I was in Amsterdam for new year (tamer than you think) and whiled away my time eating waffles and pancakes and cheese and lusting after the hot dogs my meat-eating companions devoured like shaved lions to a bun-based zebra snack. I did the odd bit of grown up stuff too, looking at buildings what were nice, looking at paintings that were painted good and generally getting cultured up to my tits. The highlight, in a colossally awful, depressing kind of way, was the visit to Anne Frank’s house at Prinsengracht. And so we begin the awkward segue from jokey intro to heartfelt reflection…
Actually I don’t think I can pull off the heartfelt bit, although my heart felt its share of stuff. I’d aim for profound and come up short and come off trite and worthy and sixth form and crap.
I learnt stuff. Anne Frank was four when the family emigrated from Germany as the Nazis rose to power, 11 when Germany invaded Holland, 13 when she went into hiding in an annex at the back of her father’s office building; 8 people crammed into rooms, tip-toeing through two years of fear and claustrophobia and hope and longing. She was 15 when she next set foot outside, marched out by Nazis and their Dutch collaborators. She was 15 when she died, losing to typhus in Bergen-Belsen days after her sister died, weeks before liberation.
The house on Prinsengracht is empty; the Nazis cleared it when they took the family. Anne’s father, the only survivor from the annex, had it kept that way. It’s a monument to emptiness and things taken, to the absence of six million people, of generations and futures and things lost. I touched the moving bookcase that hid the door to the annex, stood in Anne’s bedroom, looked at the pictures Anne had looked at, taken from magazines and pasted on her bedroom wall. It was crowded and silent. It was intimate and intrusive and massive, heavy with importance and loss and overwhelming sadness and the weight of humanity at the polar opposite of where it should be. Everyone should go and come out depressed and uplifted and ashamed to be part of the species.
They were taking donations to keep the place running. I donated. You can too, here.
Photo credit: The Zero