Anne Frank and Corrie Tenboom houses
While in the Netherlands we decided to stop at two different houses where Jews were hidden during World War II. One of these houses was the "secret annex" of the now famous Anne Frank, while the other house was where a Christian woman named Corrie Tenboom hid Jews, as related in the book "The Hiding Place".
After the Germans occupied the Netherlands (and the rest of Europe for that matter) Jews were severely persecuted while non-Jews mostly looked on. Most people minded their own business and simply let the Jews be carted away by truck and rail, and a few people even helped the Nazis locate hiding Jews. There were a very small number of people, though, who helped to hide Jews.
The risks in hiding Jews were enormous. If you were detected you would be arrested and possibly found to be an enemy of the state. At the least this meant prison, but it often led to death.
The Tenboom house can be found in the the Netherlands in the town of Gouda, where the world famouse Gouda cheese is made. On certain days of the week an open air market can be found in the town square. Anything from cloth, to Dutch foods, to rare buttons can be found at this market.
First of all, I need to point out that the Netherlands is the most densely populated country in Europe. The majority of the buildings were built in the late 1600's and early 1700's during the Dutch "golden age" when the Dutch colonized different third world countries. This has resulted in Dutch architecture that is both old and in high demand due to limited supply.
The Tenbooms were a family of watchmakers. They owned a building with a small watch shop on the ground floor and lived in the floors above it. This is pretty typical in the Netherlands in general.
When the Tenbooms realized that the Jews were being taken away to be killed, they had a hiding place built into the house. Because they knew that the Germans may search the house if anything suspicious happened, they wanted to make sure that the dimensions of the house were consisitant. For instance, if a hiding place was built into a wall in an upstairs room, the total visible space of the floor would be reduced. A 600 square foot floor might be reduced to 560 square feet, for instance. Because of this, when the Tenbooms had a hiding place built into an upstairs floor with a false wall, they also had a false wall built into the downstairs floor so that the total square feet would be the same on each.
The Tenbooms and the Jews who hid in their house ran drills to reduce the amount of time it would take to make it to their hiding place. They also worked out a system where a signal was placed in the window if there were Germans inside.
Sure enough, after a while the Germans grew suspicious of the Tenboom home, and searched it. When they stormed the house the Jews who were in the upstairs rooms had only seconds to make it into the special hiding place. Luckily they made it without detection. However, when the watchmaking father of the home, Mr. Tenboom, put the signal in the window the Germans grew suspicious. They forcibly removed the signal, and waited to see what would happen. One by one unsuspecting Jews and accomplices of the hiding arrived throughout the day. Each was arrested and taken away.
The Germans searched the house meticulously, knowing that there were probably Jews hidden somewhere inside. When they were thwarted by the ingenious architecture of the matching floor square footage, they remained in the house and guarded it for days. All of the Tenbooms were taken prisoner, and I believe that they all died in custody except for Corey Tenboom who lived to write the book.
The Jews who were hiding in the secret room had no water, food, or means of eliminating wastes. When they could hide no longer, they snuck out of the hiding place and escaped through an upstairs window, somehow making it to the street below.
The tour was not crowded, free of charge, and one of the more interesting experiences of my Europe trip. Very little of the furniture in the house was original to the Tenbooms of the 1940's, as the Germans confiscated everything after the arrests ere made. However, the Tenboom museum has attempted to use furniture of the period which was similar to the original furniture to help the overall experience of the tourist.
Pictures were allowed to be taken in moderation. As the guide put it, "you can take pictures, but not so many that the people you show them to would not want to come to the museum". After a tourist in our group had taken about 7 pictures or so, the guide asked her if she could please stop.
This entire story was told to us by a guide who spoke very good english. She was very energetic and well spoken, but I must point out that she did have an agenda. Apparently the Tenbooms were Christian Zionists (a rather rare mix of views, I believe). They believed that the Jews of the world should have a state in which to live, and only after such a state was formed and populated by most of the Jews of the world would Christ return.
As a guide of the Tenboom house this woman was required to advance the views of the Tenbooms (though I suspect she believed in the message herself). She told us that we should tell any Jews we knew that it was their God-given duty to live in Israel. Since many Jews in Israel also believe this (just look at the political problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians) I suspect that telling Jews in other places such as the United States would have a relatively warm reception. Much warmer than if a white American were to tell an African American that they should be living in Africa, for instance.
This Zionist message was only a small percentage of the overall presentation, so don't let it stop you from seeing this landmark. I simply bring it up so that all of my experiences are presented.
Anne Frank House-
Because it is such a famous story, I will not go into much detail into the story of Anne Frank. Sufficed to say she was a young Jewish girl in her early teenage years who was forced to go into hiding with her family to escape the Germans. After several years of continuous hiding, their secret was given away by a Dutch neighbor. Except for the father, Mr. Frank, the entire family died in concentration camps soon before the Allies liberated them.
Anne Frank's story was not exceptional. Thousands of Jews went into hiding during the war, and many were discovered. What makes Anne Frank famous, however, is that her diary written during the hiding survived the war and has been made into an international best selling book.
After an hour and a half wait in drizzling rain in a line that stretched along the streets of Amsterdam, we were finally allowed into the Anne Frank house. The line did not end at the door of the house, however. A continuous line of people marched through the hallways of the house, and we were forced to move at the speed of traffic. Had we wanted to move along faster past a boring area, or stay longer at a more interesting one, it would have been difficult to impossible.
Inside of the museum there was only original furniture. If a chair or wallpaper was in the museum, it belonged to the Franks during the hiding. However, since the house had been looted by the Nazis after the Franks were discovered and taken prisoner, the museum was unusually sparse. Except for the magazine clippings stuck to the walls by Anne to help give color to the rooms, there was very little to see.
In the middle of a few rooms were models of the room with dollhouse furniture inside. These were put together by the surviving Mr. Frank and were recreated by his memory of what the house was once like.
Finally, in several rooms there were overhead televisions wich continuously played a VHS videocassette tape of a documentary about Anne Frank that I had seen previously on PBS (A U.S. public television channel). Other than the harried woman behind the ticket counter who took our money to get into the museum, this was our only guide.
Finally, no pictures were allowed in the museum. Whether this was to encourage the purchase of post cards at the end of the "tour" or to prevent people who had not been inside before from finding out how dismal the whole thing was, I don't know.
As you can tell from my tone, I do not recommend the Anne Frank house as a site to see when in Amsterdam. Unless you desire to simply be in the house that Anne Frank hid in, and will be content to know that you are walking where she walked, you will find it a waste of time and money, and emminently dissapointing.