The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

Front door of Prinsengracht 263 as it looked in September 2002

The building at number 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, popularly known as the Anne Frank House, is not the place where Anne was born, nor even the home where the Frank family lived after Otto Frank moved from Frankfurt, Germany to the Netherlands in 1933. Rather, it is a four-story merchant's house, built in 1635, where Anne's father, Otto Frank, operated two businesses: one which produced pectin to be used in making jelly and other products, and the other which produced herbs and spices for making sausage.

In the photograph above, the double doors with the frosted glass panels open into the warehouse on the ground floor. Just inside the warehouse doors, there is a door on the left which opens to the staircase up to the first floor. The single door on the left opens directly to the staircase so that customers didn't have to go through the warehouse to get to the offices upstairs. In Europe, the floor directly above the ground floor is always called the first floor. What Americans call the first floor is always called the ground floor in Europe. In my description of the house and annex, I will be using the European terminology.

The building is a typical Amsterdam four-story canal house which faces the Prinsengracht, one of Amsterdam's most beautiful canals. Behind the house at 263 Prinsengracht street is a separate building that was constructed at a later time: a four-story annex with an attic. The annex is separated from the main house by a space that is about 12 feet wide, but it is connected to the main house by passageways.

The annex is the place where Anne and her family hid for 25 months from the Nazis, along with the van Pels family and Dr. Friedrich (Fritz) Pfeffer, a dentist who was a friend of the Franks.

On the left in the photograph above, there is an Italian restaurant which advertises on a sign in English: "Two steps down, Best Coffee in Town." In front of the Anne Frank House, but not shown in the photograph, are some tables and benches where customers of the restaurant can eat their take-out food.

The house next door to the left of the Anne Frank house

In her description of the canal houses on either side of her father's business, Anne wrote in her diary that the building to the right was the local branch of the Keg company from Zaandam and the building on the left was a furniture workshop.

Sign on front of Anne Frank house

Lock on glass door at Prinsengracht 263

In February 1942, the Nazis began rounding up all the Jews in Germany and the occupied countries for evacuation to the East in what the Nazis called "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question."

13-year-old Anne Frank

Knowing that his family would soon be deported, Otto Frank began preparing a hiding place in the annex with a two-year supply of food and other essentials. Five months later, Anne and her family suddenly disappeared, leaving behind notes saying that they had gone to Switzerland, which was a neutral country during World War II. Otto Frank's brother actually did escape from occupied France to Switzerland, but Otto Frank wanted to remain in Amsterdam because he had a thriving business there.

Many other Jewish families in Amsterdam also went into hiding, trusting that their Dutch neighbors and business associates would not betray their hiding places to the police. Approximately 25,000 Dutch Jews hid during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands which began after the Germans defeated the Dutch in May 1940 in the early part of World War II.

Those unfortunate Dutch Jews who did not go into hiding were sent to the transit camp at Westerbork, from where they were then transported by train to Auschwitz, the infamous killing center, located in what is now Poland, where millions of Jews perished in the gas chambers. Many of the 160,000 Jews in the Netherlands were refugees, like the Franks and their friends in the annex, who had escaped from Germany after Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933. Westerbork was originally a refugee camp for German Jews who were regarded as illegal immigrants in the Netherlands after they escaped over the border from Nazi Germany before the war.

The Franks went into hiding on July 6, 1942 shortly after Anne's 13th birthday on June 12th. One week later they were joined by Hermann and Auguste van Pels, their 15-year-old son Peter and Peter's cat. Dr. Pfeffer joined them on November 16, 1942, bringing along his dentist's drill.

On August 4th, 1944, the police raided their hiding place in the annex and they were taken to the Westerbork transit camp on a passenger train, after a short stay at the Amsterdam headquarters of the Security Police. On September 3, 1944, all 8 were loaded onto a freight train and taken on the last transport of Dutch Jews to Auschwitz, where they arrived on the night of September 5th and 6th. Otto Frank was the only one of the 8 who survived. He died on August 19, 1980 in Switzerland.

Hermann van Pels was murdered in the gas chamber at Auschwitz in either September or October 1944, according to the information presented at the Anne Frank House. Anne's mother died of tuberculosis in January 1945 at Auschwitz. Anne and her sister died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen; the others all died from disease in various Nazi concentration camps to which they were transferred from Auschwitz.

Anne and her sister, Margot, were sent from Auschwitz on October 28, 1944 to the Bergen-Belsen exchange camp on a transport which, according to the International Red Cross, consisted of sick women who were expected to recover from their illness. Later, Anne and Margot both became ill with typhus and died in March 1945 during the horrendous epidemic in Bergen-Belsen. Both were buried in one of the unmarked mass graves there.

Canal boats on the Prinsengracht go past the Anne Frank House

The photograph above was taken from the street in front of the main house at 263 Prinsengracht. There is no fence or barrier separating the street from the canal, so I had to be careful not to step back too far to take a photo of the house, for fear of falling into the water. A sign near the house warns tourists to watch out for pickpockets who might steal your purse or wallet. These signs are prevalent throughout the city of Amsterdam.

