Please raise your hand if you have ever heard of Anne Frank. And, please keep your hand up if you have ever read some form of The Diary of Anne Frank? Very good class, that should be at least 97% of you.
I, too, have both heard about and read the story from her own pen, and I may even have seen the movie they created in the late 50’s. But today, walking through the house where it all took place was so much more of an impact than all previous contact with her story and the stories that parallel the lives of many others who were persecuted during this time.
It is difficult to wrap my brain around the fact that something as ridiculous as the abuse of a whole race could even happen. It seems like a most heinous crime against humanity in general, yet, it happened.
Walking through the house where this world-renowned story took place had me in a state of reverent awe. First of all, the secrecy of this space right along a canal is within a bustling downtown area. It had never occurred to me that the location would be so centralized. It is amazing to me that eight people could hide for so long in such a populated place. Then, the fact that they had to be so quiet from dawn till dusk while the regular “factory” [small, as it were] was in full swing. Also, the fact that all these people could stay sane in such a small and dimly lit place, with the whole reality that really, they could have been caught any moment along the way. It would be incredibly stressful for anyone.
What was amazing -among other things- was how there still was the wall-paper, complete with pencil marks of the childrens heights as they aged, as well as Anne’s collection of cut-outs from various magazines that she had. As I looked at her choices of what to glue to the wall I imagined a young girl’s mind that gazes at the images for hours a day, just getting lost in thought about those pictures. And what kinds of things might she have thought about her photos of Greta Garbo, of the little children, of the tall church steeple? I couldn’t imagine to guess, but I am certain it was a window into sanity for her.
I found, however, that what choked me up the most during our visit was not merely the plight of the entire family, but the horror and complete disparateness that must have been Otto Frank’s. Her father’s story is one that made me grieve today. Here is a man who against all odds did his very best to take care of his family and beloveds. Through careful detail and determination he was able to secure a hiding place, food, and help for each and ever one of them. For almost two years they all survived this small and cramped situation in the hopes of freedom after the German occupation ended. After being captured everyone was sent off to a “work camp”. Now if only his story ended here. No, he later found out that his daughter Ann lived to within a month of the emancipation of all who were in the camp where she was detained [having died of Typhoid, she thought her father was dead and therefore didn’t think she had anything left to live for]. Upon return to Amsterdam, Otto found that he was the sole survivor of the Holocaust from his family. Now there’s a man who did his very best and still lost everything close to his heart.
After -warily-having his daughter’s diaries published and later translated into over 70 languages, he also helped with the details of the museum. At one time he stated that he wanted the secret annex to remain without furniture to “represent the void left by those who had died in the holocaust”. He ultimately died in 1980.
What a story.
What do we learn from the mistakes of the past?