This month we remember Amsterdam’s (arguably) most famous citizen, Anne Frank, who would have been turning 83 this month. Anne’s story has resonated throughout the world for more than 60 years. The diary of Anne Frank has been read by millions and her life in her adopted city of Amsterdam has shaped the city’s image for years to come.
Anne Frank was born into a Jewish family in Frankfurt, Germany on the 12th of June 1929. Her father, Otto, was a businessman who had an acute sense of the impending social threat to Jews in Germany at the time. Fearing for his family’s safety under the National Socialist regime, Otto moved them all to Amsterdam in 1933.
One thing about Amsterdam that is not always made clear to visitors is its historical role as a safe-haven for socially discriminated groups. Jews, Protestants, Huguenots and other marginalized groups have, over the centuries, sought refuge in Amsterdam. Compared to the rest of Europe, this city has always been a bastion of tolerance for the discriminated.
Otto started up a pectin factory here and the Franks integrated quickly into Amsterdam life, along with thousands of similar Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. The Nazis invaded the Netherlands on the 10th of May 1940. While many of Amsterdam’s Jews could not fathom what the Nazis had planned for them, Otto’s acute foreboding compelled him to construct a hidden annex at the top of his office building, which he finished in 1942. By this time, the persecution and deportation of Jews had not only begun, but had intensified.
On the morning of Monday, July the 6th, 1942 the family moved into hiding. For two years they lived in cramped conditions, often with little food and in constant fear of being discovered. Anne records many thoughts and feelings in her diary, relevant to the experience of adolescence, to which all of us could relate.
Sadly, on the 4th of August 1944 the Dutch Police raided the secret annex following a tip off from an unidentified informant. All inside were arrested and later deported to concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margot were sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where they are believed to have succumbed to typhus in March of 1945, just weeks before the camp was liberated.
One of the great debates in Dutch historiography revolves around the extent to which the Dutch both assisted and resisted the genocidal policies of the Nazis. Whilst it is clear that Dutch police and the modern bureaucratic system allowed for many of the deportations to take place, many Amsterdammers did put their own lives at severe risk to protect and hide their fellow citizens from persecution.
The four non-Jewish Amsterdammers who successfully hid the Frank family for two years are just such examples. For two years they risked their own freedom and safety to provide the Franks with shelter, food, water and information, until their presence became known to the German Order Police and they were forcibly and tragically deported. One of these selfless Amsterdammers, Miep Gies, was the person responsible for recovering Anne’s diary, which she had written between the ages of 13 and 15, whilst in hiding. Miep again risked her own safety by recovering the Frank family’s possessions after their deportation and holding them for the duration of the war.
This might not be the first time you’ve heard the story of Anne Frank, but have you heard the other stories of Dutch resistance to Nazi persecution of Amsterdam Jews? Local resistance focused mainly on hiding and protecting Jewish orphans, rescuing them from captivity and almost certainly saving their lives. The biggest war-time protest of non-Jews against Nazi persecution happened here, in Amsterdam, in February of 1941. The whole city stopped in protest against the gross mistreatment of their Jewish citizens. This did not happen in any other Nazi-occupied city.
This is a city like no other, where tolerance and acceptance have endured against periods of hate and discrimination, on more than one occasion. This is why many people choose to live in Amsterdam today. It does not matter who you are, or where you come from. In this city, once you live here, you are an Amsterdammer, and this is your home.
So if you find yourself reflecting on the month of June and the story of Anne Frank, remember this; because although it is a tragic story that speaks of hate and violence, it is also a story which tells of the love and willingness of Amsterdammers to stand up and fight for their city’s most treasured principle – tolerance. You are welcome here, and this city will defend your right to be yourself.
“Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness. People are just people, and all people have faults and shortcomings, but all of us are born with a basic goodness.” – Anne Frank
The Anne Frank Museum remains one of the most popular attractions in Amsterdam, captivating over 500,000 visitors from all walks of life each year. Since may this year there is a special play devoted to the life of Anne frank.
Skip the line for the Anne Frank Museum and enjoy a wonderful canal cruise afterwards. Get your tickets here.