After my bike ride on the outskirts of the city, I made my way back into downtown Amsterdam to visit Anne Frank’s house in hiding, “the Annexe.” I read her diary when I was a young girl and have always been fascinated by her story. I am so moved by the way she thought and wrote. When I touched the bookcase that separated Anne and her family from the world, I felt a chill tremble through my body. Time stood still.
The Frank family tried to escape Nazi persecution by going into hiding. In July of 1942, Anne and her dad Otto, mom Edith and sister Margot hid in a building consisting of two parts: a front house and a back annex. Otto Frank’s business was located in the front house. The uppermost floors of the back annex became the hiding place. After more than two years in hiding, the family was betrayed and deported to concentration camps. Anne and Margot died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen in March of 1945, only a few weeks before this concentration camp was liberated. Otto Frank, the only member of the family to survive, returned after the war and lived to the age of 93.
During the hiding period, Anne kept a diary. In it she described daily life in the annex, the isolation, and the fear of discovery. Anne’s diary survived the war. After the betrayal, it was found by Miep Gies, one of her family’s helpers. When it was confirmed that Anne would not be returning, Miep gave the diary to her father. In 1947, the first Dutch edition appeared. Since then the diary has been published in more than 55 languages.
The Anne Frank Foundation was set up by Anne’s father with the primary goal of collecting enough funds to purchase and restore the building. Over 9,000 visitors came in its first year. In a decade there were twice as many. Over the years the building has had to be renovated to protect it from such large visitor numbers.
When I walked behind the infamous bookcase and up the secret steps into the annex, I was at a loss of words. I was at a loss of words throughout the whole visit. At one point I stood in the same spot that Anne had written about, looking out the same window she looked out of for two years at the Chestnut tree that gave her comfort.
“Our chestnut tree is in full blossom. It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year,” she wrote in May 1944, not long before she was betrayed to the Nazis.