Anne Frank House

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The house in which Anne Frank wrote her famous diary while in hiding from Nazi persecution in Amsterdam during WWII. Now a museum and a major dark tourism destination. One of the world's best known and most popular – and hence often quite crowded.    
More background info: When Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands and Amsterdam in the early stages of WWII, they soon introduced their persecution of the Jewish population – which ended in the Holocaust.
When the pressure mounted, Jewish businessman Otto Frank decided to go into hiding with his family rather than risk being captured and deported. They moved into a space in a secret annexe to the merchant house he worked in on Prinsengracht canal. The entrance to the hiding place was concealed by a movable bookcase. Here, the Frank family, i.e. Otto, his wife Edith and their two daughters, Anne and her older sister Margot, held out together with four other Jews for just over two years. Non-Jewish office staff working in the front part of the merchant house helped them by bringing in food and other supplies as well as news from the outside world.
Though in fairly cramped conditions and in constant fear of being found out, the eight refugees managed to survive in comparative comfort (compared to other hiding places of the period – there were many other cases). This also helped to give Anne Frank the space to write her famous diary.
Meanwhile, the majority of Dutch Jews were deported to the death camps in the east of Poland. As news came of the Allies' invasion of mainland Europe and their pushing back of the Germans, hope grew among the refugees in hiding that they might indeed survive the war.
On 4 August 1944, however, the SS raided the secret annexe and captured them – they must have been betrayed (by whom is still a mystery). Four days later they were deported to Westerbork transit camp and then onwards to Auschwitz. Anne Frank and her sister were later transferred to Bergen-Belsen, where they eventually died shortly before the camp was liberated. Anne, who by then thought she was the last member of her family still alive, was only 15 when she perished. Other members of the group were indeed either murdered in Auschwitz or were sent to other concentrations camps, where they died.
However, Otto Frank miraculously survived the Holocaust and managed to return to Amsterdam the sole survivor of his family and the group in the secret annexe. Here he then found Anne's diary. Miep Gies, one of the helpers from the front office, had rescued the documents left behind after the SS raid.
After some hesitation he brought himself to read it, then he had it published for the first time in 1947 (after some editing of his own – even a little bowdlerizing). The rest is, as they say, history. The story of the Franks' time in hiding (and the run-up to it) as well as Anne's precise observations and deep insights into her teenager inner self have become legendary.
The book has been translated into various languages – in fact it's the most translated Dutch book of all time – has seen countless editions, sold millions of copies worldwide, and there have been several adaptations for the stage and screen. It's probably one of the most widely-received diary-based books ever.
It is frequently said that it is the very fact that it is a single individual's account of these grim times that makes for its appeal – in fact it's in the Anne Frank House's slogan: "a museum with a story" (NB singular: "a" single story!). It makes it easier to relate to than the incomprehensible statistics of the Holocaust (similar things have been said about the case of Bullenhuser Damm in Hamburg). In addition it's not just about the Holocaust. Obviously enough it's particularly suited to young readers of a similar age as Anne's at the time – and this way it often is the first encounter young people today have with the whole topic of the Holocaust. Its importance in that respect can thus hardly be overestimated.
On Otto Frank's initiative, the house on Prinsengracht was later saved from demolition and instead turned into a museum which opened its doors to the public in 1960, with Otto Frank present. It went through several alterations and expansions and is now a firmly established attraction in tourist Amsterdam. It receives over a million visitors annually. It is thus one of the most popular dark tourism sites in the world – though much, much smaller in size, in terms of the number of visitors it is in the same league as, say, Auschwitz. This, however, also means that it can get incredibly crowded at peak times – and that can detract a bit from the experience ...
What there is to see: not all that much – most rooms will feel rather bare. Indeed: they are largely bare. That's because the furniture was taken from the annexe by the SS and, when the museum was set up, Otto Frank decided that the rooms should remain empty, rather than re-furnishing them with replicas. This was done once, but only for a photo shoot – not for public display, so the rooms were emptied again – otherwise it would probably not have been possible to handle the numbers of visitors that pass through here. However, there's a good scale model of the house's interior as it would have looked at the time the group was in hiding, which is even more illuminating than the photos.
As you enter the museum you can pick up a leaflet (supplied in a wide rage of languages) to aid self-guiding, though it is hardly necessary as the predetermined circuit through the rooms and its exhibits is perfectly self-explanatory if you know English or Dutch – as all labels and texts are bilingual, and the audio tracks of the videos are subtitled likewise. This is also why there are no guided tours or portable audio guides. At regular intervals there are quotations from Anne Frank's Diary on the walls, which further underscore the fact that it is this individual's story which has made this place is so popular.
There is some background information about the historical context of the story but the emphasis is on the individuals' personal fates, and out of those obviously Anne and Otto Frank are given special attention.
The highlights of the museum include entering the former secret annexe through the movable bookcase and climbing the narrow steep stairs. Take care here! … they really are very steep – as is typical for Dutch houses. The original diary is also on display, under a heavy glass cover. Some wall scribbles can be seen, e.g. lines indicating the children's growth; also a map of Normandy on which Otto Frank noted the progress of the Allies after the D-Day invasion. Otherwise there are non-removables such as bathroom sinks to be seen, but no furniture.
