The Frank House

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

I knew the moment I walked in that I didn’t stand a chance.

As we entered the first dimly lit room where large, simple photos of Anne graced blank white walls along with chilling excerpts from her famous diary, the lump in my throat was immediate and pressing.

“We have to whisper and tread lightly during the day, otherwise the people in the warehouse might hear us.” – Anne Frank penned on July 11th, 1942. Herself, her sister, her parents, and four others stayed hidden in several small rooms above our heads for almost two years before being discovered by Nazi Secret Service during World War II.

The queue to get into the house is always quite long. It is the second one in the left, with the blacked out windows.

The queue to get into the house is always quite long. It is the second one in the left, with the blacked out windows.

The museum on the Prinsengracht canal, one of the most famous spots in Amsterdam, guides visitors through each room of the actual house, starting with the warehouse on the bottom floor, where the Frank family business continued under non-Jewish management. These friends kept the secret of, and provided for, the families hidden away. Up the narrow stairs and through a small room is a moveable bookcase that concealed the doorway to the secret annex. The small rooms that the eight of them occupied are bare of furniture but contain small replicas depicting what sparse belongings they did have. The walls are decorated as they had been during their doomed occupation.

Anne’s room is plastered with pictures of movie stars. The thought of all her hopes being pinned on that wall, her only window to the outside world, while the actual panes of glass in her home were covered in black sheets, made me catch my breath. The repression, the darkness, the suffocation.

But that isn’t what did it.

It wasn’t the black and white portraits either, of the seemingly joyous teenager that was Anne. All of them within the house are of her smiling, displaying a spirit that believably could withstand anything.

It wasn’t even the chilling text that is displayed with these pictures, the quotes from her diary that brought reality to her anguish. It also wasn’t the tiny television that showed images of the British liberating the Bergen-Belsen camp where she had been held with her sister, the liberation happening just one short month after her own death. It wasn’t the images of the piles of discared bodies, or the flaccid skin that draped the bones of those who had “survived”.

The small rooms that the eight of them occupied are bare of furniture but contain small replicas depicting what sparse belongings they did have. The walls are decorated as they had been during their doomed occupation.

It was, finally, a picture of Otto Frank that allowed for a little release of my emotions that were bottled almost an hour before.

The picture of Anne’s father was taken in 1950 upon his return to the secret annex on Prinsengracht. The sole surviving member of the Frank family, he brought his daughter’s famous diary and story to the world, and was instrumental in setting up the Anne Frank House.

And he stood in that annex, several years after losing his wife and two daughters, staring woefully, solefully, at the empty room before him. Light streamed in through a window, likely never seen during his days in captivity there, casting a long shadow behind him, and filling his mind with thoughts completely inconceivable to me, to anyone.

He was probably the least fortunate of them all – being the only one who had lived through and escaped the concentration camps. Left to live with the memories, the pain, and most probably, some guilt. Yet his commitment to push through that, to bring Anne’s story to the world and teach peace and tolerance is nothing short of phenomenal.



Otto Frank, Amsterdam

Photo by: Flickr user dgallagher

“To build up a future, you have to know the past.”
~ Otto Frank, 1967
70 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • October 26 2011

    Without Otto, people may never have heard of Anne Frank. He was a brave man to share his pain with the world but maybe in a way, it helped him come to terms with what he and his family went through.
    Natalie recently posted..Butterfly Valley

    • October 27 2011

      I am sure that it must have helped him. Doing good from a tragedy such as that is sometimes the only way to get through it (speaking from my limited experience)

  • October 26 2011

    What a powerful tribute you’ve written here. The Anne Frank House got to me as well. What did it for me was the exhibition of ongoing genocides around the world. I’m not sure if it is still there as it was meant to be a temporary exhibition. The fact that we as humans still haven’t learn from our past mistakes is truly heartbreaking.
    Alison recently posted..Sunday Brunch – L’Orangerie du Parc D’Egmont, Brussels

    • October 27 2011

      Thanks Alison. That exhibit isn’t there anymore – probably a good thing for me – I would have been a mess from it.

  • October 26 2011

    I had no idea you guys visited the Anne Frank house!

    Teri recently posted..Yes, Sir!

  • October 26 2011

    This is really moving. We’ve visited most of the Holocaust museums and memorials in Berlin these past few weeks, and I’m still processing it all. I simultaneously feel devastated by how awful some people can be… and inspired by how good others are. It’s a lot to take in.

