Friday, March 5, 2010

Amsterdam in Letters: The Anne Frank House

By Chip Schrader
Book Review Editor
(Editor’s note: Chip Schrader, our book review editor, recently took a trip to Amsterdam, during which he visited the Anne Frank House. This is his account of that visit.)
Before Frank McCourt’s tortured memoir as a blue collared youth in the slums of Limerick, there was a diary found in the back of a home where an entire family hid from Hitler’s reign of terror. Anne Frank, a sassy and intelligent thirteen year old, decided to keep this diary as her childhood became increasingly endangered by the Nazi occupation of Holland.
Today Amsterdam, named after the dam that holds back the Amstel, remains a major tourist Mecca with its intricate canal system lined by stone streets, bridges and buildings that have existed since the time of Washington, and long before. In mid-February, the air is icy with the occasional spit of hail floating in the North Sea breeze revealing the breath of the city’s old soul.
The most notable of the canals was named after Anne Frank. The peaceful walk along this canal makes it difficult to realize it was once patrolled by the Nazis. Now with the cyclists, dogs, and tourists that mingle throughout this quiet, yet busy city, those who roamed here were not always so carefree.
Amidst the graceful bustle, the Anne Frank house looks like any other house in Amsterdam. It somewhat resembles what we call a townhouse in the United States. It is only the attached museum that gives this landmark away. In a sense, being so common and unsuspecting, it makes sense this location was used to hide the Franks from imprisonment, but living like this was an imprisonment in itself.
Anne was always cheerful in the pages of her diary. Her constant worry about footsteps being heard in the warehouse below, and the absence of sunlight never seemed to rob her of her youth. Within the house, the cutouts of movie stars and other scenes Anne’s father gave her to liven up the plainness of her quarters remain encased in glass in the very spots she placed them. Various editions and drafts of her diary, and film footage of her father (the lone survivor) are placed throughout the house.
An interesting feature, besides having covered windows, is that the stairs had to be so steep, the steps overhung each other hazarding the climber to bump their shins (numerous times). The doorway through which Anne had to hop through to the back house is still intact. It is a knee-deep step that brings the visitor to the flooring of the house’s hidden quarters. On the walls, pointed passages from the diary are printed in a neat script to remind the visitor of the significance of each room.
Among the most chilling of the displays are the lists of Jewish citizens, some of whom may have successfully escaped the pogrom, some of whom had that fate still awaiting them. Displayed beside photographs, relics and papers of the Frank family is a golden star with the label “Jude,” a tag that Jews were required to wear in the streets so that other citizens knew who they were.
Perhaps the Jewish Joan of Arc, Anne Frank’s humanity and unrealized future shook the world upon her diary’s publication. Toward the end of the exhibit, the numerous translations of her diary are collected to illustrate the worldwide coverage this brilliant young journalist had achieved after her early fate. Now humanity prays this book will continue to prevent history’s repetition as one of the world’s most beautiful cities continues to celebrate the legacy of Anne Frank.
Photo caption: Anne Frank ( photo)