Reflections on a visit to Anne Frank House
Anne Frank was always someone I knew about. Her father, Otto Frank, was on Blue Peter when I was wee, on more than one occasion as I remember – YouYube has a Blue Peter such interview with him.
Then, of course, in my teens I read the diary, and, at one point I went to see a play version of the events. In my twenties I bought “Tales of the Secret Annexe” which contained other writing Anne did while in hiding.
When we went to Amsterdam last month, a visit to Anne Frank House was high on the priority list. We booked our tickets online in advance as we had been advised to do – and this was good advice. A queue that looked hours long snaked away from the house, where the people with internet tickets could press a buzzer and go straight in.
The building has an odd atmosphere. Everyone was very quiet. There were rooms with quotations on the walls from the diary and a few objects to look at as the path led through the building. It took quite some time to get through the business premises and office space up to the famous book case that concealed the entrance to the secret annexe. A big step up into the hiding place.
The emptiness of the airless rooms was again very odd. While it was interesting to be there, you couldn’t help but feel cooped up and longing for daylight – and that was us just passing through for a few minutes – and the people who hid there were there for more than two years.
There are too many half thoughts that were sparked off by the visit, and I haven’t thought them all out properly – so here are a few:
The last quote of the exhibition was from Otto Frank and it was him reflecting on how much he did not know his daughter until he read her diary after her death. I found it interesting to think about how much we can spend time with people and be unaware of the core nature of their character or their thoughts.
It all seemed so recent and so near – that Hitler could convince so many to take part in the oppression of the Jews. Even before the days of the removal of the Jewish people from Amsterdam, there were restrictions in place as if to weaken the resolve of the people and to make them feel less equal than others. Anne stated:
“Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to use trams; Jews were forbidden to ride in cars, even their own; Jews were required to do their shopping between 3:00 and 5:00 P.M.; Jews were required to frequent only Jewish-owned barbershops and beauty parlors; Jews were forbidden to be out on the streets between 8:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M.; Jews were forbidden to attend theaters, movies or any other forms of entertainment; Jews were forbidden to use swimming pools, tennis courts, hockey fields or any other athletic fields; Jews were forbidden to go rowing; Jews were forbidden to take part in any athletic activity in public; Jews were forbidden to sit in their gardens or those of their friends after 8:00 P.M.; Jews were forbidden to visit Christians in their homes; Jews were required to attend Jewish schools, etc.”
This quote struck me as being sickeningly relevant to the world today where various minorities have their choices limited by the will of others. These restrictions placed on the Jewish community really were the beginning of the slippery slope that ended in mass murder. We should really watch out when people are forced to wear certain things; discouraged or banned from going about their daily business. The ban on cultural mixing and mixed education presumably was enforced in order to make people feel different, and with the differences highlighted, fear and suspicion was allowed to breed.
More encouraging was the exhibition about the helpers who managed to keep the people hidden for all that time, fully aware of the risks they were taking in defying the Nazi regime.
And then we drifted through the shop and into the street and went for a cup of tea – into free and democratic Amsterdam, wondering whether there were many others whose time in hiding went undocumented, thankful that the Nazis were defeated, aware that intolerance and hatred are a part of human nature and that we need to always be ready to identify and oppose oppression wherever it may surface next.