I had been talking to Tippy, Katherine and Tori about this trip for a couple of years. Our excitement and anticipation grew as we planned details. One highlight on my agenda was the Anne Frank House. Anne was someone whose life I wanted to speak into theirs. Two of them had read her diary earlier in their teens, and, like many teenagers they had read the heartrending romance by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. in which the Anne Frank House plays a significant part.
On a weekend in early August, in preparation for the trip, we watched two movies together. One of them was a DVD of the 2009 BBC mini series, The Diary of Anne Frank, with British actress Tamsin Greig playing Anne. It was incredibly well done and moving, capturing Anne with honesty, as a human being that they could relate to.
I couldn't get tickets online for the dates we'd be there, however I found that you could also skip the lineups if you booked a visit as part of a larger trip, so I booked us in for a five hour tour. I had no idea how interesting the whole day would turn out to be!
We started at 1.30 with a tour of the Gasson Diamonds Factory. In 1945, at the end of WW11, it was founded by Samuel Gasson, who had escaped deportation by the Nazi's by fleeing to Switzerland earlier in the war. He had worked at the company when it was owned by another Jewish family. Diamonds that he had smuggled out of the country in his shoes, enabled him to found the factory anew at the end of the war. Those who remained in Amsterdam faced the relentless call ups to report at Amsterdam's Central Station. Most were never heard from again. Every time an employee was deported, their name, and the date they were taken was engraved on the windows with a diamond. Seeing those names, over 70 years later, bearing silent testimony to real people who lived and died, during a time of terror, was poignant.
The Nazis seized ownership of the factory from the original owners, who were sent to concentration camps, where they died.
The rest of the factory tour was fascinating, with opportunities to learn a lot about diamond cutting, as well as the fact that the only diamonds in Rolex watches are Gasson diamonds!
Next, we walked to an old and beautiful Portuguese Jewish synagogue. Our guide told us the history of the Jewish community in Amsterdam and we learned that antisemitism is still rife and growing, resulting constant police presence to ensure safety. To get in, we entered through two sets of double doors. The second doors were not opened until we had all entered the space between them and the first doors had been closed behind us. There was so much history, so much to see and read, but the time available seemed all too short to fully take in the wealth of Jewish history on display.
A tour bus was waiting to take us to the Anne Frank House. As we drove towards the building where Otto Frank, Anne's father had his business office and in which the secret annex was housed, the lineup did indeed stretch for what looked like miles.
We looked up and saw the beautiful Westerkerk, the church that Anne could see from the annex window.
To actually walk quietly through the doorway that was hidden by a bookcase, and up the narrow stairs to the hiding place, and wander through the rooms that remain exactly as they were left, felt like walking on holy ground. The postcards and photos of movie stars are still on the walls, where Anne pasted them. It was incredible to see the place in which the domestic drama described in Anne's diary took place. Of the eight people who hid there for just over two years until they were betrayed, only Otto Frank survived the war.
Anne's young voice survived in her diary, though, and we hear it, so full of life, hopes and dreams.
While Paul and the girls waited, I had one more thing to do. I joined the line of people waiting to sign the guest book. It felt important to record the fact that we had been here, evidence that this place mattered to us.
Ahead of me signing the book was a girl of about 13. She wrote and wrote and seemed to be pouring out her heart on its pages, oblivious to the line of people waiting behind her. No one murmured, or stirred impatiently. There was a feeling of respect, as though each person's moment here was their own, and not to be rushed. When she put down the pen, I stepped to the book and recorded our names and reason for coming all the way from Canada to be there, "So that our grandchildren would know that all human life has value." It wasn't profound, and didn't begin to capture the deep emotion in my heart as I wrote it, but our names were in the book!
I put down the pen and turned to join the three girls, so full of life, waiting for me with their grandfather. We stepped out into the sunshine of the Amsterdam evening, and a world in which they will live much longer than we. On that evening it felt like we had done something important to prepare them.