King vis­its re­vamped Anne Frank mu­seum

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - NATION/WORLD - BY MIKE CORDER

AM­S­TER­DAM — Dutch King Willem-Alexan­der visited the Anne Frank House mu­seum Thurs­day af­ter a two-year re­boot to give the build­ing a new en­trance hall, re­designed ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces and a new way of telling the story of the teenage Jewish di­arist.

The aim of re­new­ing the land­mark mu­seum was to “pro­vide more in­for­ma­tion about the his­tor­i­cal con­text and back­ground of the story we rep­re­sent, which is the story of Anne Frank,” ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ron­ald Leopold said Wed­nes­day night at a press pre­view of the re­newed mu­seum.

What hasn’t changed is the mu­seum’s mov­ing cen­ter­piece: the Spar­tan se­cret an­nex, reached via a door con­cealed be­hind a book­case, where Anne wrote her world­fa­mous di­ary as she, her fam­ily and four other Jews hid for two years from Nazis dur­ing World War II un­til they were ar­rested and de­ported to con­cen­tra­tion camps.

“Of course we did not change the hid­ing place it­self — the an­nex — which is the most authen­tic place where Anne Frank was in hid­ing and where she wrote the di­ary,” Leopold said.

The mu­seum be­lieves that telling Anne’s story re­mains rel­e­vant more than 60 years af­ter she and her sis­ter both per­ished in the Ber­gen-Belsen con­cen­tra­tion camp af­ter con­tract­ing ty­phus.

On Wed­nes­day, the head of the Euro­pean Jewish Con­gress, Moshe Kan­tor, warned at a con­fer­ence in Vi­enna that “Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Europe are in­creas­ingly con­cerned about their se­cu­rity and pes­simistic about their fu­ture.”

Leopold said the mu­seum, which re­ceives 1.2 mil­lion vis­i­tors an­nu­ally, has an im­por­tant role to play in com­bat­ting anti-Semitism.

“We run a mu­seum and we know how pow­er­ful the in­flu­ence of this mu­seum is,” he said. “A visit . . . re­ally has a huge im­pact on young peo­ple and en­cour­ages them to fight dis­crim­i­na­tion, anti-Semitism, racism in their own com­mu­ni­ties.”

The mu­seum got a new en­trance and changes to rooms in­clud­ing the dark­ened space that dis­plays the iconic books that made up Anne’s di­ary, which was pub­lished by her fa­ther af­ter the war and went on to be­come a sym­bol of hope and re­silience. The di­ary has been trans­lated into more than 70 lan­guages.

The build­ing hous­ing the se­cret an­nex was turned into a mu­seum in 1960. The mu­seum, which re­mained open through­out the ren­o­va­tions, also has re­vamped the way it tells the story of the Frank fam­ily and by ex­ten­sion the Nazi per­se­cu­tion of Jews.

“What we tried to do is . . . use the fam­ily his­tory as kind of a win­dow onto a larger his­tory,” said Tom Brink, the mu­seum’s head of pub­li­ca­tions and pre­sen­ta­tions.

He said the larger his­tory in­cludes the Nazi-oc­cu­pied Dutch cap­i­tal dur­ing the war “and, of course, Euro­pean his­tory be­cause all Europe was af­fected by the Nazi rule.”

As well as the phys­i­cal changes, the mu­seum now has an au­dio tour which pieces to­gether nar­rated frag­ments from the di­ary, fam­ily sto­ries and his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive. That al­lowed cu­ra­tors to keep phys­i­cal ex­hibits sparse while still ex­plain­ing the Franks’ story and putting it in his­tor­i­cal con­text.

A room that served as the of­fice for Anne’s fa­ther’s com­pany has just a few pho­tos on the wall. One shows a group of Jewish men in Am­s­ter­dam kneel­ing, their hands on their heads, watched over by a Nazi sol­dier car­ry­ing a ri­fle.

On an­other wall is a map drawn up by Am­s­ter­dam civil ser­vants for the city’s Nazi oc­cu­piers with black dots rep­re­sent­ing the places where Jews lived.

“We wanted to pre­serve the char­ac­ter of the house, which is very much its empti­ness,” said Leopold. “I think its empti­ness is prob­a­bly the most pow­er­ful fea­ture of the Anne Frank House.”


ABOVE: Dutch King Willem-Alexan­der waves to well-wish­ers when leav­ing the ren­o­vated Anne Frank House Mu­seum, rear, in Am­s­ter­dam, Nether­lands, Thurs­day. LEFT: The mu­seum is built around the se­cret an­nex with blacked-out win­dows hid­den in the Am­s­ter­dam house.

King WillemAlexan­der

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