Tom Brink, head of the Publications and Presentations department, has his say

More contextual information

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On the “Westermarkt side” of the building the men and women of the Salverda Bouw construction company are currently working on new offices, so that space will be freed up elsewhere in the building for features including a new entrance, meeting rooms and a beautiful new room for Anne’s diaries. Meanwhile the permanent exhibitions in the front part of the building and the Secret Annex have been adapted to the new museum concept.

More context

There are two significant changes: we have chosen to give more contextual information on the Second World War and the Holocaust and to make the building more “legible” to the visitors. That may sound like simple common sense, but it is a crucial difference in comparison with the old situation. The “old” concept was based on the principle that the visitors would more or less lose their way in the front and rear parts of the building. Orientation was difficult. In the new concept we want visitors to know in every room where they are in relation to the hiding place in the Secret Annex. That makes it much clearer how thin the line was between legality and illegality; between life and death.

To give just one example: Anne wrote in her diary that the people in hiding had to remain silent during the daytime and couldn’t use the toilet during office hours. That was because the hiding place was immediately above the warehouse of the business premises, and the warehouse workers were not aware that people were hiding in the building. Voices, creaking floorboards or the sound of running water could betray them. In the new layout this aspect is reflected in both the warehouse in the front part of the building and the bathroom of the Secret Annex.

View

We have also chosen to make a direct connection with “the outside world” by restoring the view of the Prinsengracht canal from the front section of the building. The screens have been removed from the windows and the daylight now streams into the front office and the front storeroom, just as it did during the period in hiding. This creates the effect of a light, lively front building in direct contact with the city and the dangers that threatened there, in contrast with the shadowy, muted Secret Annex.

Audio tour

In the museum we tell stories with the use of eyewitness accounts, letters, documents and Anne’s diary. We are also offering an audio tour for the first time, with “micro” stories of the people in hiding and their helpers forming a window on the “macro” history of the Holocaust. Stories about the Jewish Lyceum for example, which Menno Metselaar wrote about earlier, the “dots map” showing the locations of Jewish households in Amsterdam, the introduction of the yellow Star of David and the final days of the time spent in hiding.

Empty

In the Secret Annex itself we have changed very little: it is still empty, in keeping with Otto Frank’s explicit wish. During the war, the houses of deported Jews were stripped of their contents, which were sent to Germany. The furniture, carpets and other items from the Secret Annex also disappeared in this way. When Otto Frank saw the Secret Annex again after the war, he wanted it to remain empty.

Plan

Now it’s just a matter of waiting until the major renewal work is completed. Only then will our beautiful new diary room be ready, and we can start on the second phase of renewing the permanent exhibitions. If everything goes according to plan that will be around this time next year.

 

Tom Brink, June 2017