Gevoel: RONDWEG, ALS ANNE
(Translation: Frankly, Like Anne).
Frankly, I’ve always been aware of an affinity with Anne.
As a girl I was a ridiculous reader, going to the library and getting out 24 books at a time (it would’ve been more, but that was the limit p.p). I don’t know how old I was when I came across her diary but I clearly remember thinking we were a lot alike. I used to think I looked a little like her, and also saw that she was similar to my Nanna as a girl.
On arriving in Amsterdam when with Contiki I declared top of the list was to go to Anne Frank Huis. TGTaz apologetically told us all that the entry system had changed at the beginning of the year; rather than turn up and stand in line for a long time, it was now required to book your tickets in advance online. (On-line, no longer In-line; I found it quite chucklesome after I got over my despair). You chose an allocated fifteen-minute slot of time whereupon you could enter (arrive any later than the cut off and you would not be allowed in) and then you could stay in the museum as long as you please. Come 3.30pm, you could take your chances and turn up – but the queues pyhoning not just down the street but around the block as well would have you fannying about for a fair while.
I was pretty devastated to say the least. So as soon as PMS and I decided to do the ‘Dam for a few days upon coming home to Holland, I jumped on the website and hustled two tickets for the 1pm to 1.15pm entry.
Now, for those of you who are unaware or unsure who Anne Frank is, a brief overview for you. So Anne was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1929 – not a Dutchie as many presume. When Hitler came to power and set up his anti-Jew regime in 1933, the Jewish Frank family – father Otto, mother Edith, Anne and older sister Edith – moved to the Netherlands. They settled in Amsterdam where Otto set up two businesses – Opekta, which sold a gelling agent used for making jam and Pectacon, a company creating spice mixes for meat.
In May 1940 the German army occupied Holland and anti-Jewish measures began to be implemented there as well. Amping up manifold amounts in the following two years, on July 6th 1942 Otto took his family into hiding at 263 Prinsengracht Road, the building of his businesses. Soon after they are joined by family friends the van Pels – being Hermann, Auguste and their son Peter – and a man called Fritz Pfeffer, with four of Otto’s workers being their helpers and providing food and what not.
Throughout the two years within the secret annexe – hidden behind a movable bookcase – Anne kept a diary detailing her day-to-day doings and musings. When the Sicherheitsdienst – German Security Service – raided the hidden home on August 4 1944, the eight inside were arrested and deported to numerous concentration camps. One of those having helped them, Miep Gies, came across Anne’s diary and took it for safe keeping, hoping that one day she could reunite it with its writer.
Only Otto survived the war. He returned to Amsterdam on June 3 1945; already knowing his wife had died, he held out hope that his daughters were still alive. On finding out they too had passed, Miep gave him Anne’s diary.
After a wee while of rereading and contemplating considerably, Otto decided to fulfil Anne’s dream of being an actual author and get his daughter’s writings published. Although it was rejected by a few at first, it was released in the Netherlands in 1947. Today the story of Anne Frank has been published in more than 70 languages, with her being one of the most famous people in history.
In 1960 the hiding home of the eight during the war was made into a museum. Otto made the decision to keep all the rooms empty in symbolism of the void left by the people who never returned from the camps after the liberation, with scale-models made in 1961 on display to well, display, how the space was furnished during the period of concealment.
So it had been a dream of mine to visit the place since I had studied her story. Now, I’m not going to go room-by-room through it all nor tell you each and everything – like Auschwitz, I believe it’s something you must experience in person to feel the full force, not read it on a screen from a million miles away. So just a couple of comments, clarifications and conclusions that I shall communicate.
- Before making my way through to the actual museum (feels wrong to call it a “museum”, though that’s what it is now. I think I shall instead use “house”, even though technically this term isn’t right either – I mean, they were barricaded in the building of her father’s factory. “Home” then. Yes “home”. Interchangeable with “hide-out”. Yes, there we go) I leafed through the little booklets we were presented upon passing through security (available in a many number of languages – people come from all over the world to see her hide-out home) just to familiarise myself with her story (even though I had had a good Google the evening before). Then we went in. On one of the very first walls in bright white lettering was a line from her diary. “When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived.” It’s like Anne was looking right into my heart and spelling my own thoughts out on the wall. I felt such a connecting kinship with her, absolutely understanding how she felt. (In the way she was with writing, I mean. I could never imagine the heartache she went through in her short life).
