Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ghosts, Part 1: Anne Frank

I've never been anywhere I thought was seriously haunted, and I hate scary movies. But I have been to some notable historic locations, and I can't help wondering if maybe--just maybe--something of the people who made these places famous remains. 

I. Anne Frank

The most well-known place I've visited is the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I went alone, late on a weekday afternoon. The crowd was thin, and I was about to walk through the bedroom of a girl long deceased.

Anne Frank

For those of you who have never been, the "Secret Annex" is accessed through the space that used to be a warehouse for Opekta, the company Otto Frank ran before his family went into hiding. The floor there is unevenly paved with brick. It's a large, empty space, and it instilled in me a sense of foreboding. This was nothing compared to what would come.

The entrance to the Secret Annex is behind a reproduction of the bookcase used to hide it during the war. Before you get to the bookcase, you must ascend a flight of stairs. Even by Dutch standards, this staircase is steep; I had to move sideways up them, like a crab. The danger the Franks and their compatriots faced became palpable to me at that point, because I started to wonder how they kept from tripping, falling, alerting others to their presence.

Upstairs, you must pass through the bedroom used by Mr. and Mrs. Frank and Anne's elder sister Margot before you can get to Anne's bedroom. In Anne's time, it was cramped and uncomfortable. Today, it is empty. Only the wallpaper and some of Anne's clippings of movie stars--painstakingly preserved--remain. This is the worst part of the Secret Annex, and the best, because it doesn't take much to realize how young Anne was and how much she lost; just look at these photos and illustrations and you'll realize that Anne, like you, was a teenager. She was a dreamer. She was a human.

As I waited outside for my ride after I finished my tour, I stared and stared at the bell tower on Westerkerk, which Anne mentioned in her diary. How many times did she hear those bells toll, and how many times did she wonder if they were signaling death?

I have a postcard from that trip with an image of the red plaid diary Anne used. It's part of my collection now, a reminder that no matter how bad things get, I have to keep writing and hoping. This, then, is the power of being a little bit haunted by Anne Frank.


Image via the Anne Frank Museum.

For Part 2: Antietam, come back next Wednesday.

For Part 3: Henry Ford Museum, come back in two weeks.

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