We strolled along a quiet canal while ducks quacked softly as they glided across the water. Following the directions on our map, we soon turned a corner and stared at a mass of people. A long line was wrapped around the block, everyone in the queue waiting patiently to see an important piece of history. We placed ourselves at the tail of the line, and slowly shuffled forward until we reached the doors of the old house. We each slipped on a set of headphones and listened intently as the audio guide led us through the Anne Frank House.
Anne Frank was born in 1929 in Frankfurt. She, her parents, and her elder sister lived contently, but Germany was soon thrown into a political crisis which led to Adolf Hitler’s appointment as German chancellor in 1933. His new seat in power started a war against those who the Nazis believed were "impure" and being Jewish, the Frank family was under threat. Like about 304,000 other Jews who left Germany during the first 6 years of the Nazi dictatorship, they decided to emigrate and settled down again in the Netherlands. However, World War II soon broke out, leading to Germany's attack on their new home in the Netherlands in 1940. With the Nazis in control of the country, the strict rules and restrictions that followed the invasion made life immensely difficult for the Franks and other Jews. To escape the inevitability of being called to be imprisoned in a concentration camp, the Franks and four others slipped behind a secret entrance in Anne's father, Otto Frank's office with the assistance of four of his employees. Anne had just turned thirteen at the time, and with her, she brought a diary that would later become one of the most famous books on Earth. We walked through a doorway that was cleverly concealed by a bookshelf, and entered what Anne Frank had called the “Secret Annex." It was a small, quaint space where the Franks and four other Jews lived for the next two years of their lives. I can imagine how the fear of being discovered plagued their thoughts, but what I cannot picture is how they coped with the struggles and hardships that came with the decision to hide. It was impossible to go outside and windows could almost never be opened due to the chance of being spotted by a neighbor. They also had to remain near-silent, and other than Otto's four employees, they had no connections with the outside world. Luckily, the eight Jews could turn to each other for support, and they often helped one another during this time.
We continued quietly through the hiding place, observing the different rooms. Anne, who was an avid writer, had spent much of her time writing stories and recording her thoughts and experiences in her diary. She began rewriting it in the hopes of publishing it one day, but she never had the chance to complete her book. In 1944, two years after the Jews slipped behind the bookshelf door, they and Otto's employees were discovered and arrested. Otto's helpers were later released or escaped capture, but the Jews were not as fortunate. They spent their last days in Nazi labor camps including the infamous Auschwitz, and Otto Frank was the only one of the eight who returned to Amsterdam. Luckily, Anne's precious diary was salvaged, and Otto fulfilled his daughter's dreams when he published The Diary of A Young Girl in 1947.
Anne Frank, like myself, was a typical teenage girl with a love of writing. Unlike me, however, she lived during one of the most difficult times in history. Persecuted for her ethnicity, she faced unimaginable hardships that no person should ever experience. Though Anne Frank and her family might be some of the most well-known Holocaust victims, we must remember that they were not the only ones. Almost six million Jews in Europe and countless people of other "inferior" groups were murdered by the genocide. Hopefully, with this in mind, the stories and legacies of people like Anne Frank will continue to remind us that such horrors must never happen again.
We visited the Anne Frank House in 2017 during our year-long trip around the world. Click on the link to read more!