The line stretches from the front door and around the corner, but nobody seems to mind. There’s none of the impatience you seem to find in other queues. When you consider that the former occupants of 263 Prinsengracht, Amsterdam, spent two years living in just a few rooms a 45 minute wait is no big deal.
The houses in Amsterdam are narrow and tall as buildings were once taxed on the width of their street frontage. Extensions to the buildings were upwards or to the rear, meaning that the Secret Annexe is completely hidden when you look at the house from the street (or from across the canal). Looking from the outside there is no evidence of how significant the house is, apart from a simple white sign with black type saying “Anne Frank Huis”.
The building which housed Anne Frank, her family, the Van Pels family and Herman Pfeffer is three houses from the corner. However, the Anne Frank museum now incorporates the other two buildings between the building that had the Secret Annexe at its rear and the corner. Entry is via a modern glass and chrome foyer on the corner, where you pay your entrance fee and collect a guidebook in your chosen language.
There is a path which is followed through the house, it winds it’s way through displays on the Holocaust and the Frank’s life pre-war before you enter the rooms where Anne Frank hid. The rooms are empty of furniture, left that way at the request of Otto Frank, Anne’s father. He wanted the rooms left stripped, just as the Nazi’s did after they raided the Annexe. The rooms are dark, blackout curtains blocking the daylight just as they did in Anne’s time. A few simple glass cases with related exhibits inside are dotted around and passages from the diary are projected onto the walls.
The rooms are small even without furniture, but it’s Anne’s room (which she shared with Herman Pfeffer) that is the most poignant. Most of the photos that Anne cut out of fan magazines are still pasted to the wallpaper, although they are now protected with perspex.
And this is when it hits you in the chest. Anne was a real girl, with all the usual teenage dreams and hopes. No different to how my daughters (who are visiting the house with me) will be in a few years time. Anne wanted the same things my daughters will want, and what I wanted, what we all wanted – to grow up, to live, laugh and be free.
After the rooms of the Secret Annexe there are further displays about the fate of the 8 people, including the transport lists for the various camps they were sent to, and the newspaper ad that Otto Frank placed asking for information about Margot and Anne. Of course, Anne’s red and white checked diary is there for everyone to see. As are the countless loose pages of writing she did during her time here. There’s the Oscar that Shelley Winters won for her role in the film version of “The Diary of Anne Frank”, and some footage os people who knew Anne talking about her.
The thing that struck me was the solemnity of all the visitors, which seemed to be a symbol of respect for what this how represents. Regardless of nationality or religious persuasion we all know that what happened to the inhabitants of the Secret Annexe (and the other of millions of persecuted people) was wrong. We would all like to think it has never happened again, but we know it has. You can’t leave the Anne Frank House feeling good inside, your heart is heavy, your spirits dampened.
When we are in daylight again, my 8 year old daughter asks,”But what did Anne do, Mum, why did they want to hurt her?”
I have no answer.