Like many girls in my generation, I read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank when I was 13, the same age Anne was when she began writing her diary. She and seven other people had entered into two years of hiding in an annex located above her father’s business alongside a canal in Amsterdam. The anti-Semitism that began in Germany had spread to the Netherlands and it was growing impossible for Jews to live without persecution. The 8 souls hiding in the Secret Annex were trying to wait out the war, trying to evade the Nazis, trying to survive.
On July 5, 1944, Anne wrote:
“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
That same year Anne heard a newscast by Gerrit Bolkestein, a Dutch government official exiled in London; he declared that when the war was over he would collect and make public eyewitness accounts of the suffering of Dutch people during the Nazi occupation. Impressed by his speech, Anne began preparing her diary for publication, re-writing and editing.
On August 4th, 1944, all 8 inhabitants of the Annex were arrested and taken to concentration camps.
Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the only one to survive the Holocaust. After long deliberation, Otto decided to fulfill his daughter’s wish and publish Anne’s diary.
Mr. Frank also gave his permission for the building that had housed his business and the Secret Annex to be used as a museum but would not, however, allow it to be re-furnished. Visitors to this museum embark on a tour of the space itself. The museum, Anne Frank House, opened in 1960.
In order to make her bedroom in the Annex look lovelier, Anne decorated the walls with photographs. It was in this room that I felt closest to Anne. You can take a look at her collection of photographs here and here.
I have visited both the Terezin Concentration Camp, outside Prague, and Anne Frank House in Amsterdam in less than a month and I am unable to write about how I felt when I walked through the underground tunnels in Terezin or what I experienced when I touched the kitchen counter in the kitchen of Anne Frank’s House.
What I know for sure is that it is important for people to have access to these sites and to remember.