Anne Frank’s house was my first destination upon arriving in Amsterdam. Entering would have to wait as my tickets were for another day, but something in me just needed to see it. Standing outside this important place in history, which I’d read about my entire life, and that seemed to be just any other ordinary building, was surreal. I suddenly felt as if I were in a fog, I could see and hear the other people around me, but felt strangely outside myself. Sorrow, incredulity, anger rolled over me like a wave. In that moment, right there on that regular sidewalk the joy was sucked right out of me. Simultaneously I was grateful to be standing there. Outside. Grateful that I could be, and that no one was telling me otherwise.
Maybe you’re reading the above and thinking, why would anyone willingly put themselves through emotions like that if they didn’t have to? I don’t blame you, but I strongly believe that in order to protect future generations we must step outside our comfort zone. Keeping these memories alive, no matter how unpleasant, is paramount.
‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ – George Santayana
The next morning I got up early and knowing my family needed their rest, I wrote them a note and then went out for a walk around the neighborhood. I wandered back over to the Anne Frank House as I wanted time for a little introspection. I found a cup of coffee and a bench and watched the people go by.
Surprising to me, many of them posed happily by the front door, smiling and laughing while acting goofy. Some seemed to be making a show of being dramatic, a caricature of sorts. Somehow this felt wrong to me. Strange I thought… is this a happy place?
A short while later standing across the canal I listened in on a bike tour. Although the guide did mention the Nazi occupation, the secret annex and that their had been people hiding inside for over two years it was very perfunctory and felt quite shallow.
What you need to know before visiting
As soon as we decided upon a visit to Amsterdam I knew I’d be visiting Anne Frank’s house and with that knowledge immediately researched making it happen. As it turned out it can be somewhat complicated. Tickets are required, timed and are only available from the official website exactly two months in advance. Due to the museum’s popularity they will sell out, so I highly recommend setting a reminder on your calendar. Hopefully, you’ll have some flexibility, as even armed with this knowledge I was only able to secure two tickets during the entire duration of our five night stay. This worked out for our family as my little one wasn’t quite old enough for this experience.
Here are some other things to keep in mind when planning a visit:
- The Anne Frank House is located in the center of Amsterdam at Prinsengracht 263-267
- Visitors between the hours of 9:00 am and 3:30 pm must purchase their tickets in advance online.
- You can show your ticket directly from your smart phone.
- From 3:30 PM until closing time you can buy a ticket at the museum entrance. I don’t recommend this as the lines are extremely long and you won’t be guaranteed entrance.
- Last entry to the museum is 30 minutes before closing time, but the queue for the Anne Frank House closes earlier. Depending on how busy it is, this can be as much as 2 hours before closing time.
- No photographs are allowed inside the museum.
- Strollers and large bags aren’t allowed inside the museum.
Thoughts on our visit:
Our timed entry was 2:15 pm, so after a morning exploring the city, Simon and I went to the Museum. Here are some of my thoughts as I wrote them directly after the visit:
It was simply heartbreaking, but so worth while. I silently cried my way through the entire thing.
Though Simon recently studied Anne Frank in school, and even after we stood in the very places Anne and her family stood, I’m not sure it really got through to him that her and her family only died because they were jews. That prior to going to hiding they weren’t allowed to swim at the beach, go to school, visit friends or really do anything at all just because they were jews.
Seeing the rooms, staircases and the bookcase, which hid the entrance to their secret annex was incredibly surreal. After reading and hearing about Anne my entire life and then to actually stand in the place where they hid for over two years is very difficult to put into words.
Peeking out the window onto the street below. Knowing that on the rare occasion that Anne herself could look out that she looked out these same windows. She saw the same things we saw, people freely walking by, laughing, playing, boats on the canal, heard the nearby church bells, only unlike us, she couldn’t leave.
The visit to the Anne Frank house is self guided, though Anne’s words are written on the walls throughout. You’ll walk through the office below the secret annex, the annex and have an opportunity to see Anne’s diaries. There are many.
The video interviews of Otto Frank, her father, and other people who knew her are fascinating and really help bring her to life.
With the exception of a few items on display most of the rooms are empty. This is deliberate as Otto Frank specifically requested they be kept this way as a symbol of all the people who never came back.
Surprisingly, even after this moving and educational experience I could tell that it was hard for Simon to grasp when he saw during our visit. How could he? Thankfully, he’s only known acceptance and tolerance. However, all the more reason why this visit was so important.
