AMSTERDAM # 2

September 8, 2010 - Amsterdam, Netherlands

I don’t know what it is about Amsterdam (or maybe it’s our ship?) but apparently every time we pull into port, it has to rain. The liquid sunshine was not the warmest welcome to receive when we docked in the notorious city for our second time on Wednesday, September 8th, nor was I very excited to have morning gaming duties, but even still, I had a to-do-list for this particular visit in Amsterdam and I was determined to check off every box, rain or shine!

The main thing on my agenda was to make it to the Anne Frank House. If you remember, the last time we were here, I was scheduled to escort the tour, but unfortunately slept in. I was really pissed off at myself, but I knew that I would have this chance to go, and nothing was going to stop me this time. So Nic and I headed off the ship right after my game and hopped on a tram in the direction of the Secret Annex!

There was a fairly long cue line wrapped around the side of the building when we arrived, which discouraged me a little. I just knew my time was limited and wasn’t sure how long I would have to wait. Nic, having went on the Anne Frank tour the first time around, back in June, wasn’t interested in seeing the exhibit again, but waited with me until I was practically through. Then, while I was inside, he explored a bit of the area on his own.

My tour started through the Main Hall, Warehouse and Milling Room. Otto Frank owned two companies. One firm sold Opekta, a jelling agent used to make jam. The other firm, Pectacon – later called Gies & Co. – produced seasonings for preparing meat. A section of the warehouse was also a milling room where the spices for the mixtures were ground.

Next, it was on through the offices of Victor Kugler and the rest of the workers, Miep Gies, Jo Kleiman and Bep Voskuijl. The office personnel helped the people in hiding by bringing them daily food supplies, books and newspapers. Kugler was officially the director of Gies & Co. because, starting in 1941, Jews were no longer allowed to own businesses. Otto Frank subsequently registered his companies under the names of Victor Kugler, Jo Kleiman, and Jan Gies (Miep’s husband) but Otto remained acting director. He consulted daily with Kugler and Kleiman.

In July 1942, Anne’s sister Margot got her call-up notice for a “work-force project.” Otto handed over the keys to the business to his Aryan colleagues, sent a final postcard to relatives, gave the family cat to a neighbor, spread rumors they were fleeing to Switzerland, and prepared his family to “dive under” (onderduik, as it was called) into hiding.

On a rainy Monday morning, July 6, 1942, the Frank family – wearing extra clothes to avoid carrying suspicious suitcases – breathed their last fresh air, took a long look at the Prinsengracht canal, and disappeared into the back park of the building, where they spent the next two years.

The warehousemen were clueless, but the office workers had to continue their everyday business activities and not let on that there were people hiding upstairs in the annex. It felt so crazy to be standing in their exact offices, looking out the same windows, and walking the same paths as these brave workers did years ago, all while having to keep the biggest secret of their lives. What selfless, generous individuals to take on such a dangerous and risky task! They weren’t only protecting their friends, but keeping them alive as well!

Miep Gies would dutifully take their shopping list, buy food for her “family” of eight, and lug it up secretly. Buying such large quantities in a coupon-rationed economy was highly suspicious, but she knew a sympathetic grocer who was part of a ring of Amsterdammers risking their lives to help “divers.”

Miep has so much to carry she looks like a pack mule. She goes forth nearly every day to scrounge up vegetables and then bicycles back with her purchases in large shopping bags. (Anne Frank, July 11, 1943)

Our own helpers, who have managed to pull us through so far. Never have they uttered a single word about the burden we much be. (Anne Frank, January 28, 1944)

Next, I walked on through what used to be the Storeroom, where scale models of the Secret Annex were on display. You see, shortly after the arrest of the people in hiding, everything was removed from the Secret Annex. When the hiding place became a museum years later, Otto Frank wanted the rooms to always remain unfurnished. The models, however, showed how it looked during the hiding period.

Then, I was finally there…at the Bookcase Entrance. Just seeing it sent a chill and feeling of sadness through my body. This, this tangible object was the only thing hiding them from discovery. The movable bookcase conceals the entrance to the annex and was especially constructed for that purpose by Bep Voskuijl’s father.

Now our Secret Annex has truly become secret. Mr. Kugler thought it would be better to have a bookcase built in front of the entrance to our hiding place. Now whenever we want to go downstairs we have to duck and then jump. (Anne Frank, August 21, 1942)

When I actually passed through the bookcase and into the Secret Annex myself, an even more predominant chill surged through my body, actually causing my body to tremor a bit. The fact that I was getting to do this was insane to me!

The first room that you enter after you cross through is Otto, Edith and Margot Frank’s Room. On the wall was a map of Normandy. After the Allied Forces landed there, Otto Frank tracked the progress of the invasion by marking this map. Next to it were the actual pencil markings which indicate how much Anne and Margot grew during the hiding period. This really hit hard. Even while in hiding and under so much pressure, they still did things to act and live like a normal family.

