Forever Young | Travel | Smithsonian
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Forever Young

The recently renovated Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where the gifted teenager hid from the Nazis, celebrates her legacy

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"Climbing steep stairs to the third floor, my daughter and I thread past a hinged bookcase and emerge into the secret annex," writes Richard Covington, describing his visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam with 10-year-old Billie. In Anne's parents' bedroom, a prayer book belonging to Edith Frank is on display, a witness to the devout Orthodox faith she tried and failed to instill in her youngest daughter. Anne's father's well-thumbed edition of Dickens' Sketches by Boz rests nearby. Faint pencil lines on the wall trace how quickly Anne and her older sister, Margot, grew over the course of their two years in hiding.

Overlooking one of the city's picturesque canals, the Anne Frank House has become a place of pilgrimage. The museum, which opened in 1960, recently completed a four-year face-lift and expansion to accommodate the still-growing crowds that line up early nearly every day for a chance to see the tiny rooms that Anne described so vividly.

The publication of Anne Frank's diary in 1947 came as a revelation, giving the world a window into a life in hiding, an ordeal few people outside Europe had any inkling of whatsoever. For many Americans, the diary was their literary introduction to the Holocaust. Of the 25 to 30 million copies in 60 languages, at least a quarter were sold in the United States. More than half of the nation's high school students have read it.

The diary's author, who died of typhus in a concentration camp just shy of her 16th birthday, portrayed in great detail—and with abundant commentary—the daily rituals of her family and of the other four residents of the cramped secret annex. More importantly, the diary revealed a talent and depth of thought surprising in a such a young girl. Even Otto Frank, Anne's adored father and the only one of the eight annex residents to survive the Holocaust, claimed that he did not know that part of his daughter.

"I still believe that people are really good at heart," Anne wrote in July of 1944. Less than a month later, someone tipped-off the Nazis and the annex residents were arrested. Anne's diary lay scattered on the floor. Miep Gies, one of the four people that had helped those in hiding, gathered up the diary in hopes of returning it to its author one day.

In the front attic, where Anne sought refuge from the prying eyes of the other residents, the faded red-plaid diary is on display alongside a telling quote from it: "To be a person, you must have flair." It could serve as Anne's epitaph.

About Richard Covington

Richard Covington is a Paris-based author who covers a wide range of cultural and historical subjects and has contributed to Smithsonian, The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, among other publications.

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