Sunday, August 7, 2011

Anne Frank Huis

The biggest queue in Amsterdam belongs to Anne Frank House by a country mile. We walked past three times on our first day and twice on our third day. Guide books and forums say the queue is far shorter after 6pm but at 8.15pm it’s only a tiny fraction less than it was earlier in the day. Weekend, weekday, no difference.

When we eventually join it, it moves reasonably quickly, but whatever wait there is, it’s worth it. The entrance is via a museum and then you file first into the warehouse of the company Anne Frank’s father owned and operated out of the building before they went into hiding there. Upstairs from the warehouse is the offices, 2 rooms out of which the 4 people that helped the Franks hide, continued to work throughout the war.

When you’ve seen the workspaces, it’s up the narrow, steep stairs to the third level. The entire place is void of furniture, the state it was left in after the Nazi’s took everything post-capture. Anne’s father Otto, the only family member that survived the war, requested that it be kept this way when it was turned into a museum. To show how they lived, the third level has scale models of the two levels of the annex with furniture based on Otto’s descriptions.

Beyond this room, you need to duck and step at the same time as you climb behind the bookcase that hid a small opening into the living quarters of the Frank family and the people that hid with them. Everything behind the bookcase is haunting. The museum operators have ensured this by putting quotes from the diary up on the walls, but even besides the quotes, to see the blackened windows, and the pictures cut from magazines that Anne decorated the walls with, it’s incredibly sad.

It is of course only so sad because Anne gave us a means of identifying with her, a way in which we can’t identify with the millions of others affected by the same war. It isn’t Anne’s words that leave you aching when you leave though – video of her father, talking about the diary, about the fact that he never thought such insight was a part of Anne and how considering they were close, he now believes no parent truly knows their child. He came back from Auschwitz to learn that he was the only one coming back; everyone else in his family was dead.

When you leave Anne Frank Huis, the sadness I’ve talked about Amsterdam having, seems to echo around you and cement the gravity of his words. The age and architecture of Amsterdam only seems to weigh in on what happened. We left at night fall and although of course the world goes on and you quickly shift to thinking about catching the tram home and where to get a drink at that hour, the softly lit canals and cobbled paths are a nice transition back into real life.

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