I’ve lived in Amsterdam for a long time, but despite living within a 10 minute bike ride I have only visited Anne Frank House once.
The museum encourages you to buy tickets online, in fact from 9am to 3.30pm you can only visit the museum with a ticket purchased online for a specific timeslot. From 3.30 onwards you can queue and by a ticket at the door, fair warning – the queues get long.
The museum has been developed around the Annex where the Frank family was in hiding, and my visit takes me through the rooms they occupied. The annex has been carefully preserved and the famous bookcase entrance has been reconstructed.
You do get a feeling for the claustrophobic lives of the attic’s eight inhabitants, as you go through the Frank’s family room, Anne’s bedroom, and the Van Pels rooms. It was interesting seeing the “real thing”, including the pictures Anne chose to put on the wall and the notes in her own writing.
After you’ve been through the family space there is an area for more exhibitions where you can learn more about the occupation of Amsterdam and how Jews hid around the city to stay safe. There is a movie playing that includes an interview with Miep Gies – one of the Dutch people who helped supply the families with food.
If you can’t make it to Amsterdam you can take a virtual tour of the house online, complete with close ups of various artifacts and details of each room.
I’d read Anne Frank’s diary as a child, and I’ve seen numerous images of the annex. I think the familiarity of the story and the annex meant that it didn’t have the emotional impact I’d expected. However as I was leaving the museum there was a glass case, and in the case was one of the yellow stars that Jewish people in the Netherlands had been legally required to wear, and I caught my breath. In the grand scheme of things this is perhaps the least of the wrongs, but as a symbol of all the injustice it remains powerful. Any time the government tries to make one group “other” we should be concerned.
The other thing that got me, but in a more hopeful way, was a glass bookcase showing the versions of Anne Frank’s diary in all the translations, there were about 40 different language represented (apparently it’s been translated into 67 languages). And suddenly I saw why Anne Frank’s memory is so important.
There’s a famous quote, often attributed to Stalin,
The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.
It’s very hard to comprehend the sheer scale of the holocaust, the total death toll is usually given as 11 million; that’s Moscow, or Greece, or New York + Chicago, or 3 times the population of my home country. We can’t empathise with a statistic. But when we read the story of one young woman, who happened to be born of a certain religion in the wrong place at the wrong time, then we can understand the tragedy.
Holocaust badge for the Netherlands | Holocaust memorial