Warning posts are no longer going to be in chronological order, sorry.
Our final act of tourism Saturday afternoon was the Anne Frank house, which was very emotionally confusing. We we lucky enough to get last minute tickets, which meant instead of standing in a three hour line (in the rain) we walked up to a different door at our assigned time and walked straight in. There are no pictures allowed in the museum, which was a little frustrating, but also allowed me to strictly focus on what was in front of me.
We entered the first room which had two simple large quotes from Anne Frank’s Diary. Then we went to the warehouse for the Jam factory that Otto Frank managed. The ground floor was the warehouse, the second the office, and the third the annex. The men who worked in the warehouse did not know about the people hiding in the annex. There was a video playing on loop that showed the Frank family before the war, and it was voiced with a young woman reading excerpts from the diary. To say I got chills sounds cliche, but walking in I got a feeling of melancholy reverence that is associated with pieces of history that remind me of the dead. At this point I separated myself from my friend and started to walk through alone.
The next floor used to be the offices and discussed Optekta, the jam and pectin company which Otto worked for. It gave a brief background to Victor Kugler, Miep Gies,Johannes Kleinman, and Bep Voskuijl who helped to hid the Frank family and their friends. After this room the museum became noticeably more crowded, as if with each floor our freedom became more and more constricted. An accidental metaphor reminding me of the suffocating qualities of stagnation.
The next room was the store room which contained scale furnished replicas of the secret annex. When Otto converted the house to a museum in the 1960s he decided to keep the rooms unfurnished (the original furniture was removed by the Nazis) to represent the millions of people who never returned from the Holocaust. For historical purposes the scale models were built, and the rooms were temporality outfitted with replica furniture so photographs could be taken, but it was then removed.
At this point I expected to be emotional, but I felt very flat inside. The story of Anne Frank never provided me with any metamorphosis. I read it after I had learned of the Holocaust and read many memoirs, so it did not impact me in a profound way that if effects many others. Also when visiting the concentration camps I experienced visceral emotional reactions to the camps and I created this deep bond with a physical place, and since then there are very few places which illicit a reaction. Somberness, respect, and sadness yes – but the chilling change that sweeps my conscious is absent. This also causes me to feel guilt, as if I empathized better, felt more, cared deeply then I would be moved in these places.
Next we arrived at the stairs leading to the annex, and by this point we were crammed together with no spaces to turn around or spread your arms. We weren’t so much walking through a museum, but waiting for our turn to approach the next artifact. The original bookcase from the 1940 still stands at the door to the annex, then we walked through the door to the hiding. The first room was a sort of foyer or small entrance, which was followed by the room which Margot, Edith, and Otto Frank shared. In the corner of the wall there were pencil marks, where the Franks had measured the girls growth for the two years they lived in hiding. I then thought of my grandparents home, where on the door to the room I have stayed in since I was a child there are my height marks.
As I proceeded through the rooms I tried to imagine my family’s existence in this space and the Franks. I walked through Anne and Fritz’s room which was plastered with pictures of movie stars, authors, comics, and art. I thought of my own room, and the social artifacts I worship on my walls. I moved through the bathroom, and then the kitchen. I ran my fingers over the stone sink and I imagined my mother cooking over the small gas stove, calling to us in hushed voices that dinner was ready. I imagined our meals, usually boisterous, being muted by the fear of hiding. Finally, I came to Peters room, the last room in the house and the only place with a sun roof. All the windows had to be boarded, so the sun roof in the attic was their only access to sunlight for two years. I stood for a while staring at the ceiling and wondered how I would survive on that little square of sky.
The remaining rooms were not part of the house, but strictly the museum. The first room had an abbreviated history of the Shoah (Holocaust) and the Dutch book of names containing the name of everyone from the Netherlands who died in the Holocaust. The book was turned to the Frank page, but it had a note saying the full book could be accessed at the information desk. I was reminded in this room that the Franks were discovered August 4th 1944, fifty years prior to my birth.
This was followed by a number of interviews with Otto Frank and details of his life after the war. It must have been such a burden for him to publish the book. Yes he made his daughter a hero, but after the Diary hit the presses in 1947 there would never be a day where his life was not consumed internally and externally by the death of his family. Also it must be a heart wrenching experience to immortalize only one of your children. By sharing her story, Otto accepted an enormous burden.
The final rooms had Anne’s original diary, her short stories, and the beginning of her novel. It also had an eight minute video of different visitors and celebrities discussing the significance of the house. Including snippets from a fantastic speech given by Emma Thompson.
I walked out of the museum, to the information desk and requested the book of names, because there was a very important woman on my mind. A woman I met when I was in middle school, a Holocaust survivor who lived in hiding, who wrote a book that in many ways was my “Anne Frank Experience.” Her book humanized my understanding of the Holocaust at a young age, and she was one of the only people in her family to survive. She was also from the Netherlands. I requested the book of names, and flipped to her surname and scrolled until I found her parents names, printed in clear black and white, with the names of the camps where they died. And for a moment things slowed down and I was in a great deal of pain again. Tears came to my eyes and holding the book dearly I wanted to weep. Not for Anne Frank or the survivor I know necessarily, but I felt broken but the weight of the book, which contains 103,000 names. I felt crushed by the thought then tens of thousands of those names and those stories have been permanently forgotten.
I walked to the bookstore, picked out an image with Otto Frank, paid, and walked out of the museum. Outside my breath felt thick and my vision blurred by potential emotional breakdown. Something about that museum was painful and confusing. Anne’s story is devastating, beautifully written, smart, humorous, and insightful – especially for someone of her age but at the same time she is not a martyr or a saint. She is quite literally one of millions who tried to survive persecution based on inalienable aspects of their identity. I thought how she is world famous, while her sister Margot and the other residents, who lived the same experience are rarely discussed. Perhaps a particularly brutal aspect of the Holocaust is that it took away the individuality in suffering and instead turned millions of deaths into a part of history. In many ways she was a normal teenage girl who thought of boys, her future, her family, and her society but she has been forced to represent something. Around the world people know the story of Anne Frank which for many reasons is wildly important but I feel myself haunted by the rest of the names and experiences that will be never be committed to paper.
Walking out of the museum I was contemplative, worn down, and immensely despondent, and then I thought back to my favorite quote from the book/museum "How wonderful it is that no one has to wait but can start right now to gradually change the world.“