Anne Frank

Anne Frank

I was lucky enough to be in Amsterdam for work a few weeks ago so thought I would stay the weekend and take the chance to visit some great museums. Top of the list was the Anne Frank House, which had always had enormous queues when I’d been to Amsterdam before. This time I booked a ticket in advance and was able to finally see the secret annexe.

Like many women of my generation, I read the Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank as a girl in the early 1980s, not long after her father Otto Frank had been on the children’s TV programme Blue Peter publicising it. First reading it at that age made a lasting impression and ever since I have wanted to visit the annexe and step through the bookcase that hid its enterance. Despite the vast numbers who visit every year, it was an experience that will also leave a lasting impression with me. On leaving the musuem I decided it was time to read Anne Frank: The Biography by Melissa Muller and to re-read the diary itself.

Anne Frank: The Biography is excellent. Reading it in Amsterdam cafes and restuarants over the course of the weekend brought her whole story to life. It was fascinating to read of her family’s escape from Germany and of the work of Otto after the war to use her story to drive a message of equality and to fight against discrimination. The family’s life in Amsterdam in the mid to late 1930s, their experiences at work, at school and with their friends and neighbours as an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances was hard to read when you know what happens to them during the war. There were moments which were especially poignant. The timing of almost escaping the last transport out of the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands to Auschwitz, just as Anne’s childhood friend was being liberated in Belgium less than two hundred miles away. And Anne and her sister’s eventual death from typhoid just a few weeks before Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the Allies. I ended up finishing it on the plane home in tears.

I then re-read the diary and was struck by how well written it is and what a talented writer Anne Frank was. The minutiae of their daily life in hiding is told alongside the raw emotions of fear, frustration, relationships and growing up. The yearning for freedom and for a normal life is overwhelming and it made me entirely agree with all of those who said that she and her family should not be seen as representating the Holocaust experience. They were a normal middle-class family and their experience speaks for them and them alone. But it does have incredible power in helping future generations remember. It reminded me to give the book to any child I know in their early teens so that it can leave a lasting impression on them too.