David Whitley discovers Amsterdam’s serious side with a visit to the house where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis.
The writing is somehow both scruffy and elaborate, unreadable without extremely close examination, yet carried off with a stylish flourish. Easy on the eye, without really touching the realms of legibility.
Curiously, the annotations by the side are much more measured, carefully constructed addendums to counterbalance the train-of-thought scrawl. It’s a combination of flow straight from the heart and thoughtful analysis. It’s also the work of a dead girl, one who passed away during a typhus epidemic at the age of 15 and in the most tragic circumstances.
Sealed in its glass cabinet, this is arguably the most famous voice from the grave in modern history, cited by none less than Nelson Mandela as an inspiration to keep battling during his darkest hours.
The diary, browning and tattered at the edges, belongs to Anne Frank. A German Jew, she spent over two years hiding in the back rooms of her father’s office building during the Nazi occupation of theNetherlands. Having fled their home country, fearing persecution, her family made the little annex their voluntary prison when Anne’s sister was summoned to a work camp.
Until their betrayal in August 1944, they never stepped outside, kept silent during the day and disguised their presence from the warehousemen operating as normal below them. Once false move, and the stormtroopers would be teaming all over their makeshift home.
ENJOYED THIS POST?Then you may be interested in my book. Sharing the stories via Twitter (I'm @GrumpyTrav) or Facebook is always appreciated too. You can also 'like' the Grumpy Traveller Facebook page to get new story updates.
BOOK YOUR OWN ADVENTUREThe following sites are usually my first port of call when booking a trip - so I recommend them as somewhere to start when booking your own holiday.
HOTELS: Hotels.com (£) or Agoda (£)
FLIGHTS: Skyscanner (£) Kayak or Roundtheworldflights.com
CAR HIRE: Car Rentals (£)
GUIDE BOOKS: Amazon (£)
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES: Viator (£)
And it wasn’t much of a home, as the people investigating this canal-side attic 42 years later are discovering for themselves. Eight people were hidden away here, guarded by a movable bookshelf, nervously thinking the next day could be the one they are discovered. The rooms are now bare, left unfurnished on the request of Otto Frank, Anne’s father and the only one of the eight to survive after their capture. Anne didn’t make it – she died as disease swept through the concentration camp atBergen-Belsen– but her diary was rescued by associates during the family’s seizure.
It’s easy to imagine the torture of living here. The rooms aren’t particularly cramped, but when you can’t get out of them, or move around in them at any volume, they may as well be matchboxes.
Today,Amsterdamis a byword for tolerance and an anything goes attitude. It’s almost the diametric opposite of life under Nazi occupation, and there is quite plausibly a link between the two. Today, shirtless males fuelled by a day’s drinking roar through the canals of the red light district on a barge, coffee shops sell produce considerably more potent than cappuccino and lascivious pleasures are advertised shamelessly in windows. In the early 1940s, this would be unthinkable.
Comparatively, the Dutch got off lightly under the Nazi regime. The people were originally treated with carrots rather than sticks, in the hope that they would happily join the greater German nation. To a certain extent this worked, but as resistance grew, so did the ferocity of the clampdown. Strikes were met with murder, and rebellious sentiment with deportation.
Anne and her family had no such choices to make, however. Their choices were to hide or be sent to almost certain death, and luckily the management of Otto’s firm agreed to risk their necks by helping out. The annex was not known to most of those who worked there, and with the bookshelf pulled over the entrance, it was as good a lair as any to disappear into.
The whole building has now been turned into a museum, and as you walk through, quotes from the diary line the walls, telling the story in full. It would be very easy to sum up as people hide, people get caught, people die, but the rescued diary explores every aspect of their life. Consequently the displays focus on the mundanities and the schoolgirl daydreaming that are as much part of the whole tale as the tragedies. Anne’s is a story of survival, of pasting pictures of British princesses to the wall to make it more cheerful, of making sure everyone’s had their bath before 8.30am, of having to share shirts. It’s the detail that makes it captivating, and the museum is infused with the spirit of the diary.
It’s a cliché, but the spine genuinely tingles as you totter up the steep staircase behind the books. There’s something about being in a place where something monumentally bad has happened; it may be purely psychological, but you can feel the past rattle through you.
It’s a powerful reminder thatAmsterdamis not just about the party ethic. The streets may be lined with English pubs, full of stag parties not wanting to sample the slightest bit of a foreign culture, and they may be crammed with feather boa-clad revellers celebrating Gay Pride Week, but this sombre spot on Prinsengracht brings an air of sobriety to all who enter it.
It is specifically designed to make you think, as the more up-to-date attraction at the end of the wander round the house ably demonstrates. The Free2choose exhibition works a little like an opinion poll. On large screens, videos displaying both sides of the argument on contentious issues blare out, whilst everyone is seated next to a button with which they can vote either way. The percentage of the vote each way is then shown on screen, and compared to the percentage of the vote from all visitors. Whilst this is presumably aimed at the children who may have found walking through an old house not overly stimulating, there are more than a few shame-faced adults forced to re-evaluate their opinions. You can see the looks on faces – perhaps there’s more to this Human Rights Act than I thought? Maybe we shouldn’t be locking up holocaust deniers after all? They’re minefields, every last one of them. Predictably, when the results are shown, gasps, tuts, oohs and ahs fill the room, the tree-hugging pinko liberals aghast at the gun-toting, reactionary dictators and vice versa.
A little bit trite, it may be, but it’s a good thing that it’s here. It’s attractions like this that stopAmsterdamslipping into self-parody. The city has an incredibly intelligent and serious side to it, once the veneer of sex museums and free drugs for all is stripped back. It’s a shame that many choose to ignore it.
Details: Anne Frank House is at 263 Prinsengracht, which is about a 20 minute walk from the central train station.
This post was kindly sponsored by Small Luxury Hotels of the World
Hark back to the lavish Dutch Golden Age in a luxury hotel in the Netherlands with Small Luxury Hotels of the World. The lush landscape with its windmills, dykes and canals inspired Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Vermeer. From luxury city breaks to beach holidays to luxury retreats in the Dutch countryside we have the most irresistible offers on hotels in Netherlands for you to choose from.