The Footsteps of Anne Frank
Anne Frank was one of the millions of Jewish victims of the Nazis during World War II. Anne Frank also died in Bergen-Belsen just days after her sister and tragically a month before the camp was liberated by the British Army.
Otto had set up a successful food business and part of the company was located in a building on Prinsengracht. In May 1940, Germany invaded Holland and they brought with them, the repression of the Jewish people. Fearful about the fate of his family, in July 1942, Otto Frank moved his family to an annex at the back of the building at 263 Prinsengracht. Later, the Franks were joined in the Annex by Hermann and Auguste van Pels, their son Peter and Fritz Pfeffer.
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam
For more than two years, these 8 people hid in the Annex from the Nazis and during this time, Anne Frank kept a diary. In it, she wrote her most personal thoughts and feelings and later her father were surprised how strong her emotions were even though he was close to his daughter.
On 4 August 1944, the German authorities received an anonymous phone call telling them that Jews were hiding at 263 Prinsengracht. Anne Frank and the seven others had been betrayed and to this day, it is still not known who betrayed them. In addition, some of the people helping were also arrested although they all survived the war.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the 8 Jewish people who had been hiding for more than two years. After their arrests, they were deported to various concentration camps to the East.
- Edith Frank died in Auschwitz.
- Margot Frank died in Bergen-Belsen.
- Anne Frank also died in Bergen-Belsen just days after her sister and tragically a month before the camp was liberated by the British Army.
- Hermann van Pels died in Auschwitz
- Auguste van Pels died while being transported to Theresienstadt.
- Peter van Pels died in Mauthausen.
- Fritz Pfeffer died in Neuenhamme.
Otto Frank had been sent to Auschwitz but survived the war and eventually died in 1980 at the age of 91. However, before he died, Otto spent a lot of time getting his daughters diary published and helping set up the Anne Frank House museum.
The Anne Frank House museum has been open to the public since 1960 and now attracts more than 1 million visitors a year. The museum’s address is 267 Prinsengracht so it covers a larger area than just the original building of Otto Franks company. Visitors should allow about an hour to go round the museum. If you are going to visit the museum independently, it is probably best to pre-book you tickets on the internet as there is always a queue to get in with waiting times up to an hour. Pre-booked tickets let you select the time you want to visit the museum but it is advisable to get these well in advance as the slots seem to sell out quickly. Alternatively, you can just turn up and queue as many people do. If you go for this option, its probably worth getting there early. There are no cloakroom facilities at the museum so if you are planning to visit at the end of your trip to Amsterdam, make sure you leave your luggage at your hotel or the station.
We got to the museum for around 9:45am and had to queue for about 20 minutes although when we came out the queue was almost double the length. An adult ticket was 8.50EUR, a child up to the age of 17 was 4EUR and children under 10 are admitted free (2009 prices). Once inside, visitors are directed round various exhibitions started on the ground floor and working up to the Annex were Anne Frank spent two years of her short life. There are various quotes from her diary displayed on the walls throughout the museum as well as a number of personal items. There are also video screens with short interviews from people who help hide the Franks, one of Anne’s friends and Otto Frank.
On the walls of the staircase leading down from the Annex, there is a quote from Nelson Mandela. I forget the exact words but basically during his time in prison on Robben Island, Mandela and his fellow inmates read Anne Frank’s Diary and it helped to inspire them in their cause. The bookshop at the Museum offers a wide range of literature about Anne Frank as well as information about the various campaigns and educational programs it helps with. The Anne Frank Museum should be a part of any trip to Amsterdam.
The final months of Anne and Magot Franks lives were at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Today, the site is a memorial with extensive exhibitions as well as a documentation and research centre. Entry is free to all visitors. The Bergen-Belsen Memorial is located around 50km north of Hanover between the towns of Bergen and Winsen. Despite its relatively remote location, there is a bus service from the town of Celle.
Originally, the camp was used by the Wehrmacht as a POW camp in 1939. Around 20,000 POWs died here, mainly from the Soviet Union. In 1943, the SS took over the running of the camp and established it as a concentration camp. Until its liberation in April 1945, more than 52,000 men, women and children died mainly from starvation and disease. When the British liberated the camp, there were confronted with the sight of thousands of unburied bodies and many other prisoners who were barely alive.
Anne and Margot Frank arrived at Bergen-Belsen from Auschwitz in August 1944. The following winter was harsh and with the camp being horribly overcrowded, more than 18,000 people had died there by March 1945 from cold, hunger and disease. Margot died from Typhus and now Anne was all alone. She also contracted Typhus and believing her parents to also be dead, she maybe thought there was nothing to live for and gave in to the disease that had claimed her sister.
Anne and Margot Franks gravestone
After the war, the British Military Government ordered a memorial site to be created. The camp became a Displaced Persons Camp as many Jews had no home to return to. In 1948, the State of Israel was founded and some people from the Displaced Persons camp were allowed to immigrate there. The camp was finally closed in 1950.
When we arrived at the Memorial, the we spent time looking round the Exhibition Documentation Centre this in itself can be very time consuming as there is so much to see not to mention the videos and recordings from camp survivors. There is also some very graphic video shot by the British Army just a few days after the camp was liberated. It shows the bodies being put into the mass graves (up to 5,000 people) which are still very much part of the outdoor memorial.
We spent around an hour indoors before heading outside to look at former camp. Virtually nothing of the old camp remains. The POW cemetery where over 14,000 Soviet soldiers are buried is located a bit further away from the rest of the memorial and takes about 15 minutes to walk there. Visitors also have the option to drive there if they have their own transport.
Around the grounds, there are a number of mass graves marked simply stating how many people are buried there and the date, April 1945. At the far end is the Obelisk and Wall of Remembrance where people have laid wreaths, flowers as well as many individual stones, which I believe is Jewish tradition (feel free to correct me or tell me the full story of the stones by leaving a comment).
Near the Wall, visitors will find a large timber cross which was erected on the initiative of Polish women from the camp shortly after liberation. There is also a House of Silence where people can sit and reflect. In the centre are a number of gravestones, including one of Margot and Anne Frank. The grave stones do not mark a specific resting place of the individual, they are there as a memorial.
Whilst I did not find Bergen-Belsen as disturbing as Auschwitz (which I visited a few years ago), it is undoubtedly a very sombre place where evil claimed the lives of so many innocent people. Anne Frank’s short life came to an end in this camp hidden away to the north of Hanover but the discovery and publication of her diary by her father, Otto has given inspiration to a world statesmen in Nelson Mandela and has also gave us an insight to a life cut tragically short by persecution.
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If you would like to visit the Anne Frank Museum and Bergen-Belsen, it is part of the itinerary for the Anne Frank & Oskar Schindler Memorial Tour which you can book with Explorer Travel