With deep sadness I read of Miep Gies’ death at the age of 100. According to the article, she died yesterday after a short illness. If her name sounds familiar to you, it’s because she was one of the heroic group of co-workers who helped hide Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis.
In fact, Miep Gies was a close friend of Anne’s and was the person who found her cloth-bound diary and kept it hidden away, later giving it to Anne’s father, the only survivor of those who hid in the annex. As we know, he published the diary into a memoir of the Holocaust that has been translated from its original Dutch into 67 languages, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play as well as an opera and a film.
When I was in Amsterdam a couple of summers ago, we only had a few days to explore the city. We had already been traveling about two weeks throughout Lithuania, and the stop in The Netherlands was more to slow down our adrenaline flow and relax with a canal cruise and visit to the Van Gogh Museum. But visiting Anne Frank’s house had haunted me my entire life. As a young girl I read the famous book several times. Years later, as a women writer I coveted the honesty in Anne’s voice that resounded from the page and the strength represented in her words. I knew I could not leave Amsterdam without visiting the Anne Frank Museum.
The staff at the hotel recommended that we go to the museum in the late afternoon. The lines during the day can get long, they said, but later in the evening they tended to be shorter just before closing. In fact, earlier in the day during our canal cruise I recalled seeing the line of people, one behind the other, snaking their way around the corner of the building.
I was pleased that the hotel staff had been correct. We waited about 15 minutes before we were allowed to enter. I wasn’t sure what to expect; how could a museum possibly relate such a historical event? Would we walk room to room, imagining what it was like? Would there be pictures to help guide us?
The setup of the museum is sequential. Visitors are guided through the building: the offices of Otto Frank, then the annex, the attic, the windows. The photographs, displays, and audio guides are arranged to tell the story, from beginning to end. The feeling is as though one is walking through a timeline in history.
What amazed me most is how the museum brings visitors into the lives of the people involved. When you first enter it is as though you are being reintroduced to people you have met before in your past; by the end of the visit, when you learn the fate of Anne, her family, friends, and the co-workers who hid them, you feel an actual loss of people you have grown close to.
The Anne Frank Museum is one you walk through quietly, listening, reading, and absorbing this horrific tale from the history books. Rooms in the museum have been left as much in their original form as possible so visitors can have an actual sense for what it was like for Anne and the others. You imagine holding your breath and remaining still so as to remain undetected. You imagine how much you would miss the freedom to walk outdoors, to feel the sun’s warmth on your skin.
If you are in Amsterdam, I recommend a stop to the Anne Frank Museum during your family travel. While for many it will be a deeply felt visit, the experience will be one you won’t regret.