Anne Frank and stumbling stones
“To build a future you have to know the past.” Otto Frank, 1967
Would you believe that I’m in my 40s and only now reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank? Well, it’s true. Zoe and I are reading it – separately, on our own time – and Zoe is much further ahead than me. I was motivated to read it because I had ordered a ticket to tour Anne Frank’s house.
In my 8 hour stopover in Amsterdam, I high-tailed it to the Centraal train station, then wandered through the streets until I found the house where her family was in hiding for more than 2 years during WW2.
With my ticket in hand, I breezed by the long line-up that had already formed at 9am. The next hour was spent in mostly silence, moving through the warehouse that her father owned, watching some short videos that explained the time and the family’s business, and seeing the rooms behind the moveable bookcase that made up the Secret Annex.
Even though I’d heard the story many times, it was still a sobering and sad tour. I kept imagining the squabbles and tense times that Anne described in her diary – conflicts between her family members, and between the 2 families living there. I couldn’t imagine my own children being holed up in a house like that for 2+ years. Or myself.
“I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I’m free.” Anne Frank, 24 December 1943
I was imagining Anne looking out the covered windows, looking for light, hoping. Listening to the BBC coverage of the war. Seeing others walking by, continuing their lives where they were free to be outside. Looking for signs of life… a tree here, the flowing water in the canal.
“During the day our curtains can’t be opened, not even an inch.” Anne Frank, 28 November 1942
I especially liked seeing Anne’s room, the various magazine pictures still stuck onto the walls.
“Thanks to Father – who brought my entire postcard and film-star collection here beforehand – and to a brush and a pot of glue, I was able to plaster the walls with pictures.” Anne Frank, 11 July 1942
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorry, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” Anne Frank
Fast forward almost one week, and I was biking down the streets of Hamburg, Germany with my brother, ma belle soeur, and nephew. We stopped to look at gold plates embedded in the sidewalk – “stumbling stones”, they’re called. They show the names of Jewish people who had been taken away to concentration camps, and are placed outside of the houses which were their homes – with birth dates, and the name of the place where they died. There are many, many of them on the streets of Hamburg. It is jarring and sobering to imagine them being forced to leave – like Anne’s family was in Amsterdam.
I looked at the buildings, at the doors of the homes, trying to imagine that time. The photo above shows 3 golden squares to the left of the green doors. It was a family of 3 – a couple and their 14 year old son. Hard to believe all of the stories that these cities hold. I’m grateful for this reminder to stumble, to remember, and to live into a future that can hopefully look different than our past.