by Cristy Meiners, producer
When I found out I was going to Amsterdam as part of a trip with the National Gallery of Art, I immediately started plotting interviews that I could get for the show. I had never been to Amsterdam before, and like millions of other ignorant tourists, Amsterdam represented in my mind an oddly Scandinavian brand of Hedonism, Vincent Van Gogh, and Anne Frank—an incongruous grouping, to be sure. Since I’m not inclined towards drugs or prostitution, I arranged to visit the Van Gogh museum and of course, a meeting with the director of the Anne Frank House. My timing was perfect: director Hans Westra had just announced that he was stepping down after 25 years in his post, and next month the House celebrates 50 as a public museum. Soon after the 1947 publication of The Diary of a Young Girl, people started seeking out and visiting Otto Frank’s old offices and the secret room that housed his family and friends. On May 3, 1960 the Anne Frank House opened to the public as a museum, attracting over 9,000 visitors its first year. Today, the House receives about a million visitors a year.
Westra graciously welcomed me into his office adjacent to the original building, and spent the next half an hour explaining the mission and purpose of this unique structure. The Anne Frank House isn’t a museum in the traditional sense; walking through the secret annex, you won’t find labels or display cases, because, as Westra explained to me, Otto Frank wanted to preserve as much of the original feel of the site as possible. The space is small, but Anne’s description of it as a comfortable hiding place rings true; anyone who has read The Diary of a Young Girl will recognize startling accuracy of Anne’s descriptions of the rooms that housed the Franks, the van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer for just over two years. Even today, visitors can see the movie star glossies and postcards that Anne pinned to the walls of her tiny bedroom (the room she shared first with Margot and then with Fritz Pfeffer).
If you can’t get to Amsterdam to visit the Anne Frank House, you can take a virtual tour of it on their web site: http://www.annefrank.org/content.asp?pid=106&lid=2