Yesterday I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
I had been forewarned that it would be busy, and this was very much true. Queues around the corner. A stop in the tourist guide. A nice day out. Queues inside. A queue for the entrance. Queues for the audio guides. Queues to climb the narrow stairs. Queues to read the extracts of Anne’s diary on the faded walls.
When the Nazis came in 1944, the house was emptied of all its contents. When Anne’s father, Otto, returned to Amsterdam after the war, and the house was restored, he requested the rooms not be filled again. He wanted to give the feeling of emptiness – to signify all the people who were taken away and never came back.
Except that the place isn’t empty. It is anything but. There are people everywhere – lined up in queues. Strangely though, there is another kind of feeling to be had in the place that makes us think of Anne as a girl, closed up in this secret annexe. In the queues there is a monotony. A dryness. We shuffle slowly through the house. Slow. Infuriatingly slow. There is a low muggy light. One doesn’t feel much like talking. There is a frustrated-ness at the people in line with you. The irrational annoyance that comes only of being cooped up with people for too long.
I wonder to myself how many people have actually read her book.
I wonder how many of us visit the Anne Frank huis and think, ‘never again’. These atrocities must never be allowed to happen again. We mean it, when we think it. But then the cafe awaits, and the gift shop awaits. Before long, we are back on holiday. I hold back angry, sad tears as I silently leave the house.
I feel sorry that Anne’s isn’t the last diary that ever needed to be written like this. I feel that if she were here today, I would be ashamed to admit to her that, in a century where we can send a man to the moon, where a man can parachute to the earth from space, our generation has allowed for her situation, or situations like it, to still exist. How many girls live like this today? Trapped, alone, wondering what is to become of their futures?
I go to the cafe a few streets down, and sit upstairs alone to reflect. It is early and the cafe is empty. I overhear the girls who work there talk amongst themselves downstairs. They are talking about a book called ‘What Matters the Most’ and they wonder light-heartedly about whether the book will indeed reveal to them what matters the most.
What does matter the most?
When I think about it, when I think what we can actually do in our every day lives to honour that feeling of ‘never again’, I feel that maybe the choice is simple.
The choice is between fear and love, isn’t it? We can fear the stranger next to us. We can be suspicious of the actions of that person, those people, we don’t quite know. Or we can open a different door. Learn their stories. Find something about them that we really really like. Some people might call this love.
The point is this: People are just people are just people, when all is said and done. And they’re pretty good, at heart.
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”— Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl