The flat in South Amsterdam where Anne Frank and her family lived for nine years before going into hiding at the Secret Annex on the Prinsengracht was open to the public for one day on Saturday, 10 December, 2011. Friend of the ABC Ellyn Cook was there and shares the experience.
“In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.” – Leonardo da Vinci
The Franks made their home in a three bedroom flat on the second floor of number 37 Merwedeplein. Here they lived from December 1933 until July 6 1942, when they were forced to leave the flat and go into hiding at the Secret Annex on the Prinsengracht (Princes’ canal), now the Anne Frank House Museum.
For sixty years tenants came and went until, in 2004, the flat was purchased by the Ymere housing association, restored in 1930s style and refurbished with furniture from the Department for Cultural Heritage to recreate the look of the Franks’ home; a feat requiring extensive research and greatly assisted by the Anne Frank Foundation and Otto Frank’s own photographs.
One Saturday in December 2011, the flat was opened to the public, for just one day. I just had to take a look inside…
Swing left from the landing at the top of the entry stairs and you enter the bright dining room, used as a bedroom for Anne’s grandmother who joined the family here from 1939 until her death in January 1942.
The wooden-framed window overlooks the square, inviting one to peer to the street below. Indeed it was leaning from this window to watch a wedding party below that Anne was captured, in the only known film taken of her, on 22 July 1941.
The large adjoining living room echoes with the animated Saturday discussions long gone, brought to life by Miep Gies in Anne Frank Remembered,
‘At these Saturday gatherings we all sat around a large round dark oak table in the Franks’ living room. The table was filled with coffee cups, creamers, Mrs Frank’s beautifully polished silver, and delicious home made cake. Everyone talked at once.’
Across the intricately painted hall, near the bathroom with (original) bathtub and hot running water – each of these a luxury in the 1930’s – lies the smallest bedroom, that of Otto and Edith Frank. It is a modest square room with doors to the balcony but it’s winter and the heavy green curtains are drawn.
Adjacent is the bright blue kitchen with original 1930’s tiles – here donated from neighbouring properties – of the sort that surrounded Edith when she was working on the cakes so admired by Miep.
In Anne and Margo’s bedroom hangs a letter from Anne to her grandmother in Switzerland, invaluable to the refurbishment process:
‘ We have a commode, a washbasin and a wardrobe, opposite which is mother’s desk that we have made into a lovely writing table’.
A replica of the writing desk stands at the window before us. It was seated here that Anne began writing in the diary she received for her 13th birthday, on 12 June 1942, a month before the family fled.
Today, her diary continues to educate millions about the Holocaust. As Ernst Schnabel put it in The Footsteps of Anne Frank,
‘Out of the millions that were silenced, this voice no louder than a child’s whisper… It has outlasted the shouts of the murderers and has soared above the voices of time.’
On leaving the house I remember that it is by this front door that the summons ordering Margo to report for relocation to a work camp in Germany arrived. Now as then, there is a moment of deep, uneasy silence. Today the flat has a new purpose, it is a writers’ house. Leased to the Dutch Foundation for Literature it is a place where foreign writers who are persecuted in their own lands can come to work in freedom. In 2006, Maarten Asscher, board member of the Foundation, noted,
‘It is of rare historical symbolism that writers can finish their work at the exact location where Anne Frank started her diary.’
Here flows more than memory, here hope lives on.
With grateful thanks to Ymere, Het Nederlands Letterenfonds (The Dutch Foundation for Literature), and Bookshop Jimmink.
Further information about Anne and Margo’s childhood on the Merwedeplein can be found in: Childhood Friend of Anne Frank by Hannah Goslar and Leslie Anne Gold My Name Is Anne, She Said, Anne Frank: The Memoirs of Anne Frank’s Best Friend by Jacqueline Van Maarsen Het andere huis van Anne Frank: Geschiedenis en toekomst van een schrijvershuis is sadly out of print. If you’d like a copy, ask us to find one for you via our Used and Rare Books Service – they have plenty!