It's mostly secondary exhibits in display cabinets or photos and texts on the walls and in display cases. All this is augmented by a number of audio-points and video screens with documentary footage. Particularly moving are the snippets of interviews with Otto Frank himself, as he recalls first coming across the diary and discovering a depth to his daughter he had been unaware of, despite having had a very good relationship with her. He concludes that it's an indication that parents generally know a lot less about their offspring than they may assume …
All in all, information isn't overbearing, and video clips are fairly short, so that you may hear them in loop several times when in a given room and waiting for your turn to look at the exhibits … did I mention it gets crowded here?
There's also space for temporary exhibitions on related contemporary issues, as well as a large museum shop, mostly selling a whole range of different editions of the Diary of Anne Frank, from simple paperback to luxury edition, as well as other related books and brochures. But not a particularly wide range of background material beyond the more specific focus of the museum.
Location: at Prinsengracht 263, just a few hundred yards west of the city centre and about a mile (1.5 km) from the Central Station, in Amsterdam's district of Jordaan.
Google maps locator: [52.3752,4.8841]
Access and costs: easy and about acceptable price-wise.
Details: easily walkable from the city centre – from the central Dam square just walk west along Raadhuisstraat for about 300 yards, and then turn right on Westermarkt behind the Westerkerk church and continue north along the Prinsengracht canal. You can't miss the queues outside. Tram lines 13, 14 and 17 also stop at Westermarkt in front of the church. It is also signposted from practically everywhere within the touristic central quarters of Amsterdam.
Admission to the Anne Frank House is 9 EUR (regular adult; some concessions apply, though not for students; nor are all combi-cards for tourists accepted here). That's not exactly cheap, but just about acceptable, esp. for Amsterdam where such an amount is only slightly above what appears to be standard pricing. You can pre-purchase tickets online (for a specified time-slot). These cost a little more (0.50 cent surcharge) but are well worth it as holders of such pre-purchased online tickets can bypass the queues and enter through a separate door – an invaluable advantage at such a popular site!
Opening times: daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., from 15 March to 14 September extended to 9 p.m., even 10 p.m. on Saturdays, and every day in July and August. Going late can help avoiding the worst of the crowds!
Note that there's a no-photography policy (including filming or use of mobile phones) in the museum! Also note that access for the disabled is severely restricted (because of those steep stairs).
Time required: tickets sold online allocate "officially" one-hour slots. Online tickets allow access through a separate side door – i.e. avoiding the queues at the regular ticket counter. And queuing outside for tickets can indeed add on significant time! So it's highly recommended to purchase an online ticket – but you need to pick a specific time-slot for your visit! If you want to remain flexible and not commit to a specific time in advance, you'll have to face those queues
The predetermined circuit through the building(s) actually takes little more than half an hour as such. But as it often gets really crowded you may have to wait until you can move on to the next room or until you can view a particular exhibit more closely – and this can add plenty of dead time on to the overall visiting time required. You may also need extra time for the temporary special exhibitions. When I went in March 2009, those extras did indeed take an additional 30 minutes. So overall I spent a bit over an hour at the site (but I went fairly late when the worst of the crowds had eased off a bit – at peak time it would have been very different).
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see Amsterdam – in the immediate vicinity of the museum two little things are noteworthy: just south of the Anne Frank House is Westermarkt Square on which a little Anne Frank statue (see photo above) stands in front of the Westerkerk church near the canal.
The other thing is the Homomonument a few yards further south of the Westerkerk church: a monument to all gays and lesbians persecuted by the Nazis and others. It consists of three parts, all in the shape of triangles made of pink granite (and forming a large triangle as a whole), an allusion to the pink triangle the Nazis made homosexual inmates wear in the concentration camps. One of the triangles protrudes into the Keizersgracht canal and this kind-of platform serves as the main "shrine" part of the whole complex. It is here that flowers are laid down in memory of those who perished as a consequence of  persecution (or of AIDS). Two text plaques, one by the canal, one on the square provide some information. The site is also a place of gay gatherings, but otherwise serves mainly for quiet contemplation. It's one of the world's most significant sites of its kind.
Further afield: at the Anne Frank House you can (for 0.50 EUR) pick up a brochure/map that describes a WWII historical walking trail entitled "persecution and resistance in Amsterdam" – it roughly goes along the course of tram line 14, which makes it easier to skip bits. At most of the actual sites that the trail goes past there is nothing much (if anything at all) still to be seen today of what their historical significance was about. E.g. a building into which a warplane had crashed, but which has been completely repaired, or the former border of the Jewish quarter … so it remains quite abstract. It does, however, also include the deportation memorial site of the Hollandsche Schouwburg, the large Jewish Historical Museum, as well as a few monuments. Most significantly, it ends at the Dutch Resistance Museum. This offers the kind of rich information about the historical background that is somewhat scant at the Anne Frank House – so it makes a perfect combination, whether independently or as the other-end part of the trail.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Amsterdam.

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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