- One of the very first placards said of how in 1940 Otto had attempted to flee with his family for the USA but it was impossible to do so. This made it dawn on me just the imprisonment the Jewish people must have felt on being unable to get away from the increasing unrest; how fucking scary must it have been? To not have the option of escaping to safety, each day becoming more and more oppressed. It’s so at odds with anything I will ever know or understand.
- I had never really understood just how the annexe had stayed so concealed; I mean, it was a significant space – how had it been hidden? On actually being there and seeing the set-up, it is evident just how it all worked. What with the architecture of Amsterdam being all sardines in a can, the behind of the building was sort of boxed in, and the storage room upstairs stood in front as a, well, front, that kept it so. Hard to explain but if you see it in person it all makes sense.
- On walking through the rooms Anne wrote about my heart was thudding like a bongo drum. As I looked into the mirror above the washbasin (still there after all this time), I thought about Anne having looked in at herself in the very same panes and my bod was invaded with duck contusions (I.e., “goosebumps”). When I touched the door handle of her room and the banister of the stairs she said she climbed up every morning with Peter to watch the sunrise, I was struck with the momentous-ness that she had touched the very same ones (though thousands and thousands had run their hands over them since. That thought had me discreetly reaching for my Purrell).
- When reading about the four helpers who put themselves at risk to aid the eight, I found myself thinking, would I do that? Would I endanger my own being to help hide others? While I like to indulge the idea that yes of course I would, no qualms or reservations, the truth is I don’t really know. It takes a strong and selfless person to do so, and I don’t know for sure if I would have the balls nor scruple to do so myself.
- And the unknown traitor who told of the eight in the annexe? It’s easy enough to say, “What a bastard” and what not, but we don’t know the circumstances surrounding the one behind the informing. I mean, I know if I was led into a room and authoritative powered people probed me for info and started threatening James, I would almost certainly break. And imagine if they actually had him there, torturing him or telling they would transport him off to dreaded Dachau or awful Auschwitz… can you really be adamant you would stay lock lipped in such a circumstance, where the most important person in the world to you is being jeopardised? (When we were going into the next room an American woman ahead abhorrently announced, “Who was the rotten German that told on them?”. I wanted to slap the ignorant bitch, Like, first off, don’t use “German” as the all-encompassing phrase to refer to what you mean as the Nazis. Secondly, why do they have to be German? They may have been any ethnicity, and even could’ve been a friend that had been threatened. I actually had to walk away and take a good cavernous inhalation).
- One of the videos on repeat (it was so well done; each of them at the start had the length of the film displayed so you knew how long you would be watching for) was that of Hannah Goslar, a childhood chum of Anne’s since they met at nursery school in 1934. When the Frank family disappeared (into hiding, as we now know) Hannah thought she would never see Anne again. However Hannah was deported to a concentration camp herself a few years later and one day whispers reached her that Anne was in the camp over the back fence. That night Hannah snuck to the wall and managed to talk to Anne through the barricade; Hannah tells in the film that Anne said, “I have nobody anymore”, having witnessed her sister dying a few weeks before and not knowing Otto was in fact alive.
- The room that displayed the actual pages of her diary was incredibly affecting. (Although there were many signs stating no photos, I manged to get in a sneaky snap). Anne had gotten the red and white checkered diary from her parents for her 13th birthday and the papers encased in glass right around the room showed the famous scriptures in their most original copy, her beautiful handwriting telling the tales of turmoil.
- A quote from one was highlighted that said, “I write down all my thoughts and feelings, otherwise I would suffocate”. Imagine being pretty much imprisoned in a mere three rooms for two whole years, the odd sneak downstairs to the office late at night the only outing, living life without ever breathing fresh air? Doesn’t it just make you shudder in sympathy? “I simply can’t imagine the world will ever be normal again for us. I do talk about ‘after the war’, but it’s as if I were talking about a castle in the air, something that can never come true.” – Monday November 9, 1943.