    • October 27 2011

      I’ve read so much about the world wars that I want to see all the museums and memorials, but I really worry about how I would handle it.

  • Mom
    October 26 2011

    That is heart wrenching. I’m longing to read the book again to make me feel more humble with my own life.

    • October 27 2011

      That is one thing we’ve found about our travels Mom – we are constantly humbled in that way. As much as we think we’ve been through some bad shit, there are always many, many people who have had it much worse off then us.

  • October 26 2011

    This is a beautiful post.

    We’ve been traveling for six months, and the Anne Frank House stands out as one of our most moving experiences. The visit inspired my daughter, 10, to read the diary for the first time.

    I was struck by the film interviews. Otto saying that although he and Anne were close, he had no idea of her depths and her seriousness. That parents can never really know their own children. Also Anne’s friend surmising Anne might have survived those last few weeks if only she’d known her father still lived.

    Renee — ramblecrunch recently posted..History and Hot Springs: Thermopylae, Greece

    • October 27 2011

      YES – that interview was so sad as well, that part about “parents not ever really knowing their children.” What he must have went through as he read it. I’m glad the visit inspired your daughter, when we were there, a lot of school children were also, and I hope hope hope they took something away from it.

  • October 26 2011

    Otto is what did it for me too, I made it through alllll the rooms and then that last video of him talking about never really knowing Anne and my heart broke.

    • October 27 2011

      That was really heartbreaking, I agree. How he has dealt with the pain over the years, I don’t think I could ever understand…

  • October 26 2011

    Wow. That is really heartbreaking. I was only in Amsterdam for a few days, so I didn’t get to visit the Anne Frank house. Part of me wishes I had, but I’m sure it would have made a huge impact on me as well.
    Christy @ Ordinary Traveler recently posted..Travel Shot: San Antonio Riverwalk at Night

    • October 27 2011

      Sometimes, I wish I didn’t have an interest in going to these things. It makes me terribly sad, and angry. I have to space it out and not do too much of it at once, or else I think I might run to the hills and live there forever. 🙂

  • Leah
    October 26 2011

    Wow, what a thoughtful post. Thank you.

  • Alouise
    October 26 2011

    I made sure to visit the Anne Frank House when I was in Amsterdam a few years ago. I had never really thought about how everything affected Otto Frank until I saw those interviews with him at the end. I think it’s pretty impossible to visit the Anne Frank and not be moved.

    • October 27 2011

      They set it up quite perfectly, the way they weave you through the rooms and how bare they are kept. I’ll admit that I didn’t even know Otto Frank survived it all until I went in (well, I’m sure I knew at some point, but forgot!) It is soooo worth a visit for anyone who goes to Amsterdam.

  • October 27 2011

    What a heart warming post. Anne Frank was one inspirational girl. It must have indeed been very inspiring to visit the place.
    Have a nice day Dalene:)
    Arti recently posted..Celebrating the Festival of Lights: Happy Diwali

    • October 27 2011

      Thanks Arti – inspiring, and heartbreaking – for sure…

  • October 27 2011

    It certainly is an evocative museum. (Funnily, I’ve scheduled a post about it as well). My youngest is 10 and her class recently read Anne’s diary – so we’re planning a weekend trip to Amsterdam to see it very soon.
    Sophie recently posted..Where in the World?

    • October 27 2011

      I never read her diary growing up, and now I want to! This happens everywhere I go, I have a “to read” list that is a mile long. I’m sure your kids (and you) will really enjoy the visit.

  • October 27 2011

    Very powerful… this gave me goosebumps as I read it.
    Emily Sims recently posted..Buenos Aires is Poetry in Motion

  • October 27 2011

    Thank you so much for this beautiful and illuminating post. We were only in Amsterdam for two days and didn’t realize you have to get reservations in advance to go through the house, so we missed it.
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..Chernobyl in Your Travel Plans?

    • October 27 2011

      Yes, the queue is quite long to get in, but after being through it, I’m glad they do it that way, too many people inside would really detract from the experience.

  • October 27 2011

    It’s a wonderful place, hugely evocative of those barbaric times with a very powerful message which I hope we never forget. Did you manage to see the homo-monument which is adjacent? It’s a large subtle pink triangle mounted into the pavement that juts into the canal. This commemorates the persecution and execution of gay people by the Nazis. Just as Anne would have worn the Star of David in the death camp, gay people were forced to wear a pink triangle.
    Jack Scott recently posted..The Faithful Retainer

    • October 29 2011

      Wow, no, I didn’t know about that Jack. I wish I would have seen it.

