"The restoration of the house is now in full progress and we hope that the Secret Annexe will be open for visitors this summer. (…) The spiritual value of the house is very great. Thousands of people from all over the world have visited it the last years, many bringing flowers. And to be in the rooms where everything Anne wrote about had happened made an unforgettable impression on them. But more must be achieved. It is not enough that people are moved and come to think about all the terrible events. We must do more."
Excerpt from a speech given by Otto Frank in New York, 24 March 1959.
When Anne Frank House opened to the public in 1960, the building's purpose had not yet been decided. Was it to be a memorial? A museum? Or a monument to commemorate the victims of what would later come to be known as the Holocaust?
In the early days, visiting the Annexe meant ringing the doorbell and clambering up a narrow staircase before making one’s way through the movable bookcase to the bare spaces behind it. Tours were provided by young people, mostly students who worked at the Annexe part-time. In the first year it opened, a total of 9,000 visitors climbed the stairs to visit the Secret Annexe at Prinsengracht 263.
Otto Frank’s vision for Anne Frank House was to turn it into an international youth centre. It would be a place for dialogue, where young people could gather; a place serving as a warning from the past, but focused on the future. His vision was sustained by the many letters he received from young people who had read his daughter’s diary, seen the play or the film from 1959 chronicling the family's time in hiding. Although Otto Frank moved to Basel in 1952, he continued his close involvement with the all the activities surrounding Anne Frank House.
Finally, Otto Frank’s dream came true when the International Youth Centre at Anne Frank House opened on 3 May 1961. Directing the centre fell to a friend of Otto's, the educator and psychologist Henri Van Praag, who enthusiastically took up the task.
Conference on Pentecost weekend, 1969, Anne Frank House. From left to right: Fritzi Frank-Markovits, Cor Suijk, Otto Frank and Henri Van Praag.
In the meantime, the neighbouring building at Prinsengracht 265 was expanded to provide extra space for meetings, group visits and special exhibitions. This paved the way for Anne Frank House to begin hosting its international youth conferences, starting in 1963. Now young people from around the world gather here every summer to participate in meetings and debates. They stay in the adjacent dormitories, which the University of Amsterdam students are contractually obliged to give up for two months during the summer.
Summer conference, July 1968 Otto Frank pictured left with a group of young people.
In addition to hosting youth conferences, Anne Frank House also began offering lectures and courses. This resulted in a regular series of study meetings led by Rabi Yehuda Ashkenazi that created a dialogue between Judaism and Christianity. The meetings attracted priests, ministers, rabbis and members of the public alike.
It was at this time that Anne Frank House also began hosting cultural evenings showcasing literature, poetry and classical music, which where primarily held downstairs at Prinsengracht 265. Those who performed at these musical evenings were usually students from the Conservatory of Music in Amsterdam.
In the latter half of the 1960s, the spirit of social change also began to make its presence felt at Anne Frank House. The organisation felt that contemporary society could learn from the horrors of the Second World War. Through photo exhibitions and other means, Anne Frank House addressed issues such as the war in Vietnam and apartheid in South Africa.
This dummy, representing President Vorster of South Africa, was included in the “Nazism in South Africa” exhibit in 1972.