Made me cry your description of your experience beautiful
It was a very powerful place.
Anne Frank’s house is a place I want to visit. I can only imagine it’s heart breaking x
It was heartbreaking, but such an important place and I left feeling so grateful for the life I have.
Even though places like that are heart breaking, it’s important to remember. And it does make us thankful for our freedom x
It always makes history seem so much more real and emotional when you go to see it for yourself. It was fascinating when I went to visit, than you for the reminder.
Thank you for your thoughtful words. It’s true and visiting places like here are so important in helping to keep history alive, even when it’s easier to turn the other way.
This is a place that I am dying to visit. I am fascinated by every aspect of WWII history and I read and study it a lot- I guess I’ve kind of gotten used to those uncomfortable and contradictory feelings that you’ve so perfectly described. But despite those emotions, I think the overwhelming feeling I get when studying this tragic time in history is gratitude. Sounds strange, I know. But I’m grateful for the people who did what they had to do back then that allows me and my family to live in peace. And in Anne Frank’s case, I’m grateful for the good people who risked their lives to help her and her family. Although it was a sad time, a feeling of hope and resilience was also present.
I too have studied this time in history extensively. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to those feelings. I know what you mean about feeling gratitude. I was grateful that I was able to stand there with no worries knowing that my life is a happy and free one! I only hope that continues to be the case.
This just shot me through the heart. Her optimism is astounding. How lucky our children have lived so removed from the hatred & ignorance she faced. I hope they are never faced with such atrocities.
It was heart wrenching, but so important. I too am thankful that our children don’t live in that world, however, so many of the things she wrote are still relevant today. The current state of world affairs has reminded me that the safety of our children is only ensured through our continued vigilance. xo
Sadly, the two times I have been to Amsterdam, we haven’t had the time to go in! The lines are always ridiculously long! One day I will though! #FarawayFiles
The only real way to get in is to plan ahead and buy your tickets in advance, as the lines are always ridiculously long. I hope you get to go one day as it was a powerful and moving experience. I wish I could I’ve been to Amsterdam multiple times, but hopefully I’ll be able to someday!
Thanks for the tip!
Powerful and beautifully written. One of the most poignant places I have ever been lucky enough to visit, and your account encapsulates its historical and social importance perfectly. #FarawayFiles
Thank you so much for your kind words. I too felt lucky for the opportunity to visit such an important place in history and to be able to bring my son there in the hopes of keeping history alive and to hopefully ensure it doesn’t repeat itself.
Absolutely agree that it’s good to visit Anne Franck’s house, no matter how unpleasant the memories were, to understand the suffering and persecution that Anne and her family had to endure. Sites like this (including Auschwitz) have to be there to remind and educate future generations the consequences of discrimination, prejudice and war. Thanks for sharing with us, Hilary, including the part about booking the tickets in advance. Cheers. #farawayfiles
Yes! Exactly my message! Thank you for reading. Xx
fifi + hop
That is such a bizarre story of people laughing and making goofy faces in front – absolutely not a happy place! People are weird. In any case, I visited in my college years and agree – it was a surreal experience. Fascinating to walk around the very place we’ve read about and studied for so long. #farawayfiles
I know, I couldn’t believe it when I saw it.
It sounds like I need to book my ticket now, Hilary! Thanks for this insightful and moving account of your visit. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go too – my son read her diary recently so I think it would be a good moment for him to experience it for himself. Thanks for sharing this on #FarawayFiles
I hope you’re able to get tickets and I look forward to hearing about your experience.
Moving words Hilary. I had a similar reaction after visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. I couldn’t talk for 2 hours after it. We stayed down the canal from the house last year and didn’t visit because our kids were too small but I would like to go inside one day to remember the remarkable teenager who was Anne Frank. Thanks for sharing with us on #FarawayFiles
Thank you for sharing your deeply personal reflection Hilary. I think it is important to share with our children these stories. Tips on how to get tickets is very helpful, we had no idea when we were there how difficult they were to procure. #FarawayFiles
Thank you so much for sharing this experience. I believe it`s important to read history and visit places like these, in order to never forget. We can`t allow history to repeat itself. I`m dying to visit the place and so much more, as I`m very fascinated by Anne`s story and life. Meanwhile, it does me good to read other people`s experiences.
Thank you for your kind words. I couldn’t agree more!
You`re welcome. 🙂