December 23, 2012
In September of this year, in the heart of my travels around Europe, I went to house of Anne Frank and her family, located in Amsterdam. The Secret Annex, their hiding place, the last home the lived in before being carted off like animals for slaughter. The exhibit was powerful and seamless: you move from the warehouse into the office into the secret and silent world we have all read about contained behind a movable bookshelf.
As I walked through the building, I felt a familiar feeling: it was as though I was sliding down a very slippery slide and my feet, no matter how hard I tired, just weren’t gaining any traction. The entire production was so smooth – too smooth – look at this photograph, now read this letter and watch this video, then move to the next room, and so on. With the volume of people shuffling through the birthplace of arguably the most popular non-religious story in the world, this sort of efficiency goes without criticism – to be anything but would be impossible. It is an important story to tell.
Getting pushed along the cattle run, I finally bump against something that commands me to stop. I physically could not go farther without taking the time to stop. And let the tears come. It was in Anne’s bedroom, a small chamber she shared with Fritz Pfeffer (an old guy, mind you). The following was penned on the room’s only window, blackened with a cover so that no sunlight shown in:
“I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I am free.”
The quote was dated 24 December 1943. Now, the Frank family was Jewish, obviously, so this was not in relation to the holiday on the following day. But, in its proximity to Chanukah and in the heart of the overall sentiment of this holiday season we go through collectively at the end of every calendar year, I think we can all recognize within ourselves, perhaps a much younger self, the excitement and joy not only experienced but also expected and anticipated during our childhood Decembers; it is supposed to be a magical time.
Anne writes, “I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I am free.” In context, it is heartbreaking: for over two years they were prisoners in that place, only to be shipped off to their deaths. And the entire time, all Anne, a child, wanted to feel was what any child wanted to feel: to feel young, playful, hopeful, free. The content of her writing stopped me, stopped my heart. But it was the date that brought me to tears. Tis the season, indeed.