The people were solemn as they walked through the empty rooms. They spoke in the hushed tones reserved for churches. My companion and I stood silently, looking at the photograph of a dark-haired teen-age girl. Had she lived, she would have been about my age now. And like me, she might have been a writer. For that is what Anne Frank had wanted to be.
Although Amsterdam is a modern and upbeat city, it still seeks to preserve its past, with restored 17th-century gabled office buildings and more than 40 museums. Most of these preserve Holland's art and culture. One seeks to remind us of at tragic part of modern history.
The Anne Frank House at 263 prinsengracht is not a museum in the conventional sense; it is a memorial to eight people who hid here from the Nazis for two years during World War II. Nor is it a house, really. Their hiding place was the back section of canal bank building where Anne's father, Otto Frank, had operated a spice import business. (Many canal bank structures are long and narrow, with a front section overlooking the canal and an achterhuis - backhouse - fronting on a courtyard or street.)
From the outside, the Anne Frank House looks like hundreds of other structures that line Amsterdam's 70 miles of canals. We climbed a steep stairway to the second floor, paid a fee of about $1.50, and entered the front part of the structure, where Otto's office had been. On the walls are plaques tracing the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and the persecution of the news during World War II.
From the front section we stepped into the achterhuis where the group had hidden until they were discovered. The Nazis had removed all the furniture and possessions, and the rooms remain empty today, except for a kitchen stove. The emptiness only added to the cathedral silence that prevailed there.
We moved quietly through the room, pausing to study odd bits of paper that Anne had pasted on the walls 30 years before - a news clipping of some happy event, fashion sketches, a film magazine photo of Ray Milland.
We emerged into the front part again, this time on the third floor, which features an exhibit of Anne Frank memorabilia. Here are smiling photographs of Anne and her family, personal mementos, and copies of her diary, which has been translated into nearly 50 languages.
Anne was a happy, outgoing girl growing up in Frankfurt, Germany, when Hitler rose to power. The family moved to Armsterdam in 1933 to escape persecution, and her father became manager of a succesfull import business. Then, in 1940, the Germans stormed into Holland and occupied Armsterdam.
Anne received a cloth-bound diary for her 13th birthday on June 12, 1942. She began writing in it every few days, addressing her entries to an imaginary friend: "Dear Kitty." Less than a month later, on July 9, the Franks and another family fled to the hidden annex to escape deportation to a Nazi concentration camp. In the group were Anne and her parents, her older sister, Margot, Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, and their teen-age son Peter. Albert Jan Dussel, a dentist, joined them later.
Anne continued keeping the diary, writing long, perceptive entries about the tension and monotony of hiding. Much of the diary was a probing analysis of herself. It revealed a complex sensitive and extremely perceptive young girl, who called herself a "little bundle of contradictions."
"My light superficial side will always be too quick for the deeper side of me," she wrote, "and that's why it will always win."
The group stayed hidden for two years and a month. Despite the constant anxiety and fear of discovery, Anne managed to keep a youthful optimism. One of her last etries reas: "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."
On Aug. 4. 1944, Gestapo fist pounded on the outer doorway. Someone had betrayed them to collect a bounty of about $1.50 per person. The group was first shipped to a concentration camp at Westerbork, Holland, and then to the dreaded Auschwitz. Anne and some other later were sent to Belsen, and Anne's death in March, 1945, came just weeks before the camp was liberated.
Otto Frank was the only survivor of the group. He returned to the warehouse at 263 Prinsengracht; where he found Anne's diary in a pile of rubble after the Gestapo had cleared out the annex.
He first had it published as a memorial to his daughter as "Het Achterhuis." It quickly captured the emotions of Europe and was published throughout the world. The English edition was printed in 1952 as "Anne Frank the Diary of a Young Girl." An American stage adaptation, "The Diary of Anne Frank," won the Pulitzer Prize and Antoinette Perry and Critics' Circle awards in the 1950s. It became a movie in 1959 and was produced for television in 1957.
I stood in one of the silent, empty rooms at 263 Prinsengracht. Outside, I could hear the Westertoren Church carillion that had cheered Anne as she wrote in her diary. And I recalled the words of biographer Ernst Schnabel in his book about Anne's life:
"Her voice was preserved out of the millions that were silenced, this voice no louder than a child's whisper . . . It has outlasted the shouts of the murdered and has soared above the voices of time."
The recent telecast of "Holocaust," with its reminder of the extreme consequences of bigotry, may increase the number of tourists who will visit an unconventional museum in Armsterdam this year.