A visit to the Anne Frank House is a must if you are in Amsterdam. The house is where the young Anne Frank, her family, and four others went into hiding during World War II. Today, you can tour the huis, which was an office with an annex. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, ran his company here. He dealt in products such as pectin, herbs, and spices. The office included a laboratory for experimenting with fruit jams.
When conditions in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam worsened, Otto ushered his family into hiding, using the annex at the back of his warehouse. The area was only about 500 square feet. They went into hiding on June 12, 1942, just a few days after Anne turned 13. They stayed there day and night, week after week, month after month, and year after year until their arrest on August 4, 1944. Imagine a teenager confined to a small, indoor space and having no privacy as she grew into a young woman. In the annex, Anne wrote down her experiences in her diary, not knowing that her words would one day be read around the world.
Here are just a few reasons to follow in Anne’s footsteps through the office, up the stairs, around the secret bookcase door, and into the confines of the Anne Frank House.
1. You’ll Learn How It’s Possible To Adapt To Change -- Even Radical Change
One day the Frank family lived in Amsterdam just as those around them -- going to work and school, shopping at the market, riding bikes, laughing with friends. The next day, they hurried into the annex with a few possessions. The door to the outside shut, and they found themselves in a new environment. Another family moved in with them, as well as a single older man.
We know from Anne’s diary that they all came up with a schedule for bathroom use, cooking, and school studies for the children. No one curled up in a ball on the bed and gave up. They certainly had their struggles and frustrations, but they adapted.
These people left an example for us all. Next time I’m faced with an upsetting circumstance, I can choose to adapt and carry on.
2. You’ll Get To See Anne’s Famous Diary
Anne found herself isolated suddenly, away from her girlfriends. At age 13, this must have been especially hard. But we all need friends to confide in, and sometimes that might even be a journal rather than a person. Anne asked for a diary as a gift for her 13th birthday. It’s said that she even helped choose it. She grabbed her new red plaid book as she rushed into hiding.
Eventually, her diary would hold her questions and frustrations and dreams -- including her goal to become a writer. Her first entry: “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.” Many of her entries are addressed to her imaginary friend, Kitty. No doubt, Kitty and her diary helped Anne through the daily slog of life in the annex.
At the Anne Frank House, the complete surviving manuscript of Anne’s diary is on display.
3. You’ll Hear Inspiring Stories Of How People Risked Their Lives To Help The Franks
There were soon eight people sequestered in the annex, and food and supplies needed to come from outside. Employees from Otto’s business stepped in to help, knowing that they risked their own lives. These helpers did more than just deliver food.
One story involves the annex’s revolving bookcase. The entrance to the annex was simply a door at the beginning. Friends grew concerned that the Germans who occupied the city might come knocking and enter the warehouse. They would certainly go through the door and discover those in hiding. Helpers Victor Kugler and Bep and Johan Voskuijl came up with a plan. They designed and built a revolving bookcase to mask the door. When helpers needed to deliver goods, they would use the lever and swing the bookcase so that they could go through the hidden door.
Two times the Germans entered the warehouse, but missed the annex door. Anne wrote of them rattling the bookcase. She thought her family was “lost.” But the Germans left without discovering the secret.
4. You’ll Be Moved By Anne’s Resilience
Nature helped Anne focus on the positive. When you tour the Anne Frank House, you will see firsthand the view that Anne saw from the attic window. The other windows were covered to keep the people inside hidden, and the attic window was the only place where they could see the outside.
Anne wrote that she loved to spend time in the attic, which was used for storage. She could be alone there, and she could gaze out the window. She looked out on a chestnut tree and the sky.
Her window’s view, though limited, helped sustain her spirit. She wrote, “As long as this still exists, and I am allowed to experience it, this sunshine, that sky without a cloud in sight, for as long as that, I cannot be sad.”
5. You’ll See Firsthand That Possessions Are Not What Is Most Important
One memorable item that you’ll see in the annex is Peter’s bicycle. Peter, the son of the other family in the annex, was a few years older than Anne. He brought along the bike, but of course he never took it back out to enjoy a ride. Peter’s parents decided to try to sell the bike, and it is still wrapped up for that purpose. That plan didn’t work out, and the bicycle still sits in its place under the stairway.
So much of what these families owned turned out to be of no use to them in their new lives. The value of a possession can change overnight. Fortunately for us, Anne hung on to her diary, the one possession that would have a lasting impact on the world.
6. You Can Easily Imagine Anne’s Life In Amsterdam
After you tour the Anne Frank House, take some time to walk the neighborhood. The canals and bridges, lined with clusters of bicycles, look much the same as they did in the 1940s. With buildings dating back hundreds of years and leafy trees out front, not much has changed. You can easily imagine a young Anne here.
When Anne was four, her family moved from Germany to Amsterdam. This is where she played with her friends, went to school, and attended family gatherings. We know the most about her life in hiding because that’s what she wrote about, but it’s moving to think that she lived a normal life right here on these quaint streets of Amsterdam. How the teenage Anne would have loved to have spent even one day of freedom here!
7. You’ll Leave With A Sense Of Hope
When you visit the Anne Frank House, you’ll stand in her bedroom. Her magazine pictures and postcards of movie stars still decorate the walls. The tiny desk where she wrote her diary entries looks like any other teen’s desk. Here she studied French, German, algebra, and history to prepare herself for her adult years. Anne dreamed of a happy life and a bright future, maybe as a writer.
Here, in the small rooms of the annex, you’ll understand more deeply than before what can happen when hate triumphs over kindness and love. It’s one thing to hear statistics of how many died or suffered in World War II; it’s another to be in the house where one family -- and one intelligent, emotional young lady -- spent the last months of their lives.
But you’ll also experience the hope that insists on showing up even in the darkest of days. Anne wrote, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”
Anne’s father alone survived the war. Anne and her sister died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp shortly before liberation. Helpers Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl scooped up Anne’s diary and notebook pages after her arrest and kept them safe.
When Otto Frank decided to publish the diary, he wrote, “We cannot change what happened anymore. The only thing we can do is to learn from the past and realize what discrimination and the persecution of innocent people mean.”
Anne’s words live on, reaching from her small hiding place to inspire countless readers. A visit to the Anne Frank House will certainly inspire you and remain on your mind long afterward.
What To Know Before You Go
If you can, purchase tickets before you arrive in Amsterdam, though some may be available on the day of your visit. Check the museum’s website for more information.
Choose a time in the early morning for your visit. People enter in timed groups, but as visitors linger in the annex, it gets more and more congested. If you can be in one of the first few groups, you can see the rooms without fighting the crowds.
To reach the annex, you’ll need to climb a few steep stairs. There’s no wheelchair access, as the annex is configured just as it was when the families hid there.
A museum, gift shop, and cafe occupy the downstairs office area. No photographs are permitted in the Anne Frank House.
The museum website offers an excellent virtual tour of the Anne Frank House along with historical background and information.
For more on Amsterdam, see this page.