Otto Frank's former factory and the annex remained empty until the late 1950ies when a group of prominent non-Jewish citizens of Amsterdam established the Anne Frank Foundation for the purpose of preserving the building, which had been slated for demolition. In 1957 the owners of the building donated it to the Foundation. By that time Otto Frank had published Anne's diary (in June 1947) and the name Anne Frank had become a household word in America after a play based on her diary opened on Broadway in 1955.

The house at 265 Prinsengracht is part of the Museum

In 1960, the house and the annex were opened to the public as a museum. On September 28, 1999, the house next door at 265 Prinsengracht was added to the museum to provide more space for exhibits. The photo above shows house #265, but there is no entry to the Museum from the outside door of this building.

Beginning in 1995, a restoration project was begun to put the front building back into its original condition so that visitors today can see what it looked like when Otto Frank operated his businesses there.

The annex where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis is open to the public on every day of the year, except on Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday which falls on a different date each year. Visiting hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. between April and August. From September to March, the house is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The entrance to the house is through a new modern building at 267 Prinsengracht, two doors up the street. In this building is a bookshop and a cafeteria that tourists can visit at the end of their tour of the exhibits.

The Anne Frank house is located only a few yards from the Westerkerk, a Protestant church with a clock tower which Anne mentioned in the following entry in her diary:

Father, Mother and Margot still can't get used to the chiming of the Westertoren clock, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. Not me, I liked it from the start; it sounds so reassuring, especially at night.

The photograph below shows the famous church tower. On the left is the modern building at 267 Prinsengracht; the windows of the cafeteria on the first floor overlook the church. The low building between the church and the cafeteria is, believe or not, a bar. That's right, a bar adjoins the most famous church in Amsterdam.

Windows of the cafeteria on the left overlook Westerkerk tower

The photo below shows the other side of the church where there is a booth for Pink Point of Presence, an organization which provides information for gays and lesbians. Amsterdam has a reputation for being the most tolerant and the most diverse city in the world.

Gay and lesbian information booth next to the Westerkerk

In front of the Westerkerk church is the Homomonument by Karin Daan. This is a memorial to approximately 10,000 homosexuals who were sent to the Nazi concentration camps; it consists of three triangles which define a larger triangle. One triangle is raised up from the ground, as shown in the photo below.

One of three pink marble triangles in front of the Westerkerk

A second triangle is level with the ground, as shown in the photo below. A third triangle is at a lower level jutting out into the adjacent canal. Homosexual prisoners were identified by a pink triangle which they had to wear on their uniform; Communists and other political prisoners had to wear a red triangle and German criminals in the concentration camps were distinguished by a green triangle.

One of three pink marble triangles in front of the Westerkerk

The words around the edge of the triangle in the photo above are from a poem by Jacob Israel de Haan: "NAAR VRIENDSCHAP ZULK EEN MATELOOS VERLANGEN." (Such a boundless longing for friendship.)

Visitors to the Anne Frank house must first purchase a ticket from the booth just inside the entrance to 267 Prinsengracht, which is shown in the photograph below. A free brochure about the exhibits inside is available at the ticket booth. Signs warn that photography is not permitted in the building, but cameras and backpacks do not have to be checked at the door. There are no X-ray machines at the entrance and purses and backpacks are not searched.

Sign at the entrance to the Anne Frank house at 267 Prinsengracht street

The entry tickets are not timed and there is no guide; visitors are allowed to stay as long as they like and view the exhibits for as long as they wish. However, the tour moves in only one direction and visitors may not go back through the exhibit rooms. There are emergency exits throughout the building which lead to stairs in the building at 265 Prinsengracht. The exhibits are not wheel-chair accessible, and there is no elevator in the Anne Frank house. Important visitors can obtain permission to enter the Museum through the building at 265 Prinsengracht, which has an elevator.

According to the brochure handed out at the entrance:

Eight hundred school groups attend one of the educational programs at the Anne Frank House each year. There are changing exhibitions mounted focusing on current issues. There is educational material compiled about Anne Frank and World War Two, but also about right-wing extremism, prejudice, discrimination, and ethnic and cultural diversity. The organization tracks political extremism at home and abroad.

A small book entitled "A History for Today, Anne Frank" which I purchased in the bookstore at the Anne Frank House explains the mission of the Anne Frank Foundation.

The following is a quote from the preface of this book, written by Hans Westra, Director of the Anne Frank House:

The goal of the Anne Frank House is to keep alive the memory of Anne Frank and the period when National Socialism was in power. This is not only a matter of human and historical interest; it also has significance for us today. For the Anne Frank House, the memory of Anne Frank is directly related to a concern for preserving freedom and maintaining human rights and a pluralistic and democratic society.




This page was last updated on March 16, 2009