07 December 2011

The Hague and the Anne Frank house

Posted in Talking about . . .

Alex and Rob came back to spend four days with us at the end of their European tour . . .

We had a marvellous day travelling to The Hague, where we spent a few hours in the Royal Picture gallery, the Mauritshuis. It’s an art museum, housing works of predominantly Dutch painters, including two of Vermeer’s most famous works – The Girl with a Pearl Earring and View of Delft. Reproductions of the works can never do them justice – the luminescence is lost, as is the 3-dimensional quality. However, suffice it to say that they are quite breathtaking. It was a real struggle to move through the gift shop without behaving like complete tourists, but we restricted ourselves to a melamine tray with the View of Delft and a fridge magnet of Girl with a Pearl Earring. I bet the locals have them, too . . .

Mauritshuis View of Delft Girl with a Pearl Earring

From Left to Right: Mauritshuis, View of Delft, Girl with a Pearl Earring

While we were in The Hague that afternoon, we visited the houses of parliament (since the mid 1400s). This is a collection of old and beautiful buildings called the Binnehof, arranged around a square. There is a church in the middle of the square and monumental gates at either end. There are public thoroughfares running between the buildings connecting the north and south sides of the city so people pass by their parliament buildings every day. The Binnehof is bounded by a lake, the Hofvijver (the Court Pond), on one side, and also backs onto the central square of Den Haag (the “plein”) on another. There is a gorgeous gilt neogothic fountain in the middle of the Binnehof with extraordinary detail of flora and fauna – imagined and real.

Houses of parliament on Hofvijver lake

Houses of Parliament on Hofvijver lake

Pierre Cuypers fountain Binnehof The Hague central square

From Left to Right: Pierre Cuypers fountain Binnehof, The Hague central square

We also had a day in Amsterdam when we visited Anne Frank’s house (her name was actually Annelies, so her name is pronounced ‘Unna Frunk’ here). It’s not actually a house – it’s her father’s spice mill and warehouse, with 2 floors above the factory (known as The Secret Annex) that were sealed off and converted into living quarters (total space of 46 square metres) for Anne, her older sister, Margot, her parents, Otto and Edith, and four other adults. While a few of the employees assisted the “onderduikers” (people in hiding) throughout their stay, risking their lives to do so, the workers in the factory knew nothing about the 8 people who lived here for 2 years – never leaving the building. Anne wrote about longing to go outside and run about and live a normal life. She said, “Not being able to go outside upsets me more than I can say . . .”

They were betrayed in August 1944 (who betrayed them is still unknown) and all sent to Auschwitz. They were separated, although Anne and Margot were housed together at Belsen-Bergen. Margot died of typhus in mid March 1945, and Anne died a few days later. The camp was liberated on 15 April 1945.

All of the “onderduikers” died in the camps (most from illness and starvation) apart from Otto, Anne’s father, who survived and went on to publish her diaries after the war. Ironically, an old school friend of Anne’s (Hannah) was housed in a camp adjoining Anne’s, and saw Anne a week before she died (just after Margot died). This friend said that Anne was devastated by her sister’s death, but Anne’s spirit was such that, if she had known that her father was still alive, she might have survived the few weeks until the camp was liberated.

The rooms of the Secret Annex are bare today – Otto wanted them to be left like that to indicate all that was the missing. However, the rooms were furnished as they had been during the 2 years, and photographs taken of them before the furniture was removed. You can do a virtual tour online of the house as it was when the Franks lived there. Today, you move through the bare rooms, looking at photographs, watching video interviews, and seeing copies of the pages of Anne’s diary. For me, the words on the pages of her diary bring the entire place to life. Her very obvious intelligence, intellectual curiosity, lively sense of humour and perceptiveness are plain to see in her writing.

There are lots of interesting artifacts in the house, including the Best Supporting Actress Oscar that Shelley Winters won for her portrayal of Mrs von Pels (one of the “onderduikers”, called Petronella van Daan in Anne’s diaries) in the 1959 film The Diary of Anne Frank. Shelley told Otto that, if she won it, she would keep it for a while and then send it to him. She was true to her word.

The Secret Annex on left Anne Frank Anne and Margot memorial Bergen-Belsen

From Left to Right: The Secret Annex on left, Anne Frank, Anne and Margot memorial Bergen-Belsen

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