking through those rooms put everything into perspective about life, what life is about and how tragic everything during that time period was. Anne Frank is a representation of what it was like to be a Jewish teenager during World War II. Millions of men, women and children lost their lives and to shed some light of what they went through truly changed my life. I needed to see this to comprehend the history and the magnitude of everything.
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