Friday, 27 September 2013

Secret Annexe: The Diary of Anne Frank

For several kilometres, an Amsterdam canal runs parallel with a street known as Prinsengracht.  At one point, an unassuming looking building peers down onto the canal as do all the other buildings.  Inside this very ordinary-looking building, a Jewish family hid from the Nazis for more than two years during the Second World War.  They were the Frank family, originally from Germany, but settled for some years in Holland to evade Nazi persecution.  Otto Frank, the father, had his business here.  He and his wife, Edith, had two daughters, the youngest being Anne, a girl who was given a diary as a 13th birthday present.  She began to write in it straight away.  Shortly afterwards, the family began their period of hiding in a part of the building not easily detectable from the outside.  The entrance to their hiding place was concealed by a movable cupboard.

I read 'The Diary of Anne Frank' many years ago.  I found it moving, as, no doubt, many millions of others have done.  Every day, hundreds queue outside to visit the 'secret annexe', in which a total of eight people lived (the four others were Jewish acquaintances), and where, on 4 August 1944, they were finally betrayed.  Anne and her sister perished in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp around April 1945.  Their mother died in Auschwitz.  Only Anne's father survived the war.  Otto Frank took a long time to read his dead daughter's diary.  Finally, he got it published, and 263 Prinsengracht became a museum in honour of Anne, her family, and all victims of the Holocaust.  Otto Frank insisted the rooms remain empty to represent the eternal void left behind by the millions of people who were deported and never returned.

When I read Anne's diary, I felt she conveyed so brilliantly the agony of her circumstances.  The words on her pages spirited me back to that time and into her hiding place.  I felt that the secret annexe was a stifling central core, where eight cooped up individuals got on each other's nerves, surrounded by a frightening and sinister world that threatened to invade and drag them away.  I could appreciate the day-to-day grind of the ongoing occupation.  I gained an inescapable sense of Anne's family's daily realities, the heavy burdens they carried, and the enormous pressures of a war that seemed never to end.

Anne's dream was to become not only a journalist, but a famous writer.  She was inspired by a Dutch Government Minister-in exile in London who called on the Dutch people to preserve any diaries or other documents that demonstrated conditions under German occupation, and which could go on record after the war.  Tragically, Anne would not live. But in death her dream would come true.

263 Prinsengracht, where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis for more than two years
Anne's hiding place looks down on the canal and the buildings opposite.
Part of the queue that waits to see the Secret Annexe.
Anne Frank (1929-1945) wanted to become a famous writer.  Her dream was fulfilled, but she did not live to see it.
Anne Frank House stands as a reminder to the horrors of war, prejudice, and xenophobia.
Of the three doorways at back of photo, Anne sits in the space of the left-hand doorway, surrounded by her classmates.  Nine of them perished in the camps as she did.
Anne Frank captured the hearts of people the world over, who flock to visit her 'secret annexe'.

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