Last week on Thursday I decided that it was time to visit the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.
Warning: I don't have pictures. Pictures are prohibited at the Anne Frank house for a number of reasons. Snapping photos, particularly if those photos involve using a flash, can damage the delicate remnants left in the annex. Snapping photos can also disturb those around you. For some people, visiting the Anne Frank house is more than just a casual visit. It can be very emotional for them. So... I bough postcards.
Plus, I forgot my camera at home and I didn't realize that until after I finished my visit.
Once I got through the line and got my ticket, I joined the conga line (I don't mean that this was an upbeat line by any means, just that there was a line and we were standing close enough to each other that we might as well have put our hands on the person's shoulders in front of us) that was my visit to the Anne Frank house. The space itself is so small that there is a prescribed path and somehow, even though there wasn't any instructions to do so, everyone formed a line and followed each other from room to room.
The museum covers the warehouse where Otto Frank had his pectin business. That's where you start. As well as talking about the warehouse and the business, there's a general overview of why Anne and her family and the Van Pels went into hiding. After that, you head upstairs where there's more of the warehouse and then... you see it. The bookcase that hid eight people for two years. I got chills just looking at it. The bookcase that's in the museum is the original bookcase with the original documents placed on it. It's so fragile that it now has to be protected with glass.
Once you go behind the bookcase, you have to jump up and you simultaneously have to duck to avoid hitting your head. Immediately, you're hit with just how close together everything was-- still is, I suppose. I don't know what it would be like to have just seven other people and myself in the annex but it was awful having the number of people in that small space. I can't imagine being cramped up in such a small space for two years. All of the furniture that was in the rooms before has been removed, which is good because of the sheer volume of people coming through the house. I am sort of sad that the rooms weren't kept completely intact though. That would have been really cool and immersing to see.
To go through and see the pictures that Anne pasted on the walls and see the markings on the walls indicating how much Anne and Margot had grown during their time in the Annex... I couldn't help but think about how similar Anne and I are (were?) at age fifteen. She had a postcard collection and put them up on the walls, she was a writer, heck, we were about the same height (she was a little taller than I am now, and I haven't grown very much since fifth grade). I couldn't help but think, if we had both lived at the same time, she would have died and I probably wouldn't have had to worry about whether I was going to live or die, purely because I grew up in a family who is Christian. How unfair is that? It's completely twisted.
After going through the tiny annex and moving up the "leg-breaking" stairs, as they called them (I bumped some bones trying to go up-- it hurt like a son of a gun), we went into a different part of the building and this was the part of the exhibit that talks about the arrest of the people in the annex. There's a display with pictures and cards with names (I think through the Red Cross) saying where each person was last scene and whether or not they died. Otto Frank was the only one to make it home. The others died in concentration camps around Europe. Anne died in Bergen-Belsen with her sister Margot one month before the camp was liberated. The last person to see her was her friend who happened to be in the camp next to her.
In late December or early January before I return to the U.S., I will visit Bergen-Belsen, located in Celles, Germany, just outside of Berlin. There's been an effort to create more of a memorial for those who suffered in this camp. I believe there's a memorial for Margot and Anne there.
This was a deeply moving experience for me. I'm glad that I went by myself for this.
For Those Who Can't Visit
Here's a thing that I found after I started following the Anne Frank page on Facebook. For those of you who aren't close to Amsterdam and can't easily visit the Secret Annex on Prinsengracht, you can now take a virtual tour of the Secret Annex. Go check it out! There's a link below (the image below is just a picture and not a link. It's just a sneak-peek!). I think everyone should experience the Anne Frank house, but not everyone physically can or can manage to fly to the Netherlands on a whim. So here's an opportunity for you.
If You Hope To Visit Soon
If you're hoping to visit the Anne Frank house. Don't be alarmed, but I'm about to put this in capitalized bold lettering... GET THERE EARLY. I woke up at 6:45am, got ready for the day, hopped on the train at 8:12, got there half and hour or forty-five minutes later, got a little lost walking to the Prinsegracht, and finally arrived at the Anne Frank House around 9:15 or so. The house opens at 9:00am. My wait was about 45 minutes. Considering the horror stories that I've heard, my wait was not that bad. One of the girls in my program hosted one of her friends from home from Thursday to Tuesday and decided to go. She left at 9:00am and got there maybe around 10am between walking, taking the train, and walking again. She waited in line for two hours to get into the house.
Also, please note that the stairs are incredibly steep and narrow. If you have trouble with stairs, I suggest that you give a second thought to visiting the house. While I was visiting, a woman with bad knees had managed to make it up the first couple sets of stairs, but when she went behind the bookcase and, I imagine, when she saw the "leg-breaking" stairs, she realized that she couldn't get up those stairs. She had to fight her way against the people coming into the warehouse and the annex so that she could get done the stairs again. Even then, it was hard for her to get down because of her knees. There aren't any elevators in the house and the path through the house is very linear. I don't mean to be rude, but honestly, it's not an accessible house. Maybe you'll be able to get halfway up, but you might be stuck then. Do what you think is best, but keep this in mind.
That's my Public Service Announcement for the day.
That's it for me! Tot Ziens!