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

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine