AMSTERDAM — In the ADL’s broadly grim survey of global anti-Semitism — which found one in four people worldwide harbors deeply anti-Semitic attitudes — Western Europe was a relatively non-dismal area, and The Netherlands second only to Sweden as the least stained.
Looking at the two-hour line outside the Anne Frank House here last weekend, one wonders whether this exhibit, which opened 54 years ago this month, has helped foster some of those more positive Dutch attitudes.
The “secret annex” at Prinsengracht 263, which provided a hiding place for eight Jews for two years during World War II, was saved from demolition in the 1950s, and became a museum at the relentless prompting of diarist Anne’s father Otto, the only one of the hidden octet to survive the war. (The hiders were betrayed, and Anne died in Bergen-Belsen in March 1945.)
At Otto’s insistence, the house is largely unfurnished and anything but kitschy. This is not how Hollywood would have sought to stir the emotions. This way, though, there is no distraction, no escape from internalizing the desperate measures forced upon Jews seeking to survive Nazi genocide.
Annemarie Bekker, who has worked for 10 years in the museum’s communications department, says the number of annual visitors has reached 1.2 million and keeps on growing, and that 11-12% of them are Dutch. “We thought it would go down over time, but it hasn’t,” she said over coffee in the museum’s small cafeteria.
The ADL survey found that, even in relatively enlightened and tolerant Holland, a full 17% think Jews have too much power in the business world; 16% think Jews don’t care about what happens to anyone but their own kind; 11% think people hate Jews because of the way they behave.
Bekker sensibly prefers not to generalize over how Dutch people broadly relate to the Holocaust these days, or to the shifted perception of Holland’s behavior as a country that was initially seen to have been good to the Jews but later revealed to have been so well-organized as to have facilitated a strikingly high proportion of deportations and thus deaths.
She thinks Anne’s diary became the sensation it continues to be in great part, of course, because of its content, its youthful author’s mature introspection and articulateness, but also because it was the first such diary published — in 1947, “with Otto as the driving force, at a time when people had wanted to forget what had happened in World War II.” Then came the stage play, the movie, the museum, and an enduring phenomenon.
The Anne Frank House, anxious to teach a wider lesson on the dangers of extremism and intolerance, features an end-of-exhibit room in which visitors — school groups, in particular — weigh in, via voting stations, on where the balance should be drawn between personal freedoms and the need to outlaw extremism. Some of the dilemmas posed in this section of the museum are anguishing indeed.
According to the ADL survey, 20% of people in the Netherlands think Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust. This final room at the Anne Frank exhibit offers a constructive, sophisticated way forward for those who fear that, as the world seeks to move on and as the last survivors pass away, the lessons of the 1930s and 1940s will pass away with them.