Mother and Margot have shared the same three undershirts the entire winter and mine are so small they don’t even cover my tummy. (Anne Frank, May 2, 1943)

Next, I entered Anne Frank and Fritz Pfeffer’s Room.

In November 1942, they invited a Jewish neighbor to join them, and Anne was forced to share the tiny room. Fritz Pfeffer (known in the Diary as “Mr. Dussel”) was a middle-aged dentist with whom Anne didn’t get along.

Out the window (which had to be blacked out) is the back courtyard – a chestnut tree and a few buildings. These things, along with the Westerkerk bell chiming every 15 minutes, represented the borders of Anne’s “outside world”. I smiled as I pictured her, regularly sitting here at a narrow table writing in her diary. As abnormal as her life was at the time, she still had one thing every normal girl her age did, her diary.

Also typical of a thirteen-year-old girl, she pasted all kinds of images onto the wall of her room to make it more cheerful, including postcards of the Dutch Royal Family and the English princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Also pasted there were American actor Robert Stack, Queen Elizabeth II, matinee idol Rudy Vallee, figure skating actress Sonja Henie, actress Greta Garbo, actor Ray Milland, Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci, and actress Ginger Rogers.

Our little room looked very bare at first with nothing on the walls; but thanks to Daddy who had brought my film-star collection and picture postcards on beforehand, and with the aid of a paste pot and brush, I have transformed the walls into on gigantic picture. This makes it look much more cheerful. (Anne Frank, July 11, 1942)

This was definitely another very moving part of the exhibit because I was looking at the authentic pictures, in the actual formation that Anne had decided to arrange them, on the very wallpaper she had, on the very wall that it covered. You see, after the people in hiding were discovered everything in the house was removed, including this wallpaper, however the clippings and photographs were never removed from it. Therefore, when Otto survived, he retrieved it and had it put back up in Anne’s room exactly as it existed before.

I saw the bathroom. The eight inhabitants shared this bathroom. During the day the people in the Secret Annex had to use the toilet and sink as little as possible. The water and drainage pipes ran through a wall in the warehouse, where the workmen did not know there were people hiding in the building.

Next, I was very stunned to reach a staircase that led to another level. I had never pictured or imagined the Secret Annex to be so big. It was literally the size of a small townhouse or apartment. I had always thought it to be much tighter and cramped. Please don’t read that as me being insensitive or thinking that the eight people forced into hiding were well off. I was simply stating a general observation.

After climbing a very steep staircase, I found myself in the Living Room and Hermann and Auguste van Pels’ Room, the largest room of the Secret Annex. This is where the people in hiding spent most of their time. Cooking, eating, studying and exercising all happened here.

If you go up the stairs and open the door at the top, you’re surprised to see such a large, light and spacious room in an old canal-side house like this. (Anne Frank, July 9, 1942)

A case in the room displayed a menu from a Secret Annex dinner, held in celebration of the first wedding anniversary of Jan and Miep Gies. With the limited means at their disposal, the people in hiding still prepared a festive meal. The menu for the special dinner listed soup, roast beef, salad, potatoes, rice, dessert, and coffee.

Otto Frank was well off, and early on, the annex was well-stocked with food. Later, as war and German restrictions plunged Holland into poverty and famine, they survived on canned foods and dried kidney beans. As the war progressed, it became much more difficult for the helpers to supply the eight inhabitants of the Secret Annex with food.

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 Frank, March 14, 1944)

From there, I proceeded into Peter van Pel’s Room, where a Monopoly-like board game, given to him for his 16th birthday, sits on display. It was definitely the smallest room in the annex, sharing space for the stairs leading up to the attic, which was used for storing food supplies. Unfortunately, this area wasn’t open to public, but it was where Anne loved to steal away for a bit of privacy. At night, they’d open a hatch to let in fresh air. The attic’s window was also the only one which didn’t need to be covered because it was situated very high in the corner of the roof. Anne is said to have often stared out of the window, getting a glimpse of the chestnut tree. One hot August day, Otto was in this room helping Peter learn English, when they looked up to see a man with a gun. The hiding was over.

They went quietly. On August 4, 1944, a German policeman accompanied by three Dutch Nazis pulled up in a car, politely enter the Opekta office, and went straight to the bookcase entrance. No one knows who tipped them off. The police gave the surprised hiders time to pack. They demanded their valuables, and stuffed them into Anne’s briefcase…after dumping her diaries onto the floor.

That was the last room of the Secret Annex before returning to the front part of the house, via the glass passageway, constructed after the war especially for visitors to the Anne Frank House. This modern, brightly lit sky bridge was an abrupt ‘back to reality’ moment. I had been so swept up in the entire tour and experience that I wasn’t ready for such a rude awakening, but my tour still wasn’t over.

