A voice in the darkness

Will travel for tulips – Day 8 – Anne Frank Huis

I read The Diary of Anne Frank for the first time, like many people, as an eighth grade student. It was required for my social studies class. I encountered Anne Frank again as I became a language arts teacher, requiring it as a reading assignment for my eighth graders along with other Holocaust novels and biographies. I returned to Anne Frank just weeks before this trip, rereading her diary again and finding it full of everything I had missed as an eighth grader – wit, humour, deep emotions, and a voice in the darkness.

I met Anne Frank again as I visited Amsterdam with the express wish to see the warehouse building where she and her family, along with the Van Pels and Mr. Pfeffer, took refuge for just above two years during World War II. The Annexe.

Anne’s story is told through an audioguide tour as you start in the lower levels of the spice warehouse where her father once worked. The story is poignant and incredibly saddening. As I wound my way through the warehouse, from room to room, I got a sense of the people who lived and worked there. Finally, I climbed through the moveable bookcase that once hid the door to the attic rooms. It felt like I was stepping into a place inhabited by the energies of those who had once hidden there.

I was in Anne’s attic, the words in her diary wrapping around me as I looked into the empty bedrooms – and then Anne and Fritz’s room, which would later become Anne and Margot’s room. Some Hollywood stars and European royalty pictures lined the old wallpaper – hallmarks of Anne’s unique personal style. Everything from her diary was echoed in the rooms. Even the ladder from Peter’s bedroom up to the high attic where she and Peter would sit and talk. Where Anne would look at the tree outside the warehouse and wonder if she’d ever get to be free again. Where she could hear the bells of the nearby Westerkerk.

Where she would leave her memories when they came for her, too.

Finally, there is her diary. The red and white checked journal she called “Kitty” and who became a friend, confidant, and living record of one young girl who was unable to physically survive the Holocaust. Instead, she has become immortal. And I’ll never apologize for requiring students to read it. They may hate it, they may dread the small text, tiny margins, and high number of papers, but one day, just like me, hopefully they’ll appreciate her words and the way one voice became a powerful beacon for so many lost ones.

I stood in the attic and experienced immense sadness as I thought of Otto Frank returning from the camps, looking for his family and friends. Looking for anyone that would have survived. There is a photograph of him, black and white, standing in the pale sunlight, head slightly bowed.

How can humans destroy humanity like that? How can we look back and still let the same things happen today? We will continue to struggle with these questions. There are no easy answers.

I recently read a book I bought at the bookshop at Auschwitz last year. It was by Anne Frank’s step-sister, Eva Schloss. After WWII and the loss of his family in the Holocaust, Otto Frank eventually married Eva’s mother some years later. Both of them were camp survivors. Eva’s biography documents her early life, life during the war, and her life following her liberation, including moving, marriage, starting a family, and dealing with the fame brought on by Anne’s diary publication. It is another view of the war, of the Holocaust, and of the decades of coming to terms with the horror of what she had experienced.

At one point, a particular passage stuck out to me. Eva goes on to question if Anne Frank would still think everyone was good at heart (the famous lines of her diary) if she had survived the war. If her innocence and young wisdom would have changed after the brutality of the camps.

It may have, but we won’t ever know. Anne didn’t survive. Her diary did, though, and through the words of an incredible young woman, we have a testimony to a time period that continues to haunt our consciousness.

As well it should.

A final evening in Amsterdam, after visiting the Anne Frank Huis, left me in a reflective mood. I had a filling traditional Dutch dinner, then took my camera out for some night photography on the canals. As if the city wasn’t enchanting enough by day, the night time, when lights dazzle on the water like a remembered sunset, it is surreal.

I leaned on a canal bridge and listened to the water ripple by as small pleasure boats puttered through the archways.

It was a beautiful trip. One that hit at my heart, made me think about the importance of what we teach in the grand scheme of things. There is a massive amount of potential to fix problems, solve what we’re finding unsolvable, and make sure Anne’s hopes and dreams are honored. What we say now, how we grow these hearts and minds, has impact.

The future’s listening, after all.


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