How the Anne Frank House made me feel

The Diary of a Young Girl was the first coming-of-age story I’d ever read. Thankfully, I got my hands on it years prior to a mandatory school assigned reading (as a young voracious reader, I ate those up too – but for some reason those assigned books always lacked shine). Anne’s diary hit me hard.

I was quite a bit younger than Anne was when I read it and was the first time that I felt true yearning pass through me from the pages of a book.

Yearning for life, for love, for adulthood, for answers – all of these became real emotions in me as I read, then immediately re-read Anne’s words. I didn’t fully understand what was happening outside of her Secret Annex – the war, the Nazis, the utter awfulness of it all – but it wasn’t necessary, it was the story of Anne herself that captured me.

Vibrant, questioning, precocious, yearning Anne. I felt like I knew her, I wanted to know her. I wanted to be just like her: gutsy, outspoken, introspective, full of life.

Anne Frank House was at the very top of my list of places to visit when we arrived in Amsterdam. The house is the actual building where the Anne and her family – and four others – hid before they were betrayed and captured by the Nazis.

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When we arrived, there was a long line of people winding around the building. Waiting gave me the time to reflect on the surroundings.

The surreal feeling of standing in a bright world just outside where eight people languished in a dark world, unknown to anyone standing in my very spot in 1942.

Entering the house, the line of people ran single file, slowly, through the offices below the annex. Quotes from Anne’s diary were stenciled on the walls, and led our way.

When I reached the office on this lower level where Anne and her sister were permitted to bathe on the weekend, I read the quote where Anne writes about peeking through the curtain to the world outside. Curious as to how that may have felt I peeked as well.

Staircases in these Amsterdam buildings are just a couple of degrees off the angle of a ladder and, as I climbed them, the full weight of Anne’s story hit me. Then, I saw the infamous bookcase that covers the opening to the Secret Annex.

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It was heartbreaking. The whole story took a turn from surreal to painfully real.

Beyond the bookcase, is an awkward passage into the annex. The single file of people move slowly up the ladder-like stairs and through the rooms. It’s strange, but I don’t remember anyone directing our movement – it just seems like everyone, including myself, just stuck close to the walls in an odd sort of reverence.

The rooms are dark, empty of furnishings (as Anne’s father, Otto, wished them to remain) and so, so sad. As I slowly crept through the rooms, I tried to imagine myself being walled up and having to be completely silent at 14 years old. Living behind blackout curtains instead of thriving in the sunlight. In constant fear of being discovered.

Just the thought of it was unbearable. There were a lot of tears flowing in that slow, single file line, including mine.

After the annex, there are exhibits about Anne’s discovery by the Nazis and her death at the concentration camp, along with the story of her father’s futile search for his family and his work toward getting Anne’s diary published.

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Anne Frank’s story is tragic, and made even more poignant by two facts; that the allied forces were only a matter of weeks away from liberating all of Europe when she passed away, and that she expressed the desire to be a famous author, which she accomplished only after death.

The last exhibit is a beautiful film. People from all over the world share their personal stories of how Anne’s diary and life story touched their lives. It is a collection of hope.

Somehow, rather than leaving the house devastated (emotional sponge that I am), I left with the feeling of that same hope.

The hope that Anne’s life remains in my heart, everyone’s hearts. A hope that reminds us to be kind to each other.

“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” – Anne Frank

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