  • its amazing that after all these years the book and indeed house still have so much emotional power. great post.
    jamie – cloud people adventures recently posted..Clouds Update

    • October 28 2011

      Thanks Jamie! And I still honestly can’t believe I haven’t read the book. I’m almost scared to, after the response I had to the house…

  • October 27 2011

    Thank you, so much, for sharing your experience. Anne’s story has long haunted me and reading her diary as a young girl is still one of the most life-changing moments I ever went through. I haven’t had an easy life but my pain cannot compare to that of the Frank family. When I think things are bad, I remember Anne. And I am humbled. Thanks to Otto.

    I’m quite sure the photograph of him is where I would break down as well.

    • October 29 2011

      Thanks for your comment Kirsten. I’m glad that Anne’s book has had such a powerful effect for you in that way, a few people here have commented the same (and now I need to go and read it, finally!) The world should be so thankful for Otto Frank, for giving us all perspective on how shit the world can really be, and how it is possible to come through it positively.

  • October 27 2011

    A very powerful, moving post about a very powerful, moving place. It’s really difficult to visit “dark” sites like this and not feel SOMETHING, especially when they have real interviews and photos as part of the display. It makes everything much more personal, and it’s hard not to feel empathy.
    Amanda recently posted..Photo of the Day: Franz Josef Glacier

    • October 28 2011

      So true Amanda, I would be amazed if anyone toured the house and came out saying that it DIDN’T affect them. Near impossible, I am sure.

  • October 27 2011

    It was pretty tough to visit – the space they lived in for all that time is so small!! Even though I’ve been to Amsterdam before I hadn’t been to the Anne Frank house yet…really glad I went this time after reading the book so many years ago. Such a tragedy!
    Andrea recently posted..Postcards from Amsterdam

    • October 28 2011

      Such a tragedy, but the great thing about it is that Otto turned it into something so meaningful for people to learn from. The size of those rooms were unbelievable – before going into the house I had no idea there were 8 in total living there for that long. Unthinkable.

  • Abby
    October 27 2011

    My heart is racing… What an inspiration he was, how devastated he must have been. That loss… Thank you for sharing it with us, and in such a beautiful way.

    • October 28 2011

      Thanks Abby. He is an inspiration indeed, to be so committed to bringing this all to light. Makes our troubles seem minor.

  • October 28 2011

    A wonderful post. The Frank House is somewhere we’ve wanted to visit for a while, and a place I think everyone should aspire to see as well as learn from.
    Tawny- Captain and Clark recently posted..Who Dumped the Lego Man?

    • October 28 2011

      It is high on our recommended list of things to do in Amsterdam, for sure. There is so much to learn, I hope you make it there!

  • October 28 2011

    We studied her at school, as I am sure everyone did, and I am actually really looking forward to visiting the house and the rest of the holocaust exhibits throughout Europe. It has always intrigued me just because it seems so unreal now in this day and age.
    Cole @ FourJandals recently posted..Hump Day Wednesday – 26/10/2011

    • October 28 2011

      It seems so unreal, yet it still happens around the world, which is what’s so sad. They have a great exhibit there right now that tests peoples tolerance of discrimination around the world that really makes you think.

  • October 28 2011

    This post brought tears to my eyes. Very beautiful, very sad. Thank you for sharing.
    DTravelsRound recently posted..Escape of the Week: The Dead Sea

  • October 29 2011

    I’m teary-eyed just reading this and recalling my own experience. I bawled like a baby.

    This is a beautifully written piece.
    Candice Walsh recently posted..14 Favourite Instagram Photos from a Year of Travel

    • October 30 2011

      Thanks so much Candice…and I wasn’t far behind on the bawling.

  • October 30 2011

    I’ve never been to the Frank house, but know the story well. I would have probably been a mess too. Great writing here…
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..A Tale of Two Treks

    • October 30 2011

      Thanks Ray – it’s very much worth a visit when in Amsterdam…

  • October 30 2011

    A wonderfully written article, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I was in Amsterdam this summer but didn’t visit Anne’s house. (I have a tendon issue and was worried the stairs would be difficult.)

    I hope I can try again sometime in the future. Even though it is a difficult thing to think about we must never forget how people suffered.

    • October 30 2011

      Thank you Valerie. I hope your tendon is well so that next time you can visit (and for other things, of course!) We must never forget is right…and it’s sad to think that this kind of turmoil and pain is still prevalent in other parts of the world.

