I’ve just come back from a Holiday with my twelve year old niece to London and Holland. We had a great time, saw old friends such as Natalie and her fiancé, went walking around the streets of London, stroked a pelican in St James’s park, said “Hi” to the Queen, went to see the musical Wicked and eat in a swanky restaurant in our trainers. Went swimming in a lido whilst enjoying the sun with Alan Magee, I got to see my sister and Niel again, and meet my new niece for the first time. In Holland we stayed with Jennifer and cycled each day, Teigan even fell of her bike whilst trying to punch me; I like a responsible Uncle could do nothing but laugh. We ate heartily at Martijn Rijerse’s house.
But for me the most profound moment I had on our holiday was when a little girl called Anne invited us into her house. It is down town Amsterdam. She doesn’t live there anymore but she may as well do as you can feel her presence and that of her family everywhere. You can hear her voice, read things she wrote, and listen to many people talk about her. She was the same age as my niece when she came into the house and lived there for two years. She wrote a diary of everything that happened there, and it still has a lot of meaning even though it was a long time ago.
The entrance to her house was a little strange. Instead of a door it was a bookshelf that opened up from a wall. This was so that nobody would know that they were there. As we climbed the stairs we came into a little room and all the windows were greyed out so that people couldn’t see in so that nobody would know they were there. Before we went in we bought some drinks and the lady in the shop said to us, “Just keep your mouths closed for two minutes.” I thought this was a sign of a respect until she continued “…because they had to do that for two years so that nobody would know that they were there.”
There was a lot of people in the first room which was her family’s living room and a bedroom for her father’s friend. Anne is a now a very popular girl and a lot of people come to where she used to live. We had to shuffle round the room slowly. It is strange for so many people in such a small room to be so quiet, looking, absorbing and contemplating. There were a lot of things to see in her house but it was this first room that caught me. It wasn’t the furniture as there wasn’t any. Apparently when somebody did find out they were there, they and all their belongings were removed. Anne’s father Otto on his return some time later said he wanted the house leaving as ‘they’ had left it, just the wall paper and whatever was stuck on it. On the far wall by the door to the next room there were two pieces of Perspex glass mounted onto the wall to protect what was underneath. One was a map of France, Anne’s father had placed pins in the map in different colours to show where the allied invasion was; the war by that stage had turned and hope of it ending was real as the Nazi forces were retreating. The Perspex glass next to this one had nothing in it. Obviously the item had slipped out or had been removed. My eyes shifted to look through the doorway, the next room had posters on the walls, it was Anne’s room. I was ready to move on and then I noticed some grey marks on the wall paper just under the Perspex glass that seemingly had nothing under it. The light was so dim that it was difficult to make out what it was and so again I almost walked on, but the glass had a description written on it in Dutch and English. It said ‘A height chart of Anne and Margaret Frank made by the girls during the two years that they lived in the annex.’ I strained my eyes to focus on the marks and saw the pencil lines that would have marked the top of the little girls heads; next to each line was a date and the name Anne or Margaret written in their own hand. It took me some time to truly comprehend what this meant as I stared. And then the image of two little girls standing against the wall, one stood there excited to see how much she had grown, no shoes, no standing on toes, but always a straight back, the other marking her height. You could watch them grow as subsequent marks moved higher up the wall, each with a date and one of their names.
I stared at these simple marks transfixed, then in my mind the image of a white door flashed by, it is the back of the door of our boiler at home that has the same marks but with different hand writing, names and date. These marks were made by me and my brother when we were children, also fascinated to watch ourselves grow, no shoes, no standing on toes, but always a straight back. There are even marks of my niece who was in that same room and the same height as Anne. This is a game that many children play. Anne Frank didn’t grow much taller than the marks on the wall her and her sister had made because she didn’t live much longer than the last date she had written against them.
I find it difficult trying to absorb the enormity and the atrocities that occurred during the last world war. It is difficult to comprehend the millions of lost lives and to grasp that each of them was a life. Visiting this little house helped me to realise this, to really feel that there was once a young girl living here who marked her height on the wall just as we did at home. Her presence is everywhere through her diary and you really begin to feel you know her, and the more you do the more you grieve as she needlessly died as a victim of the Holocaust.
There are a lot of things to see in Amsterdam, but if you find yourself there consider visiting Anne in her house and let yourself imagine.