Remembering Anne Frank

9 July 2012

Written by: Justine Costigan

I travelled to Amsterdam to spend a week being young and having fun in the party-renowned city after having spent many weeks with my family in Houten, Utrecht. I had a blast as is inevitable in Amsterdam; staying in a youth hostel, meeting new people and seeing the various sights Amsterdam had to offer.

But the most powerful experience of my time in the city was visiting the Anne Frank Museum. I had wanted to see Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam ever since hearing her story when I was a young girl, and I took a day alone to experience it for myself. I had read her diary and her biography by Carol Ann Lee and so felt as though I had spent hours upon hours with Anne Frank and her family in their secret annex.

I arrived at the house one chilly Amsterdam afternoon…and then had to walk another 200 hundred metres to the back of the line (I recommend going early in the morning to avoid the queues) before waiting for 90 minutes to enter.

I didn’t know what to expect but I had to admit what I discovered was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever experienced. Upon entering the house and ascending the stairs one is taken through the factory and offices of Opekta; Otto Frank’s company which distributed a pectin-based gelling preparation to be used in jam-making.

The offices and store rooms of the building are exactly as described by Anne in the diaries and as you walk through the building its easy to imagine Otto, Mr Kleiman and Miep Gies working away. These areas also contain a small exhibition including videos, Nazi propaganda from Holland during the war years, and a furnished model of the annex.

After the discovery of the Franks the Nazis stripped the annex of all its furniture and possessions. When turning the site into a museum and memorial, Otto Frank made the executive decision to leave the house empty as the Nazis had left it, and not fully furnished as the Franks had.

When ascending into the back office, the map as described in the diary and the swinging bookcase loom before you. A lump entered my throat as I realised more than ever how real the plight of the Ottos was, and suddenly it was no longer a story on a page, but a very real reality.

I crossed the threshold of the bookcase and walked up the tiny staircase leading to the annexe that Anne had so often described tiptoeing up in stockinged feet so as to avoid detection. As I walked through the rooms I was amazed that the map of the Nazi invasion of Europe that Otto had marked out with pins was still on the wall in their bedroom, and pencil markings of the girls’ heights.

The room that Anne shared with Mr Pfeffer still contained the celebrity pictures which Anne so meticulously glued to the walls and took so much joy from.

The kitchen, while empty, was in my mind’s eye full of the two families around the dinner table, as they eyed each other off for taking too much and contributing too little. So much of the diary revolved around food in the annexe (or lack thereof) and the politics of sharing. I saw this all come to life as I stood where the usually silent battles took place.

The bathroom where Anne’s housemates thought she spent too much time looking in the mirror, and the toilet which could rarely be flushed for fear of capture, stood before me as my eyes welled thinking what a normal young girl she had been.

Peter’s attic, where Anne came to spend so much time in the end to the dismay of all the parents in the annex, was bigger and gloomier than I had expected.

After walking through the annex, the diaries of Anne Frank are on display, along with a small exhibition on the camps which the Ottos found themselves in the end. There is also a wall of the hundreds of various publications of the diary from all over the world, in more languages than you could think of.

In the horrible story that is that of the Franks, this is the one and only consolation; that Anne’s wish of publishing her diaries and becoming a famous writer were realised, even if she never lived to see its fruition.

This experience was certainly unforgettable and even more profound than I had expected. Otto Frank’s decision to open the house as a museum and memorial has been commended as keeping the horror of the holocaust alive so as not to repeat it.

Anne’s story is certainly not a unique one, thousands of families suffered as hers did. But we have her to thank for personifying the terror of WWII and keeping the plight of holocaust victims in the minds of many for decades and centuries to come.

Alexandra Hansen is a Monash University journalism graduate and global adventurer.

Follow her on Twitter @allyhan6, check out her travel blog at backpacksandsewingmachines.blogspot.com.au