By Andrea Gross
The day is sunny, the weather a bit chilly but still pleasant. I shade my eyes and look up at a row of four-story brick buildings fronted by a small patch of green grass. The buildings themselves are rather plain; each floor appears to contain two apartments.
Here, in Amsterdam’s Rivierenbuurt neighborhood, a 30-minute tram ride from downtown, I can see how ordinary people go about their daily lives, oblivious to the touristy hubbub of the central city. It’s the sort of place I might live had I been born Dutch.
It’s also the place where 75 years ago this month—in June 1942—an ordinary young girl celebrated her 13th birthday. Her favorite present was a small autograph book that her father had purchased at the corner bookstore.
Less than a month later this girl, whose name was Anne Frank, and her family were forced into hiding to escape the Nazi onslaught. For Anne, the ordinary pursuits of childhood came to an abrupt end. No more playing marbles with her friends. No more jumping rope in the summer and ice-skating in the winter. Cut off from schoolmates, who would have filled her autograph book with best wishes and witty sayings, Anne used her birthday present as a diary, one that has been translated into 70 languages and sold more than 30 million copies.
A small child comes over and touches my hand. “You lost?” she asks in halting English. “I’m looking for Anne Frank’s house,” I say.
She points to a window on third floor of one of the buildings. “That’s where Anna lived when she was little.” The Franks’ apartment, where they lived from 1934, when they emigrated from Germany, until 1942, when they went into hiding, now serves as a retreat for aspiring writers. Although it’s been restored to look as it did when the Franks lived there, it’s only open to the public on special occasions.
The child leads me to a bronze statue at the end of the park. It depicts a teenage girl gazing wistfully at the row of apartment buildings. It is the only official recognition of the fact that this is the neighborhood that nurtured Anne Frank.
“Anna is saying goodbye to her home,” says our new friend. She also says goodbye, and my husband and I walk a few blocks to the Montessori School that Anne attended from 1934 to 1941. The building, which is still a functioning Montessori school, is painted in pastel colors overlaid with quotes from the diary of its most famous student.
Finally, we stop at Boekhandel Jimmink, the corner bookstore where Anne’s father purchased his daughter’s birthday present. We ask if they have replicas of the famous diary. The clerk points to a small stack of books on a back table. “We don’t get much call for these,” he says apologetically. “Not a lot of tourists come here, and among locals Harry Potter outsells Anne Frank.”
We continue our search for Anne’s childhood haunts in central Amsterdam, an area that today is filled with galleries and small shops. Anne loved to explore the narrow streets near her father’s offices, which were in stately homes along the Singel and Prinsengracht Canals. She also spent many happy hours at the nearby Bloemenmarkt, the only floating flower market in the world.
The Secret Annex, where the Franks spent two years hiding from the Nazis, is only a few blocks away. Unlike her old neighborhood, her hiding place is one of the most visited sites in the Netherlands. The line to get in stretches around the block.
A few months later, on a different trip in a different country, we attend a talk by a Holocaust survivor. Quite by chance the speaker is Hannah Goslar, one of Anne’s closest friends, the one referred to in her diary as Lies (a Dutch contraction of the name Elisabeth). Hannah was one of the last people Anne saw before she died in the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, a few months before her sixteenth birthday.
“I grew up in the apartment downstairs from Anna Frank,” she begins. “Has anyone been to that part of Amsterdam?”
We raise our hands. “I haven’t been back in years,” she says softly. “Tell me, what is it like today?”
We tell her that as we walked to the school that she and Anne attended, we saw a menorah in the window of a first-floor apartment.
She smiles. “You know,” she says, “in her diary Anna wrote that ‘despite everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.’ Perhaps she was right.”
For an expanded version of this article, go to traveltizers.com.
— In the Rivierenbuurt neighborhood:
- Anne’s childhood home: Merwedeplein 37
- Statue of Anne: Park in front Merwedeplein 37
- Boekhandel Jimmink bookshop: Rooseveltlaan 62
- Anne’s Montessori school: Niersstraat 41-43
— In central Amsterdam
- Otto Frank’s first place of business: Nieuweziijds Voorburgwal #120-126 Candida building
- Otto Frank’s second place of business place: Singel 400.
- Flower Market: On the Singel canal between the Koningsplein and the Muntplein
- Secret Annex (also known as the Anne Frank Huis): Prinsengracht 263
- Westerkerk Church: Prinsengracht 281
Photos: by Irv Green
The Riviernbuurt neighborhood, where Anne Frank and her family lived before going into hiding, is a middle-class neighborhood of small shops and wide streets.
A black handrail leads to the three-bedroom flat where Anne Frank and her family lived, before they went into hiding.
A statue of Anne Frank stands in the small park near the apartment building where she lived as a child.
- The school that Anne Frank attended from 1934, until 1941 is painted with quotes from her diary.
- Anne Frank’s father went to the neighborhood bookstore, now called Boekhandel Jimmink, to buy his daughter a present for her thirteenth birthday.
- Anne Frank liked to explore the streets that line the canals of central Amsterdam.
As a child Anne Frank enjoyed the hustle and bustle of central Amsterdam, which was in sharp contrast to the quieter atmosphere of the Rivierenbuurt neighborhood where she lived.
AF-8-Amsterdam Buildings Slanted
- Anne Frank liked to accompany her father to his office in central Amsterdam, where many of the buildings have distinctive gabled roofs.
- The flat-roofed four-story canal house on the right (next to the building with the pointed red roof) houses the “Secret Annex,” where Anne Frank and her family hid during World War II. It is one of the most visited spots in the Netherlands.
- Anne Frank could glimpse the spires of Westerkerk Church from a window in the Secret Annex.