Today’s her birthday, June 12. Anne Frank, had she lived, would be 80 today.
A few years ago, a highlight of my trip to Amsterdam was a visit to the Anne Frank House. It’s not a house, really, but a business site–an old Dutch canal building–that happened to have hidden living quarters at the back. Anne and her family (father, mother, and sister) left Germany and made it their secret home when the Nazi movement began deporting Jews to concentration camps. They opened their hiding place to the Van Pels family and Mr. Pfeffer, a family friend.
I climbed the steps hidden behind a movable bookcase and entered the small annex where the Frank family lived from 1942-44. I stood in the bare kitchen and tried to picture 8 people sharing this space. I lingered in the tiny bedroom decorated with Anne’s pictures and Hollywood magazine cutouts and girly scribbles. I wandered near the window where you can see the spire of the Westerkirk church next door and mark the passage of time in the melodic but loud clanging of its bells. Anne wrote of those bells frequently.
3 August 1943
Shh… Father, be quiet, Otto.
At the strike of half past eight, Father has to be in the living room. No running water, no flushing toilet, no walking around, no noise whatsoever.
It’s half past two. As I enter the sitting room, the neighboring Westerkirk begins to play.
Her story has always moved me. As a parent, I imagine the fear of living in hiding with children. I can hardly bear the thought of my own children captive in the apartment, never permitted to go outside or even open the blackout curtain, bathing in the dark, spending days in silence. Yet Anne and her family (and others in hiding with them) somehow found opportunities for joy and celebration amid the terror. They played games, read books, and did lessons. Anne passed the time by filling her diaries with all the thoughts and questions of a typical 13-year old girl, writing with teenage passion and great honesty.
I think about the people who helped the families hide and brought food and supplies to them in the annex at the great risk of their own lives, and I wonder if I would have a smidgen of their courage.
Eleven million people died during the Holocaust, including 1,500,000 children. Six million Jews lost their lives. Others targeted included those from Slavic nations (Poles and Russians), so-called “Gypsies”, homosexual persons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the mentally and/or physically disabled, and those with differing political philosophies (communists and socialists).
And then I hear of those who deny the Holocaust even existed. Frankly, it disgusts me. This week, a man walked into the Holocaust Museum in our nation’s capital–one of the finest museums anywhere–and opened fire. A known racist, the shooter had been vocal in his beliefs that the Holocaust never happened and, specifically, that The Diary of Anne Frank is fiction invented by Jews who want sympathy or power. To express his views, he killed a security guard at the Museum’s entrance filled with visitors before being shot himself.
Though I don’t have any personal connection with the Holocaust or any survivors, I do marvel at how it remains in the news so frequently even now. I’m glad, when it doesn’t involve more violence. It was a dark and shameful period of human history, and it must be remembered so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. I remember it–though I was not alive when it happened–through the powerful words of a young girl:
4 Aug 1944 – found!
Betrayed – unknown by whom. Bookcase torn apart and secret entrance discovered.
It started out as a day like any other for the people in hiding. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, later wrote:
It was around ten-thirty. I was upstairs with the Van Pelses in Peter’s room and I was helping him with his schoolwork. I was showing him the mistake in the dictation when suddenly someone came running up the stairs. The stairs were squeaking, I stood up, because it was still early in the morning and everyone was supposed to be quiet – then the door opened and a man was standing right in front of us with a gun in his hand and it was pointed at us.”
The Frank family was loaded onto trains and separated to various camps. Anne and her sister Margot ended up at Bergen-Belsen. Conditions were deplorable and illness rampant. Anne and her sister are believed to have died of typhus in the spring of 1945, a few weeks before the camp was liberated.
Political writer Mark Blumenthal has a very personal connection to Washington DC’s Holocaust Memorial and Museum, and shares it here.