Visiting the Anne Frank House is practically required when visiting Amsterdam. Between the long lines outside and the crowds within, though, it can be tough to have a meaningful experience without feeling like you’re shuffling along in a herd, jostling for a view of the very artifacts that bring Anne’s diary home, conscious of the growing line behind you.
Even so, if the house where she hid were not such a tourist attraction today, I would still move earth and heaven to see it. Anne Frank and her writing had such a great influence on me when I was 10, 11, 12 years old. To this day I remember being 13 and reading her Tales from the Secret Annex along with the Miep Gies book Anne Frank Remembered and poring over her family photographs in Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary, as well as getting to play her in 8th grade literature class when we were reading The Diary of Anne Frank play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (which was a big deal to otherwise quiet, introverted me). In short, I was obsessed. Her adolescent perplexities, her wonder about the world, her growing love of nature and classical music and art history and ancient Greek and Roman mythology, and most of all her desire to live abroad in London and Paris someday after the war and become a great journalist … I identified with all of it, as well as with how much more free she felt to be herself and write herself out through her diary. She became such a hero to me because in her I recognized a lot of who I aspired to be. That’s what made visiting the Anne Frank House such a girlhood pilgrimage for me.
On my first night in A’dam I decided not to go inside but instead just leaned against the black rails along the Bloemgracht bridge across from the house and gazed up at the Westertoren, the bell tower of the Westerkerk nearby. In her diary, Anne talked about how she used to open an attic window for fresh air at night and loved listening to the carillon tunes emanating from the tower. That first evening, I watched dusk fall and breathed in this view as the carillon played for 9.
In Gies’ 2010 obituary, The New York Times quotes Gies from her memoir as saying that upon reading Anne’s diary,
“The emptiness in my heart was eased. So much had been lost, but now Anne’s voice would never be lost. My young friend had left a remarkable legacy to the world.
“But always, every day of my life, I’ve wished that things had been different. That even had Anne’s diary been lost to the world, Anne and the others might somehow have been saved.”
It made me think of Eva Schloss, who had also gone into hiding and later survived Auschwitz with her mother—who in turn later married Otto Frank, Anne’s father, after WWII. Schloss thus became Anne’s posthumous stepsister.
“I was very happy for my mother in the beginning,” Ms. Schloss says.
“But I was also very close to her, as you might imagine, and to suddenly have to share her because she shared everything with Otto—she helped him with the publication of Anne’s diary, they traveled together, went to lectures together, she answered his letters and Anne was their life’s work—was difficult for me.
“I was in Anne’s shadow. My mother and Otto were very happy but, yes, I was sometimes jealous. And then I would think: how can you be jealous of somebody who hasn’t got a life?
“How could I be jealous of Anne? I got married. I had a family. I have three daughters. Anne suffered. Why not let her have that limelight?” (source: National Post)
Put that way, it’s monumental to think that—even as Anne’s story became known the world over and she achieved her stated desire, “I want to go on living even after my death”—those who knew her would trade what has become her iconic status for a chance for her to live an “ordinary” life. It invests the things we take for granted, like seeing a matinee at the local theater, or riding a bike and feeling the wind rush past, or eating a pastry warm from the bakery, with a sense of what a privilege it is to experience and savor those things.