The attic in the front part of the house contained The Arrest, Deportation, and Auschwitz Exhibits. It was very powerful, quite real and extremely sad. Their 3” by 5” registration cards were displayed as were the transport lists to Auschwitz. The most moving part of the exhibit, however, was a video of an interview with one of Anne’s former neighbors who, by chance, ended up at Bergen Belsen with Anne. In, English, she describes their reunion as they talked through a barbed wire fence shortly before Anne died. She says that if only Anne knew her father was still alive, she may have held on the little longer she needed to.

The very last part of the museum is the Exhibit on the Diaries. After the arrest of the people in hiding, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl went upstairs to look in the Secret Annex. There they found Anne’s red plaid diary, notebooks, and loose sheets of paper filled with her words. Miep Gies placed all these writings in her desk for safekeeping. After the war, once it was clear that Anne had died in Bergen-Belsen, Miep gave everything to Otto Frank, who ultimately decided to publish the diary of his daughter.

The display case held the bona fide red plaid diary of Anne Frank, which she received on her thirteenth birthday. It was so surreal to be looking at the very object that has been the topic of discussion and learning for so much of the world. And this wasn’t her only diary. Once she filled this one, she continued writing in notebooks and on loose sheets of paper, all which were on display. At just thirteen, she seemed to have a very special talent. She was so very eloquent and gifted. When I stood staring at the diary, I recalled seeing the pencil markings on the wall in Otto’s Room, and I had the same thought I did then: If only she had the chance to grow!

You’ve known for a long time that my greatest wish is to be a journalist, and later on, a famous writer. In any case, after the ward I’d like to publish a book called ‘The Secret Annex’. (Anne Frank, May 11, 1944)

I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support. (Anne Frank, June 12, 1942)

When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorry disappears, my spirits are revived! (Anne Frank, April 5, 1944

The museum was far beyond any of my expectations! I read every plaque there was to read, watched every video there was to watch, and paid homage to every display case in the entire museum. It is hands down one of the best exhibits I have ever seen. Maybe it’s because the story of Anne Frank is one of the few historic things I learned about in school that I clearly remember, but it was definitely very special and moving for me to be there and have that experience, one I’ll never forget.

When I got back outside, Nic was just walking back to meet me. It was perfect timing. And with the main thing on my list accomplished, I let Nic lead the way to where we’d head next, confident I’d complete my other two tasks – souvenir shopping, which involved me buying myself an Amsterdam shirt I had seen and finding a gift for Beckie.  But first, we were off to the Sex Museum.

Yes! It was a far and distant cry from my morning’s most recent experience, but it was on Nic’s list, so after paying the $4 admission, into the Damrak Sex Museum we went! It was filled with everything from dummies of prostitutes in various acts, early French pornographic photos, memorabilia from Europe, India, and Asia, a Marilyn Monroe tribute and even some S&M displays. After being around the world now, and being exposed to many cultures (ahem…Thailand), I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all in the museum. I did not, however, feel as gung ho as Nic did when it came to taking a photograph with the giant penis statues! I did get a little prudish at that point. Looking back though, I should’ve just thought, “…when in Rome…”

We spent the rest of our day walking through Amsterdam and checking out some stores. It wasn’t raining anymore at this point so it was nice to walk without an umbrella and really get a chance to see a bit more of the city, which by the way, I still love! There is just such a great energy about Amsterdam. And even though it won’t happen directly at the conclusion of this contract anymore, I still plan to come back and really “experience Amsterdam”, hopefully in the sunshine!

After a surge of extreme luck and productivity, resulting in the finding and purchasing of the most perfect birthday gifts for Beckie, Nic and I headed back to the ship, where I retrieved my computer and went right back out into the terminal to use its free WiFi. My last moments in Amsterdam were spent reconnecting with people back home and catching up on blogging, but not before I purchased the t-shirt I had wanted from the vendor in the terminal! CHECK!

See ya soon, Amsterdam…

Love,

Erich

 

 


Pictures

2nd Amsterdam, Netherlands
2nd Amsterdam, Netherlands (2)
2nd Amsterdam, Netherlands (3)
2nd Amsterdam, Netherlands (4)
 
 

2 Comments

Mama:
September 19, 2010
I know the exhibit of the Ann Frank house must have been extremely emotional for you and quite extrodinary at the same time. I would have loved to have seen it for sure. Maybe when you go back I will join you! Sex Museum is quite unique too...I am so glad you had your find of the t-shirt and were able to check off you list once again the things you wished to do and see! Farewell to Amsterdam for now, but E will be back I am sure.
vera kniss:
September 19, 2010
Dearest Erich
It is amazing how uneducated I am . I was familiar with the name Anne Frank, however I thought she lived in Germany and like you I thought where she was hiding was a tiny space had no idea that there were so many people with her and did not know that she in the end was caught. Oh boy , thank you for enriching my life and educating me on so many things. It is funny that I would have guessed that it would have been Nick who would not have wanted to have that picture taken with the penis. Don't know why I would have thought that, I was astonished that it was you. Thank you again for all the work you are putting into this. With love and kisses as always Vera
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