Last night I got back from a trip to Amsterdam, the purpose of which was to celebrate the birthdays of two friends. We had a really lovely – if surreal, at times – break, and I’ve amassed some really great photographs.
Before we left Glasgow, I had already decided that I wanted to go to Anne Frank’s house. I knew this would be an emotional experience, but I must concede I was unprepared for just what an effect it would have on me
The queue was large, but moved quickly. Valerie and I arrived a bit later than planned, thanks to my sleeping through the alarm, but we only had to wait for ten minutes. I was in the front door less than 30 seconds before I wanted to cry.
Everyone was generally quite talkative as we entered, but as we ascended the levels of the (considerable) museum, the prattle ceased. It’s difficult to pinpoint what was the most heartbreaking of this visit. As Valerie and I approached the bookcase that was designed to hide the entrance to The Secret Annex, my stomach tightened. I paused for a moment before we entered.
Despite how busy the entire museum was, I found myself alone in what was the kitchen and the Van Pels’s family room for about three or four minutes. All the furniture has been cleared from the house and so the room was utterly bare, except from the kitchen worktop and sink. I went over and put my hand down on it. I can barely imagine the ever-present anxiety and terror that must have been felt when they were finally exposed.
On one of the upper levels, there were a series of photographs from concentration camps that the Nazis had set up. Standing looking at them in a room of 50 other people, there was silence except a video being played on three screens. It was a film made in 1994 featuring commentary from a woman who knew Anne Frank. The details are lost now, because I really couldn’t take in any more.
In those few moments, it seemed almost inconceivable what went on and how relatively recent it was. Turning my attention back to the photos, I thought about all my friends and the people I love; a significant proportion of them would have been targets of the Nazis. I couldn’t stomach the look of misery on the faces of the prisoners in the camps, or the degradation inflicted upon them.
I burst into tears and had to walk away for a minute to compose myself. The energy required to keep going was significant. It momentarily seemed a good idea to leave at once until I got a hold of myself.
The final part of the exhibit featured an interview with Otto Frank, the sole survivor of the Annex. The courage and strength that must have been needed to keep going after his entire family had been murdered is unimaginable. It was never revealed who betrayed the inhabitants of the Annex, and I don’t expect we’ll ever know now. How did they manage to sleep at night?
There was a framed letter from Eleanor Roosevelt to Otto thanking him for a copy of the diaries (I think. It’s hard to remember exactly and photography was prohibited).
As we left, we passed a glass case featuring many copies and editions of Anne’s diaries.
“All this… killing.” I said, more to myself than Valerie. “How could they?” I was referring to the Nazis. I remembered learning when I was about 14 that the Nazi Party was in fact democratically elected. Prior to this, I had assumed they had seized power, given their evil conduct.
Valerie took me for lunch and we spoke a bit more about it before we had to move the conversation onto cheerier things. Yet, I have so rarely been so profoundly affected by a visit to a museum. It was heartbreaking, but utterly necessary: if we don’t learn from these atrocities, we run the risk of repeating them.
“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” - Anne Frank