Our visit to the Anne Frank Museum in Berlin came as a happy chance, when you stumble across something interesting and decide to follow your instincts. We had been planning to make an early start to beat the queues at the Reichstag Dome, but walking past the museum we spotted the sign and as our girls were keen we went on in. I’m so glad we did, as it’s a small museum which brought to life the important subject of the Holocaust in a personal and non-threatening way.
Into narrow courtyard and up the stairs we found a couple of rooms devoted to the story Anne Frank and her family. As Jews during the Second World War, they were forced into hiding in an attic in occupied Amsterdam, where they lived for nearly 2 years before they were betrayed. Anne and her sister and mother were separated from her father and were sent to the concentration camp at Bergen Belsen, where they died in 1945 not long before the Allied forces liberated the camp. Anne was given her diary for her 13th birthday and it became her lifeline and confidant at a time when she could do none of the things that a normal child would take for granted, like playing with friends and running in the fresh air. After her death, her father, who survived Auschwitz was given her diary and decided to publish it.
The reason that our 14 year old girls were so interested in visiting the museum was that they were studying the Holocaust at school and both had parts in a school play about Anne Frank. In the first room, they became absorbed by the photographs of Anne Frank from before the war and in reading about her family and her life.
There was also memorabilia from the era, like ration books, newspapers, a typewriter and a facimile of Anne’s diary. In the second room, we found colourful wigwams with videos with children talking about what they enjoyed in life and their hopes for the future, compared with Anne’s voice from her diary. It highlighted that each child is an individual yet essentially the same in all countries and across the years. Yet there was a seriousness and thoughtfulness in Anne’s writing that was forced upon her by her circumstances.
Compare her hopes;
‘ If God lets me live, I’ll achieve more than Mother ever did, I’ll make my voice heard, I’ll go out into the world and work for mankind’
with some of the other quotations from children of today,
‘My greatest dream is to go on a trip round the world after my Abitur (school leaving certificate)’
‘I want to be a model and a Hollywood film star’
Anne’s eternal optimism and positive spirit also shines through from her writing, as she learned to find pleasure in the smallest of things. In 1944, after a year and a half in hiding, it seems incredible that she was still able to write;
‘The sun is shining, the sky is deep blue, there’s a magnificent breeze, and I’m longing – really longing – for everything’
After we had been in the museum a while, we watched an excellent 30 minute film in English which explained the circumstances of the war in occupied Amsterdam and the story of Anne and her family.
I’m so glad that we seized the opportunity to visit this museum which had a more personal meaning to our girls than some of the bigger museums might have done. It’s ideal to visit with children aged 8 and up as it gives them a feel for the war and the fate of the Jews in Europe in a way that is very real and easy to relate to, but not too overwhelming.
Anne Frank Zentrum
Rosenthaler Straße 39