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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam

What is Anne Frank Huis?

Anne Frank Huis, or Anne Frank House in English, is a house and now adjoining museum where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis, and where she wrote her world-famous diaries.

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Anne Frank Huis History

Few individual stories from the Second World War evoke so much interest and empathy as the record of Anne Frank’s short, ill-fated life. For this reason, the house where she hid from the Nazis is considered by many to be one of Amsterdam’s must-see destinations, and a visit to it is a powerful emotional and educational experience.

Anne Frank was born in 1929 and emigrated from Germany to Amsterdam in the mid-1930s with her elder sister Margot and their parents Otto and Edith. The Nazis had come to power in 1933 and her parents felt there was no future for the family there. After Germany bombed Rotterdam in 1940, leading to the Netherlands surrendering, things became increasingly difficult for Amsterdam’s Jewish residents. In 1941, the deportation of Dutch Jews began, and the carrying of identity cards became compulsory.

The introduction of the yellow badge to indicate the wearer was Jewish and the beginning of the Nazis’ eradication programme the following year, prompted the Frank family to go into hiding with four others – Fritz Pfeffer and Hermann and Auguste van Pels and their son Peter – in the secret annex of a building by the Prinsengracht canal. Otto Frank’s herbs and spices business was registered there, which continued to operate during Nazi occupation.

On the 12th of June 1942, Anne’s 13th birthday, the young girl was given a diary. Writing in it helped to dispel the tension of living in total confinement. She also compiled a book of favourite quotes and another with stories she had written. Unaware of the enormous impact this journal would have on posterity, Anne wrote:

‘Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a 13-year-old schoolgirl. Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. I feel like writing…’

However, on the 4th of August 1944, the inhabitants of the secret annex were discovered after 761 days of concealment there by a party of Dutch police headed by an SS officer, and imprisoned. A month later, all of them were transported to Auschwitz. From there Anne, Margot and Auguste were sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where Anne and Margot died of typhus in February 1945. Just a few months later, on the 7th of May, Germany surrendered and the Netherlands was liberated. Otto was the only one of the eight inhabitants of the secret annex to survive the war and he returned to Amsterdam in June that year.

The annex where they lived is behind a secret door, cleverly concealed by a hinged bookcase. It’s now devoid of furniture yet, understandably, visiting it remains a poignant experience. The postcards and magazine pictures of movie stars that Anne stuck on the walls remain in place. Look out too for the marks made by Otto and Edith, charting the growth of Anne and Margot, who were never to reach maturity.

Neighbouring buildings house a museum dedicated to Anne’s tragic story, and exhibits include her diary, documents and other possessions, as well as contemporary newsreels, multi-media and interactive exhibits. The Anne Frank House attracts more than one million visitors each year, so a visit early or late in the day is recommended.

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