AMSTERDAM – The long line of people snaked around the Anne Frank House at 263 Prinsengracht and down the block.
We came to soak up her presence in every empty room. Ever since I read “The Diary of a Young Girl,” I have wanted to see the secret annex.
It was 70 years ago this month that Anne Frank died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Everyone who ever read the book has imagined every room. Each room tells a slice of her story. You start the tour with a history lesson that frames her brief life. You see a Hitler poster. German children holding swastikas. Stores with shattered glass. Synagogues in flames. Tanks marching through town. Concentration camps. Headstones.
The timeline of Anne’s life is brief: She was born in Germany in 1929 and died in 1945. There she is as a baby with her mom. There she is with her family at the beach. There is a picture of her diary and her delicate Dutch handwriting.
Her dad, Otto, was German lieutenant who fought for his country. Then Wall Street crashed, adding to the economic woes Germany faced from losing the war. The country needed a leader to create jobs and make Germany powerful again. Hitler promised a job for everyone and the Nazi political party was born.
After Hitler came to power, the Franks moved to the Netherlands in 1933. In 1940, Germany took over the Netherlands. In 1942, the Franks went into hiding.
They lived inside for 24 hours a day, every day, for two years. Silent for two years. No shoes on the floor. No flush of the toilet. No inch of daylight through the curtains.
“We have to whisper and tread lightly during the day, otherwise the people in the warehouse might hear us,” Anne wrote.
Miep Gies was one of the people who brought the Frank family food and clothes. She found the diary and saved it to return to Anne. When she learned of Anne’s death, she gave the diary to Otto, the only Frank to survive.
No one ever determined who betrayed the Frank family. Someone anonymously reported Jews were hidden there.
When Anne turned 13, her parents gave her a diary. The girl who always wanted to be famous has never been forgotten. Her book, which came out in 1947, has been printed in 74 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies.
Step into the annex and you step back into the book. You recognize the narrow steps, the famous bookcase, the small, dark rooms. The back windows are black, just as they were when Anne was alive to keep the spices in the storeroom protected from light.
The few signs of life left behind stop your heart: The cards with Margot’s Latin lessons, the map of Normandy where their dad kept track of the Allied invasion with orange, white and red pins, the faded pencil markings on the wall where Anne’s parents noted how fast their girls were growing.
A young girl behind me gasped, “That’s what we do.”
A tiny room with dingy beige walls still holds the newspaper and magazine clippings Anne glued to the walls: Queen Elizabeth as a child. Greta Garbo. Ginger Rogers. Sonja Henie. One of Anne’s quotes was posted nearby: “I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I'm free.”
Most of the rooms were empty. The Nazis removed everything from the annex after everyone was taken. Otto Frank wanted it to remain empty to show the void left behind by all those taken.
Near the end of the tour, you see a book with the names of 103,000 Jews deported from Netherlands and killed by Nazis. You know there are millions of stories like Anne’s.
Then, there it is, under glass, on a silver pillow. The diary. The red plaid cover takes what’s left of your breath away.
Before leaving, I watched a short video of people sharing what the diary means to them. Actress Emma Thompson said, “All her would-haves are our opportunities.” A World War II veteran said, “Now I know why I fought at Normandy.”
Israeli leader Shimon Peres said, “It’s not a memory, it’s a warning.”
A warning the world must read and heed.
Regina Brett is the first-place winner of the Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary in the 2014 Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism sponsored by the American Jewish Press Association and Best of Show first as best columnist in Ohio in the 2014 Ohio SPJ contest. Connect with her on Facebook at ReginaBrettFans and on Twitter @ReginaBrett.