Anne Frank’s Journey, Part 1 – The Secret Annex
Earlier this year, I was privileged to visit the beautiful country of Holland and, while there, I finally realised a life-long ambition – visiting the Anne Frank House. I also had the opportunity to see Camp Westerbork, in the east of the country, where all the Dutch prisoners (Jews, resistance workers and others) were taken before they were transported to concentration camps in other parts of Europe.
This is the first of a three-part series where we will be following Anne Frank’s journey, from the Secret Annex in Amsterdam to Camp Westerbork, and onwards to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Anne died in March 1945 in Bergen-Belsen.
It was the kitchen sink. A typical 1930s sink, set into a low, rough beige bench. The tap, similar to the one attached to the outside of our garage at home, protruded from the wall above it. Such a necessary thing, and so very commonplace. And it was the very ordinariness of this particular sink that struck me. For this was no ordinary house, and the occupants who lived here for two years were no ordinary people. This was the Secret Annex, hiding place of Anne Frank, her parents, her sister and four other people. All Jews. All hiding from the Nazis who sent millions to their deaths.
The Diary of Anne Frank is famous worldwide. Most of it was written when she was a teenager in hiding, and my teenage self was utterly captivated by it. Reading someone else’s private thoughts is intriguing, but when that someone is a Jewish girl in hiding, and the reader already knows that her story ends so tragically, every entry takes on a new meaning. It was a book that I picked up many times as a teenager.
And I wasn’t the only person who had a desire to set foot in the Secret Annex – the indescribably-long queue on the evening we visited was almost a tourist attraction in itself. I was glad we’d pre-booked. While never crowded – the staff are excellent at controlling the numbers – the presence of other people, the electronic handset guides and the lack of furniture can all conspire to make it feel a bit more like a tourist attraction than a place where real people hid in fear for over two years.
I knew in my head that these were the premises where Otto Frank had his business. That the hidden doorway behind the bookcase is the same doorway Anne Frank and her family stepped through that day they went into hiding. Even that the pictures of movie stars on the walls of a small bedroom are those chosen and pasted there by Anne herself.
But then we moved through to the kitchen, and I saw the sink. In that instant, the realisation hit me that the house in which I was standing was the place where Anne lived. She walked these floors, she ate in this room, she turned on the tap and used that sink. It’s hard to describe a feeling like that. I was walking where she walked. She was an ordinary girl, just like countless other teenage girls from many nationalities and generations, all with similar hopes, feelings, dreams, ambitions. And yet, her circumstances and ending were so vastly different.
On 4th August 1944, the Gestapo arrived and arrested the eight Jews, along with two of the office workers. The only one from the house who would ever return was Anne’s father, Otto. None of the others survived.