The Anne Frank House in times of corona


May 20, 2020 — Garance has been the managing director of the Anne Frank House since 1 January 2012, but she will leave us shortly. These past few months, right at the end of her time with us, she has been faced with an interesting challenge.

It's been three months since our first internal corona crisis meeting. Around that time, in the middle of February, there were no cases in the Netherlands and no one had heard of social distancing, but we were well aware that this was no ordinary flu. The unthinkable happened three weeks later: on the 12th of March, at three o'clock in the afternoon, we were informed that we would not be allowed to open the next day. That had never happened in sixty years. Even during renovations, the Anne Frank House has always remained open 364 days a year, often for twelve hours a day.

With tears in our eyes we watched the last visitors leave the museum. More than 100,000 visitors had already bought tickets for the period up to 13 May; it later turned out that only one in four of the ticketholders would reclaim the purchase amount; the others indicated that they were donating the purchase amount or planned to come back within two years, often leaving heart-warming messages. We will receive them with open arms (except that hugs are not allowed anymore...).  

The next day, we turned the closure of the museum into an event by finishing the Holtkamp cake stock of the museum café with the staff, and we checked the security and climate installations. The ICT department arranged for additional VPN licenses and installed the Teams app. The weekly online Friday drinks have become a tradition and are a great opportunity to share our ups and downs.

The forced closure has hit the Anne Frank House hard. We do not receive government or municipal funding, and 90% of our visitors come from abroad. They may not be coming for a while... But there are still many Dutch people who would also like to visit the Anne Frank House; hopefully they will seize the opportunity in the coming quiet months (or years...?). The time slots that are now mandatory for all museums have been in place at the Anne Frank House for three years, so we haven’t seen any queues for a long time... Still, social distancing does mean that the museum's capacity will be limited to a fifth of the number of visitors in 2019 (1.3 million) at the most. The ticket revenues will not be sufficient to cover the operational costs by a long shot. This is because we run educational programmes in over forty countries, some of which are funded by the revenues from the museum and are therefore directly at risk, just when the need to guard against discrimination, prejudice, and antisemitism is more urgent than ever.

During a crisis, you get to know your friends - and colleagues - really well, and we are fortunate that our colleagues turn out to have true entrepreneurial spirit. A radically revised budget was available within three weeks; a reopening plan two weeks later, well ahead of the date that has since been announced by the Prime Minister: 1 June (fingers crossed...). We launched the video diary that we had been working on for months, and the countless positive reactions confirmed once again how relevant Anne Frank's history still is. A 'lockdown' is not the same as living in hiding, but in recent months, the whole world has experienced how easily freedoms and things we take for granted can be taken away from us, and the historical parallels are hard to miss.

Along came the third of May. Sixty years since the day Otto Frank opened the museum. The irony that on the very day that the Anne Frank House had been open for sixty years, the museum was closed, did not elude us. We sent customised chocolate bars to all of our colleagues to mark the occasion.

On 1 June, Whit Monday, I will be here to welcome the first visitors. As it happens, that will also be my last day on the job, as I will start as director of Plan International Netherlands the very next day. These are bizarre times to be leaving the Anne Frank House, but I know I'm leaving it in the very capable hands of all of my colleagues. The Anne Frank House has weathered many storms over the last sixty years, and we will overcome this crisis as well.

I will miss my colleagues, the bells of the Westertoren, and the buzz of the Westermarkt, which is sure to come back. All the best and thanks for eight unforgettable years!

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