- A board told of how in 1944 Gerrit Bolkestein, a minister of the Dutch Government in exile in London, called on Dutch people by radio (the annexe had a small one in the kitchen the lot used to listen to) to keep their dairies and other documentations as a record of their experience in the war. The appeal prompted Anne to rewrite her diary in the view of possible publication, so by the time of her arrest she had rewritten her entries on 215 pieces of fragile and flimsy foolscap sheets. (I hadn’t realised this before – I had thought her published diary was as is, was is). (Another board told of how Anne had another “beautiful phrases” book where she would write her favourite quotations and what not. Just like my own at home. It was actually getting eerie how much I was seeing myself in her). (And the wall in her bedroom being tacked to with pictures of things she was into, including one of Leonardo da Vinci? Me me me me).
- Another stressed sentence or so was the, “I must cut daddy’s hair. Pim maintains that he will never have another barber after the war, as I do the job so well. If only I didn’t snip his ear so often!” from March 12, 1943. It struck me how she really was just a mere kid, yet her writings have highly touched the world. (In fact, her diary has been included in the World Heritage List of Documents since 2009).
- The second to last room told of Otto and his active involvement in combating discrimination and prejudice up until his death in 1980. A video of him had him telling of how it took a very long time to read the diary as it surprised him significantly. The deep thoughts Anne had, the seriousness he saw (well, read), the self-criticism he came across… it was so at odds and different from the Anne he had known as his daughter. (Throughout the time in the annexe, Anne would leave her diary in his briefcase next to his bed every night, promising he would never look in it). At the end of the filming he said, “My conclusion is that even though I was on every good terms with Anne, most parents don’t really know their children”. It made me think of my own self and my blog and how it has been insanely insightful for my parents, Deb especially, into how I experience Ed. Writing is such a powerful tool and intuitive implement, evident in Anne and the way her words have affected so many.
- The last part of the hidden home was a few videos of those in the know talking about Anne. Friends and what not who had known her back in her day. It was rather hilarious; each of them described her with a very common theme coming across. Although “radiant” was used as a term, many that followed were, “She had a very strong presence”, “She’d always take the lead”, “She could be a bit mean”, “Everyone loved her, she was lively and friends with everyone”, “My mum used to say, ‘God knows everything but Anne knows even more’”, “She was a bit pushy but not in an annoying way” and my favourite, “You’d see her approaching and think, ‘Oh dear, here comes Anne’. You just knew she’d take over, start organising everything and being in charge”. I was thinking she reminded me quite a lot of a certain someone when PMS turned to me in enlightenment and said, “You are Anne”. (As I turned to walk to the next display, I saw a massive photo of Anne with a schnauzer-type dog too).
On leaving the last line I took with me was, “Her would haves are our opportunities”. The visit instilled me with incalculable determination, resolve and fortitude. I left more indomitable than ever in my steadfastness to write my book. This little girl, who passed on more than 70 years ago, moved me more than I have ever been moved before.
We went a few doors down to a little church we had seen on the way in. “Isn’t it amazing that while people were in here praying for their kids to pass exams and that kind of stuff, then just up the street there were eight people hiding from ill treatment?” PMS said. “It says a lot about the human race.”
As I have in every church I’ve been to, I lit a candle for those that have passed on. But in this case I lit it for a single soul – I lit it for Anne. (Fuck I feel pretty naff and nonsensical stating this so). Rather than place the candle in the golden holders provided however, I laid it to stand on a flat piece of leaf. I couldn’t bring myself to encase it in one of the compartments – Anne had been enclosed enough in her short life.
On April 11, 1944 she wrote: “I’ll make my voice heard, I’ll go out into the world and work for mankind!”. Perhaps not quite so selflessly nor noble, but I feel our outlooks (as well as parts of our personalities) are truly in alignment.