The Hidden Staircase and Anne Frank’s memoir will in my mind for a long time. Today is the anniversary of Anne Frank starting her diary and I got to thinking…..Her book may have begun my fascination with World War II stories. Not the battles or the war strategy. The stories. The people who lived through it. Whether they were on the front lines seeing action, living in their hometown in terror or taken as POW or worse to concentration camps, I read them all.
What I am searching for I do not know. But the tales of resilience and strength and human kindness in the midst of brutality somehow empower me to live on. These people no matter where they were or which side of the war, had parents, spouses, lovers, children and family. In their dire circumstances, they built family. They persevered beyond some things humanly inconceivable.
I never thought about going to Anne Frank’s house when I read the book. I envisioned the house. The house that was so far away in a foreign country that no one I knew had been to. I had the canal and brown clapboard house clearly pictured in my mind.
Then, three years ago, I found myself in Amsterdam. Her very city. Where Anne Frank lived. That was simply amazing to think about. More than forty years before I had read a book that changed my thinking and shifted me into much more appreciativeness. And now I was walking the streets of Anne Frank.
I went to her house. And there it was along a canal: brown and nondescript. Walking up the hidden staircase, gave me an airy feeling – it wasn’t the steepness or the narrowness – it was what these stairs had seen and who had walked there. I was just a tourist, a passerby but so many had paid dearly by walking these stairs.
Nothing prepared me to enter the attic rooms themselves. They were left as they were in the forties. Peeling wall paper. Bare minimum necessities for even that time. The iron sink and sparse décor. A whole life was lived here. Many lives were lived here. The rooms were decent size until you consider who lived there. And how long they had to stay put in a handful of rooms.
When I got to Anne’s room, I felt reverent. Here is a young girl, an author who held strong and focused on something beyond her current situation. She shared her story. She dreamed of a future. She made her best of her time hidden away. I was honored to share the space she had lived, written and slept in.
I wondered who had turned them in. And why? For food? Benefits? Life? Whatever it was, that was their story to tell. Their life to live. I can only imagine what strain brought them to that point in life. Where they were willing to trade a handful of people for something, anything.
Like so many, I wonder what would have become of Anne Frank had she lived. That was not to be. A blessing that her Dad lived and had the foresight and tenacity to get her diary published. That may be the only thing that saved him through the postwar years of loss and loneliness. I bless the woman who saved their personal items and Anne’s diary. She loved them and remains nameless as far as I know in all this. But that is the human side of the story. There is a human side in every WWII story. And I continue to treasure humanity. An anniversary of hope is worthy of mention.