  • October 31 2011

    I visited the Anne Frank house in 2007, unfortunately after quite a rough night out but nonetheless extremely moving place to visit.
    Great thoughts about that photo of Otto, he was definitely a brave man and its amazing that he not only made sure her voice was heard but also that she had the voice that she had.
    Cailin recently posted..How to not go crazy in between trips

  • November 8 2011

    Definitely going to Anne’s house next month when I’m in Amsterdam. And bringing tissues. Thanks for the warning.

    • Pete
      November 9 2011

      Glad you’re going to make the trip! And yes, tissues are a must!

  • November 9 2011

    I went to the Anne Frank house when I was in Amsterdam last month. Its shocking how small it is. I had read the diary many times and despite knowing it was cramped I had thought it would be larger. Amazing that 8 people were able to live there for two years.
    Elizabeth recently posted..Reader Question – Going to Peru? Issues and Concerns

    • November 10 2011

      It’s shocking, really. I can’t imagine how I would have made it through without crying every day away. They were some amazing people.

  • November 10 2011

    I can only imagine the amount of emotion and tension in the room. This was a very powerful post and I really enjoyed reading it!

    • November 12 2011

      Thanks so much Rachael! It is a very powerful place to visit.

  • November 15 2011

    This post is amazing! I love it. Brilliant writing! I watched the movie and read the diary but nothing beats going there. I once went inside a concentration camp in Northern Italy: I’ve never ever felt so sick and cried as much as that day. It’s like you can’t breathe anymore.
    trvl8dintern recently posted..5 Lessons Learned from Leaping to Spain

    • November 15 2011

      Oh boy, I am scared to do the concentration camps. I know that they will have a phenomenal impact on me, and someday I hope to do a tour of them all in one shot. Scared to do it, but I’m totally drawn to the idea.

      • November 21 2011

        I understand that feeling. It was like I knew I had to go inside to understand, but at the same time I was trying to run away from it!

  • November 18 2011

    Great story! I’ve always loved Anne Frank’ story, and cannot even imagine the powerful emotions you must have felt being in the room where she lived. Thanks for sharing!
    Bret @ Green Global Travel recently posted..DESTINATIONS: The Colors of Autumn in the North Georgia Mountains

  • November 21 2011

    Short and well written. I am never too interested in popular history, but you managed to make me feel empathetic in this post.
    Ian [EagerExistence] recently posted..30 Days of Indie Travel: Day 12, Meaningful Connections

    • November 22 2011

      I will take that as a big compliment then Ian, thank you!

  • Tom Bartel
    November 29 2011

    Saw the Frank house several years ago. Heartbreaking. Thanks for a good piece and reminder.
    Tom Bartel recently posted..Cruising the Bosphorus

  • Abi
    December 16 2011

    Oh my…I’ve just stumbled across this after returning from the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin. I read Anne Frank’s diary growing up and the personal story I found there has always been with me. The pictures of the Nazis at the museum I was at today look so similar to all the other photos of politicians at around the same time. The pictures of life in Berlin before the war broke out look so normal. Heartbreaking.

    • December 17 2011

      So heartbreaking is right. One day we want to do a trip through Germany, etc. to tour through all those memorials, if I can stand it…I’d probably be a crying mess all the time…

  • Paula Williams
    January 3 2012

    I stumbled across your blog through the Lonely Planet site, as I am visiting my daughter who lives in Holland. Just had to comment.

    Beautiful entry, Dalene. Incredible insights. I loved your focus, your personalization (and that picture, wow). That made us see that these were real people that really existed. That loved and laughed. And sadly, suffered and grieved, all because of other people’s evil. And for what reason? None.

    I am a Westerner living in Lebanon where my husband is a professor. (I’ve now lived in three different countries in the ME over 11 years). I watch that whole part of the world continue on in their hatred toward the Jews (and others)and see clearly what hatred continues to do to a society to this day.

    Otto Frank had a great quote, didn’t he? Without this insight we are all destined to live making the same horrible mistakes of the past. Which sadly, many do.

    You’ve got a great perspective, keep writing!!

    • January 5 2012

      Paula, thank you so much visiting our site and for your wonderful comment. The Anne Frank House had such a big impact on me, I wrote the whole post within minutes of leaving as I felt so emotional about it. What an experience you must be having in all of the Middle East, this is a region that Pete and I are eager to explore and hope to do so soon!

  • Jackie Marshall
    March 16 2014

    I was moved and touched by the hardship The Jews had to go through in the Nazi War. So Sad!

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