on September 12, 2009
I visited Anne Frank's House on a visit to Amsterdam recently. 6 of us went on the trip and the only thing that we all agreed we wanted to see was Anne Frank's House. I wanted to see it, as being a historian this was one of the most important sites in the city. Others had read the book or even just heard Anne mentioned in passing. The thing was that everyone knew something about the story of Anne, which is pretty remarkable in itself, that a small girl's diary could become so famous.THE BACKGROUND: Most people will know at least the basics of Anne's story, but here's a reminder. Anne was a Jew, living with her father, mother and sister in Amsterdam. She was born in 1929 in Germany. When the Nazi party came to power the Frank family decided that Germany was no longer safe and moved to Amsterdam. They thought they were safe, until 1940 when the German army invaded the Netherlands.Anne received the diary for her 13th birthday in June 1942. Soon after this the family went into hiding, along with Hermann van Pels, his wife and son. Later in the year an eighth joins them, Fritz Pfeffer. They hid in some unused rooms in one of Otto Frank's warehouses. They were helped by four friends, who brought them food and news. During the day they all had to keep quiet, so not to alert the workers. Those hiding were found in August 1944, after over two years in the annexe. They were taken to a camp where they were made to work, before being ordered to the eastern camps in September 1944. They were sent to Auschwitz. Hermann van Pels was murdered shortly after this. The captives were moved around various camps. Anne and her sister Margot died at Bergen-Belsen, from disease, in March 1945. The only survivor of the secret annexe was Otto Frank, Anne's father. When he returned to Amsterdam he was given Anne's diary by Miep Gies. Anne had herself wished to publish the diary, and had even edited parts of it. Therefore Otto Frank decided to fulfil this wish. ACCESS:The house is located on Prinsengracht. The entrance is in the house next door, a modern looking building. Trams 13, 14 and 17 will take you to the house. The house costs 8.5 Euros for adults, and 4 Euros for children and Under 26 cardholders. The price didn't seem too steep to me, we were in the house for probably 1.5 hours. The last entrance is 1/2 hour before closing but this would mean a rushed visit. It is open from 9-7 and 9-9 in the Summer. All the guidebooks warn you about the queues. When we went there were no queues to get in, even though we went in the middle of the day, but it was a cold March day! However, when we got inside it was very busy (or so I thought) so I wouldn't like to see what the queue gets like in the summer. Get there early. Not only to avoid the queue but also the crowds within the house as it is very cramped in some places and made me feel claustrophobic. The House's website states that the house may provide some obstacles to disabled visitors - huge understatement!! I found it difficult to climb the stairs and I'm able-bodied. They are very narrow and steep and there is no lift or ramps. I would say it was almost impossible for disabled access. During your visit you can't take photos or video, which is fair enough as some of the displays may be damaged. You can pick up a brochure at the entrance which gives you information and a photo about each room. THE VISIT:You begin by visiting the downstairs rooms of what was the warehouse belonging to Otto Frank. Throughout the visit there are quotes from the diary, written on the walls, in both Dutch and English. During this first part of the museum you see exhibits to do with being a Jew in a Nazi occupied state, such as the infamous yellow star which they were made to wear. There is a video showing Miep Gies, one of four who helped conceal the family. This part is interesting, but a little sparse on the exhibits. You can fully understand why there aren't very many exhibits though, there is simply not enough room. Even when I visited in March, when it is quieter, people were jostling for space to read the small cards which go with the exhibits. You then progress upstairs, where you are faced with the famous bookcase, which covered the entrance to the secret annexe. This probably haunted me more than anything else. For some reason the bookcase symbolised their hiding for me. When you go through the bookcase you enter the rooms where they actually hid. Behind the bookcase you see the room shared by Anne's father, mother and sister and the room shared by Anne and Fritz Pfeffer. I found the size of the rooms striking, for so many to live in such a small space. In Anne's room the pictures which she glued to the wall remain, although they are behind glass to protect them. The area is also dark because of the black curtains on the windows, although it must be very light compared to the blackout curtains which would have been there during the war. You also walk through the kitchen/living area, which doubled as Mr and Mrs van Pels' bedroom and then their son's bedroom, which was very small, and the bathroom. I felt claustrophobic in the rooms, and I was only in them for 20 minutes. Walking through the rooms really makes you think about how life was for these people, who stayed there for over 2 years, with no access to outside. When you leave the living quarters you see the death records of all who were in the house and who died in the concentration camps. These were very crude, with the date of death being recorded next to what I think was a swastika. There is also a video of Anne's friend, who was in the concentration camp with her but on the 'privileged' side, and about how she threw a parcel to Anne. You also see the diary itself, but the object is nothing out of the ordinary, it is what it contains which is amazing. At the end of the visit there are computers where you can learn more about the house and those who lived there, although I found these very difficult to control (the mouse had a mind of its own). There was also a room where you could vote on topics such as freedom of press and speech (eg should Holocaust denial be printed on the internet and should Protestants in Northern Ireland be allowed to march through Catholic areas). All were controversial topics, so be careful of offending others if you voice your opinion loudly (although the voting buttons allow you to do it discretely). The results of those sitting in the room and also the results from all visitors are then displayed. I think this is a very interesting part of the museum, and it shows how the prejudices which Anne suffered are alive today. The visit ends, as with most museums, the shop. There weren't really any tacky museum gifts which you find so often, but the diary was the main focus, being sold in many languages. There were also various books about the war and the Holocaust in general. VERDICT: If you go to Amsterdam then this is a must see museum. It isn't huge and won't take up too much of your time if you've gone to the city for certain other attractions. It is, however, very poignant. There are not a huge number of exhibits, but I think that this is a good thing. Firstly, there are far too many visitors to make it viable, and secondly, the number of exhibits perhaps reflects the lives of these people while they were hiding; sparse. I thought that the entrance fee was reasonable and you can certainly get your money's worth. I would spend at least an hour in the house to make the most of seeing everything. The house however is not about money's worth, but the story of a young girl. Parts of the house, like the pictures on Anne's wall, make it feel as if they have only stepped out, and will return. The only downside is the lack of access and I thought that there could have been more information in the rooms, although the information booklet is quite detailed. I also recommend reading the book before you go, and then you can place scenes and bring it to life. I found the whole experience very moving and would recommend a visit to anyone.
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