According to Wikipedia, the word pilgrimage is defined as “a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.” Most visitors to Amsterdam have this place listed on their “must do” experiences. So, how does a visit to this spot classify as a pilgrimage and not just a visit to a tourist destination?
On our first visit as a young couple with a tiny baby, we were eager to see Anne’s hiding place, we were curious to learn more about the family’s existence, see the church whose bells she heard ringing, look through her window and see the chestnut tree that satisfied Anne’s longing to be outdoors. As we walked up the stairs and saw the swiveling bookcase behind which the family hid, it felt like Anne was taking us on a personal tour of her home. Every page of her vivid prose appeared to come to life with the artifacts on display ably supporting that journey. We entered the home with the lens of a tourist, a couple who wanted to be able to go back home and talk about having actually stood the ground that Anne lived in. But as we neared the end, we set eyes on her diary, a personal journey now magnified by its presence in so many languages. Was it foresight or sheer coincidence that Anne had opined, “I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”
We were numbed. None of us said a word. We had made plans for the afternoon but they were abandoned as we somberly made our way back to our hotel asking ourselves….Why? Could it have been different? Why not? Why did mankind have to do this to their brethren? We termed the visit a pilgrimage, it made us ponder, it made us question, it made us reflect.
Every visit to Amsterdam featured a stop here and on our last one, we were accompanied by our daughters, the older one now the same age as Anne when she wrote her diary. Each of our kids had read the diary, discussed it in class both individually and more broadly as part of discussions on the holocaust. They too had reactions not too dissimilar to ours. But here’s what was different. We could now relate to what Otto Frank felt when he decided to protect his family. We thought about our girls enduring something like this. We imagined the arguments we had over little things and the door banging accompanying it and yet here were girls in the prime of their hormonal changes living in cramped space unable to express freely. At times, it felt like the book had been a tale, but everything in front of us was a living witness to the reality that had taken place here. A family had loved, laughed, faced adversity and met their end in the worst possible way…a tragedy created by man.
This time as we walked out, there was more disbelief and sadness expressed. And a lot more questioning of the events in history. Questions that sought to seek meaning and bring closure. There are so many books written on Anne Frank’s life, her family’s journey, the direct and indirect meanings of her words. And just like us, we believe that for many, this exploration has been a pilgrimage.
To learn more about Anne Frank’s house, please visit their excellent website at: