We walked along the Prinsengracht on Monday, May 21, 2012 and visited the house where Anne Frank and her family hid from the German police for two years during the World War II German occupation of the Netherlands. They were then discovered, arrested and sent to concentration camps. Seven of the eight people who hid in this house perished in the camps.
Otto Frank returned to 263 Prinsengracht in 1945 hoping to find some members of his family. He had already heard on his trip home from Auschwitz that his wife had died there. He searched for any news about Anne and Margot and soon discovered that both of his daughters had died in Bergen-Belsen. His friend Miep then told him that she had kept Anne’s diary and handed him the papers. He edited the diary and had it published in 1947. A play and a movie based on the diary were produced in the 1950s and Anne Frank became a household name. Her diary was in the format of letters to a fictional friend named Kitty. Kids all over the world soon were keeping their own diaries and writing letters to Anne. Otto was instrumental in establishing the Anne Frank Foundation and seeing that the house on Prinsengracht would be turned into a museum. He remarried and moved with his wife to Switzerland. In his old age he spent his days answering the thousands of letters he received from readers of Anne’s diary. He died in 1980 at the age of 91.
Anne wanted to be a writer. She was in the process of rewriting her diary for possible publication when she and her family were arrested and sent to concentration camps. She and her sister contacted typhus in Bergen-Belsen and a day after Margot died, she died, too, not knowing if her diary was still in existence somewhere. She probably also thought that she was the last of her family to die. But her father survived and edited and published his daughter’s diary and helped save the secret annex where they lived for two years and turn the house into a museum.
Anne was just one of six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. Her father gave her a diary for her 13th birthday and shortly afterwards the family went into hiding with four other people. Anne described not only how she and the others lived but also how she felt about everything going on around her. In one entry of her diary she wrote that she still thought that every person in the world at heart is a good person.
No one knows who tipped off the police that the Frank family and four other Jews were hiding in the secret annex. Anne’s story is even more heartbreaking when one considers that the betrayal came about just a few months before Amsterdam was liberated (by Canadian soldiers on May 4, 1945). And Margot and Anne died of typhus just a few weeks before the Bergen-Belsen camp was liberated by British troops.
Penguin Books has just published an iPad app (presently available only in the UK) that contains Anne’s complete diary plus a detailed timeline of her life plus a section called Story Trails containing additional notes and pictures and video clips. Yes, just about everything about Anne Frank can be found on the Internet. But we were there. We stood on the floor of the annex and we walked up the stairs to her room and we saw the pictures of her favorite movie stars on the wall. That’s why we travel.