Much more in Europe than the United States – at least in Belgium and Holland, my current points of reference – evidence of the World War II peppers nearly every type of structure, from commemorative etchings on canal walls to official monuments and museums. A little over eleven miles apart stand two buildings turned into museums. These buildings and their exhibits - the Anne Frank House (located in Amsterdam) and the Corrie Ten Boom House (located in Harleem, a city just outside of Amsterdam) – declare the stories of two different people who came to symbolize “hidden” Jews during World War II. These two stories, both juxtaposing tragedy and heroism, leave a profound impact on visitors. The Frank and Ten Boom dramas bear many similarities, but after touring the two museums back-to-back on a sunny Tuesday in May, it is their differences in overall goal and mission, and the effect that these have on various aspects of the museum and its take-home message, that have left me in deepest reflection.
SIMILARITIES: Not only did the events recounted in each museum unfold a relatively short distance from one another, they were occurring simultaneously much of the time over the course of about two years. Both involved active resistance against the Nazi Regime, specifically hiding and helping Jews. The Ten Boom’s betrayal and arrest occurred on February 29, 1944 while August 4 of that same year marks the Frank’s betrayal and arrest. In the end, only one member from each protagonist’s family survives the unspeakable evils of Nazi concentration camps, destined to tell their stories.
DIFFERENCES: The Franks were Jewish. Thus, their only hope of survival once the Nazi’s arrived in Holland was to go into hiding, dependent on the aid of others who did so at great risk to themselves. On the other hand, the Nazi Regime had no interest in the Ten Booms, Dutch Christians, as long as they did not resist. However, instead of taking the safe route, the Ten Booms inserted themselves into the line of fire in order that others – specifically Jews and those in the Dutch underground resistance movement – might escape to safety. At the end of the ordeal, only one of the eight Jews hidden in the Frank house survived the betrayal, arrest, and subsequent imprisonment. In contrast, although Corrie was the only Ten Boom family member to survive the betrayal, arrest, and subsequent imprisonment, it is estimated that more than 800 people gained passage, through the Ten Boom hiding place, out of the Nazi’s grasp.
The Anne Frank House Museum came into being through the efforts of Otto Frank, Anne’s father and only survivor of the hidden eight. Otto’s driving motivations are purposefully and meaningfully expressed throughout the tour: to tell their story; to honor those with whom he hid and the friends that aided them during hiding; to see his daughter’s dreams as a writer fulfilled; and to challenge the culture, specifically by promoting an attitude of tolerance so that something like the Holocaust never happens again. The somber, self-guided tour through Otto’s “front” jelly business and then into the “back” hidden annex, is well worth the little-more than $12 entry fee. But please, no pictures once inside the professional-quality museum with its artifacts preserved behind glass. Everyone moves quietly and respectfully through the somber space, reading plaques and watching an occasion video clip of first-hand accounts. One of the saddest moments for me came just before exiting the tour. Here participants watch a less-than two-minute video of Otto’s reflections of Anne’s diaries. Despite having a self-proclaimed good relationship with his daughter, upon reading Anne’s diaries, Otto comes to the conclusion that, “…most parents, really, don’t know their children.” And with that, the tour ends. All I can taste is profound loss, sorrow, and tragedy.
I do not remember whose heart dream it was to turn the Hiding Place, aka the home behind the Ten Boom Watch Shop into a museum. Yes, like the Frank Museum, there are memorable photographs and documents preserved behind glass. But, pull out your camera during this free tour guided by a volunteer who clearly shares the heart and vision that compelled the Ten Boom family to take their place on the front lines. Some of the furnishings are original. Go ahead, run your fingers along the piano or the pages of Papa’s Bible opened to Psalm 91, his favorite. In Corrie’s room, don’t just gaze into cut-out in the wall that reveals the 30” deep hiding place, get on your hands and knees and crawl through the secret passage at the base of the linen closet, and then shut the trap door. Shhhh quietly though, you don’t want to give yourself up. Oh, and don’t knock over the potty pot in the corner like the last six visitors who sat, cramped, in the stale air with a small can of biscuits and no water for forty-seven hours after the Ten Booms were arrested for hiding them. Listen as your guide recounts the story of Betsie’s exhortation to Corrie to “…not hate but forgive.” Then, imagine Corrie walking from Ravensbruck into freedom because of a “clerical error.” Finally, be in awe of Corrie’s determined forgiveness as she spends the next thirty-three years of her life proclaiming the love of God, the victory of Jesus, and the real hope that, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Leave The Hiding Place with the lingering taste of hope, amazing love, and proof that, in God, tragedy is transformed into beauty.
Two stories birthed from the same horror of World War II…both of them worthy to be and needing to be told. Two stories relaying the struggle to preserve life…one desperate for self-preservation; the other denying self to preserve the life of others. Two stories seeking to make someone known…one, a teenage girl – with hopes and dreams and a promising future – tragically robbed of life; the other, an infinite God who takes broken pieces – whether shattered by others or our own doing – and weaves a beautiful tapestry with them. Two stories hoping to affect personal and social change…one by challenging fellow human beings to be tolerant of the differences of others; the other by offering an encounter with the God who more than tolerates our differences. He loves us unconditionally, “differences” and all.