Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 17, 2009

The red plaid diary

We climbed the steep, narrow steps - a common architectural feature of the tall, slender buildings along the canals that are part of the city's charm. Maneuvering the stairway was not easy.

At the top, we passed through the opening behind the hinged bookcase just as Anne, her mother Edith, father Otto, sister Margot and four others had. But while we only stayed a few hours, they remained for two years.

Sixty-seven years ago this month, the Frank family went into hiding from the Nazis. The place they chose was the small annex off her father's office on Amsterdam's Prinsengracht Street.

Of the various places husband Art, daughters Mariya and Katie and I had chosen to visit before our spring trip to Europe, this was one we had agreed on. But we had no idea that our trip would take on an Anne Frank theme. Auschwitz in Poland was also on our itinerary, but we didn't know Anne's connection to that death camp until we were already overseas. At the last minute, we added Bergen-Belsen, where Anne and Margot died, when we realized it was just a short distance from Hamburg, another planned destination.

The Franks had fled to Amsterdam from Germany in 1933. But Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, and many Jews went into hiding. Over the course of the war, 103,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands and killed.

Three weeks before the Franks moved into their "Secret Annex," Anne received a red and white plaid diary for her 13th birthday.

The diary reveals that, at first, Anne looked at the experience in the cramped apartment as somewhat of an adventure. On July 11, 1942, she wrote, "We have to whisper and tread lightly during the day, otherwise the people in the warehouse might hear us."

She tried to cheer up the stifling apartment by gluing pictures of movie stars, postcards of the Dutch Royal Family and others on top of the wallpaper, pictures that still hang on the wall.

But over time, the entries became more solemn.

In May 1943, Anne wrote: "Mother and Margot have shared the same three undershirts the entire winter, and mine are so small they don't even cover my tummy."

They had to wait until night to run water or use the toilet. As often as possible, Anne went to the attic, where she could catch a glimpse of a chestnut tree.

"I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I am free," she wrote.

Those in hiding depended on four of Otto's loyal workers to bring them food and other supplies. But it was sometimes difficult for them as they were risking their own lives in the process.

"As of tomorrow, we won't have a scrap of fat, butter or margarine. Lunch today consists of mashed potatoes and pickled kale. You wouldn't believe how much kale can stink when it's a few years old!" Anne wrote in one entry.

She always had hope that they would someday be free again.

"One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we will be people again, and not just Jews! We can never be just Dutch, or just English, or whatever, we will always be Jews as well. But then, we'll want to be," she wrote.

After D-Day - June 6, 1944, Anne's father Otto tracked the Normandy invasion by marking a map, which hangs in the annex. Next to it are pencil marks that show how much Anne and Margot grew during the hiding period.

The Franks were betrayed and taken away in August 1944. Anne's diary was found by Miep Gies, one of the people who had helped hide the Franks. After the war ended, Miep gave it to Anne's father, the lone survivor of his family.

He didn't read it at first, perhaps finding it too hard. But eventually he began translating it for relatives in Switzerland and was later persuaded that it should be published.

Its contents became the basis for Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. It was eventually translated into 65 languages.

Both of our girls read the book just as Art and I had when we were young teens. Seeing Anne's diary and re-reading some of her entries brought tears to my eyes.

In 1986, author and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi said,."One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live."

Some of our friends suggested we shouldn't visit these places, that it would be too painful. But Katie said it best for all of us before we left. "I don't want to, but I feel I must."

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