In 2009,I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Netherlands, not once, but three times. On one of my trips, I was on a mission: I wanted to see Anne Frank's house.
It was the last day of December and the city of Amsterdam was setting up for that night's New Year’s Eve celebration. I tried to persuade my traveling companions to help me find Anne Frank's house, in my hope of “getting in”. One of my friends, born and raised in Amsterdam, was doubtful. My Dutch friend told me; “There will be a line. We’ll never get in.”
I ignored his warning and egged my pals on. Unenthusiastically, they braved the cold and agreed to walk the few blocks. When we got near the corner of what was once Anne Frank's house (now a museum), I immediately became deflated; There was a long line, going down the street and around the corner of the building. Everyone was waiting in line, and like me, they all wanted to taste a part of Dutch history.
I was willing to wait in the cold, across from the street sign that warned visitors in Dutch, to be careful of pick pockets. Alas, my friends couldn't be persuaded, and where I was outnumbered, I reluctantly agreed to get a cup of Dutch hot chocolate at a local cafe nearby. Then, we visited a book store, where I purchased a DVD about Anne Frank's house. It had photographs of Anne Frank and her family, some of which were highlighted on yesterday's NY Times Home Page.(the Multimedia section, second box, entitled; "Anne Frank's Childhood").
I only got to see the house from the outside, but I still felt the trip was worth it. I remember feeling a "chill”, not from the December wind, but by realizing that I was standing on the exact, same street corner that Anne Frank probably skipped down, on her way home from school. It was as if I could "feel" her presence.
Why did Anne Frank’s story make a powerful impression?
I remember reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 7th grade and it made a lasting impression on me. Later on, as a middle school English teacher, I contacted a friend of Otto Frank, who resided on Cape Cod, and invited him to visit my school and talk to my students about the Holocaust and Anne Frank.
He brought old photographs and actual Frank family memorabilia, including the actual wedding table cloth of Otto Frank and other diaries that were never published by Anne Frank. Some of the pages lost and later recovered, were now preserved in glass shadow boxes. Everything had been given to my guest speaker by Anne Frank's father, Otto Frank.
His visit made the Holocaust “real” to all my students. In fact, my student’s were so moved and affected by his presentation, that in the following weeks, they began bringing books, taken from the library or purchased by them in stores, in to my class. They wanted to show me what they were reading and all of the books focused on the Holocaust and Anne Frank. I had never seen middle school kids so interested in reading and wanting to learn more.
The horrors from that historical period, of occupied Holland, are simply unfathomable to a thirteen or fourteen-year- old. Anne Frank was only fourteen and fifteen, at the time of her diary writing. Being her age, my students tried to identify with her, but had difficulty. They couldn't imagine being locked in an attic and living in fear, worrying that one day the Nazi's might kick in the door and take them to a concentration camp.
Her story was incredulous, leaving them awe-struck. They would ask me in class: "How could people do that to other people?" "None of it makes sense and why did they listen to a crazy man named Hitler?" I remember one student in particular, who grew teary eyed watching a documentary video on the subject. She later remarked: “I don’t think I could have endured what Anne Frank had to endure. I don’t know how she ever did it. She was only my age. How did she do it? What causes that kind of hatred? What a waste.”
And maybe stories taken from survivors, those who suffered and watched others die at the hands of the Nazis, is the reason why the chestnut tree, the same one Anne Frank had looked at every day from her attic window where she hid, is getting so much attention today. The New York Times recently published an article on the tree, that collapsed in August, despite being supported by a metal brace.
In the New York Times Article, "A Fight Over Anne Frank’s Fallen Tree” by Sally McGrane, a retired university professor, Helga Fassbinder, was quoted as saying; “This tree was a monument of hope.” For 150 years it stood as a reminder of what was a very dark period for occupied Holland and the world. It was a reminder that Anne Frank's life was remarkable.
Despite the fact that the tree is now only a memory, this historical period should forever stay ingrained in our minds, in the hope of not repeating the past.
The beauty of Holland and the short life of one remarkable girl impressed me. Even if the tree, outside Anne Frank's window, died of tree fungus, I know that I’ll never forget Anne Frank's story, a story shared by too many Holocaust survivors.