Step. Wait. Step. Wait.
Each footstep is careful, deliberate. I roll my foot down slowly, so the floor won’t creak. No noise. Not a sound.
The people around me crowd the small space, flowing like a river through the hiding place of Anne Frank. It’s quiet and reflective, though not as somber as I had anticipated.
There’s no furniture, replicas or display cases on the ground. But there are pictures on the walls — portraits of the Franks, van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer, and pictures of what each room looked like before everything was thrown out.
And there are still cut-out pages plastered on the walls — magazine articles and personal photos that Anne put up in an effort to make the annex feel more like home. For a moment, I wonder how they’ve lasted this long. Then I remember that it’s only been 56 years since the Franks went into hiding. The glue is barely older than my parents.
The pictured furniture looks modern, like a normal house. And I catch a thought as it zips through my head.
“It wouldn’t be so bad to live here.”
It’s more crowded now than it was back then. The rooms are well-kept and quaint. Then I’m hit with a wall of guilt. No. No it wouldn’t be nice to live here, to have to stay still during the day, not talking, not even breathing too loudly. For years.
I stand there, trying not to step too heavily, to not let the old wooden floor creak.
Now, all that would happen is a noise. It would fade out quickly and no one would even notice it. But back then, not even a full lifetime ago, the moment after the creak of the wood would have been filled with panic. Sheer, blinding, overpowering fear.
That footfall could undo everything. Every precisely thought-out regulation, every day of absolute silence. Everything.
We walk through this house, if we’re lucky enough to be here in person. Or we read Anne’s diary, or anything about war and life in the past. And we think we’re so much better. We could do it. We could survive like the Franks. Or maybe it’s just me.
But once that cloak of guilt settles over me, I see the room through a new lens. The walls seem closer. The room is not even the size of my bedroom in Oxford, and it served as a kitchen and bedroom for two people.
There were three families living in this tiny space. They couldn’t run water during the day. They couldn’t go outside. So it makes Anne’s optimism for her situation, and for humanity as a whole, that much more admirable. We can read her diary and think “what an amazing girl,” but when you see where she wrote it, it’s on another level. Even after years in this dim and dingy annex, she was still whole.
And I know I couldn’t do it. I would break.
I take another step, finally reaching the exit of the Franks’ hiding place and home. When my foot falls, the wood creaks.