Anne Frank and Amsterdam: A dark date in the diary

Seventy years since Anne Frank's arrest, Chris Leadbeater visits the house that shielded her

It always seems strange to see a large crowd waiting outside a site of great sorrow. It is a hot summer's day in Amsterdam and the holiday-happy queue is snaking around the corner from the Prinsengracht canal, spilling into the adjacent Westermarkt square. Behind me, a family fidgets in the heat. Ahead, four teenagers are lost in their smartphones. But no one is bothered by the delay – and the time passes in a burble of laughter and conversation.

There is nothing vaguely inappropriate about this. And yet every group in the line ceases its chatter the second it crosses the threshold into 263 Prinsengracht. The Anne Frank House is a place that, without having to ask for it, sparks a respectful hush in its visitors.

The silence will be even more loaded two days from now. 4 August is the 70th anniversary of the arrest of the 15-year-old girl who has become the most recognisable victim of the Holocaust. German by birth, Jewish by faith, she was wrenched from this townhouse on the border of the Jordaan district in the Dutch capital – along with seven family members and friends with whom she had shared its achterhuis (annexe) for 25 months – on 4 August 1944.

This is not just a red-letter date in the tragic end to Anne Frank's life. It is the only one. The precise details of her death – in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany, probably of typhus, probably in March 1945 – went unrecorded. And yet, in the symbol of persecution she has become, she is far more than one body in six million.

Anne in 1941 Anne in 1941 (EPA) In many ways, the home where she hid from 6 July 1942 onwards needs no introduction. It was the headquarters of Opekta, her father's fruit-extract company. When, that July, two years after Germany had invaded the Netherlands, Anne's elder sister, Margot, received an order to relocate to a work camp, Otto Frank decided to conceal his family in the storage space above his firm's offices, knowing it was shielded from view by the surrounding buildings. They were joined by another family, the Van Pels – and Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist.

It is possible to grasp the crampedness that defined daily existence in these three ill-lit storeys – because Anne described it in the diary that would make her a posthumous icon. "The whole house is crawling with fleas and it's getting worse every day," she wrote on 3 August 1943, of an infestation caused by the Van Pels' cat. "It's making us all very jittery."

The achterhuis retains its sense of claustrophobia today, its compactness emphasised by the journey up narrow stairs to find it. I climb carefully, through the Opekta offices – recreated in their 1940s state, ledgers open, floorboards creaking – and then come to the landing where, as in 1944, a wide bookcase is propped at the entrance to the annexe. To move past it and into the gloom beyond feels momentous.

The squashed size of this area is immediately clear – the tiny bathroom, the kitchen buried in the corner of the "living" room. But it is Anne's bedroom which speaks loudest. There, as was Otto Frank's plan when he preserved the townhouse as a museum in 1960, is his youngest child's personality frozen behind glass, the walls adorned with torn-out magazine images of stars of the cinema – Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers. They were a source of comfort when the family moved in. "Our little room looked very bare at first," Anne wrote on 11 July 1942. "But thanks to Daddy, who had brought my film-star collection ... I have transformed the walls into one gigantic picture. This makes it look much more cheerful."

They are also among the most harrowing relics of this horrific era. They are the Holocaust made personal. In this context – the mundane celebrity fascination of a teenage girl – Anne Frank is every female relation you ever cared about: your baby sister, your little cousin, your wife or girlfriend in her formative years, that faded mantelpiece photo of your mother in her youth. It is impossible to enter the room and not be deeply affected.

You leave via the house next door, the museum having long absorbed 265 Prinsengracht. Here, an exhibition (until April 2015) salutes the helpers, Otto Frank's employees, who kept the family from sight, including Miep Gies, who guarded Anne's diary after the arrests. Here too is a multimedia facility where multiple-choice questions – on ethical issues such as the new rise of the far right and whether a political party should ever be banned – appear on a screen. Visitors answer via keypads – and the wide-ranging results, flashed up instantly, show there are no easy answers. But the queue is still there when I step outside – proof that, 70 years on, many of us are still prepared to bear witness to 1944's heart of darkness.

Getting there

Several airlines fly to Amsterdam Schiphol from various UK airports, including British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), KLM (020 7660 0293; klm.com), easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com), Flybe (0371 700 2000; flybe.com) and Jet2 (0800 408 1350; jet2.com).

Visiting there

The Anne Frank House, 263-267 Prinsengracht (00 31 20 556 7100; annefrank.org). Open daily 9am-10pm during August; €9.

More information

iamsterdam.com

holland.com/uk

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?