This summer, I traveled to Amsterdam and visited the Anne Frank House. I knew visiting the attic where Anne Frank hid would be both painful and meaningful. I expected the experience to help me better understand the past trauma that shapes my own family’s Jewish experience. I was not, however, prepared to witness modern antisemitism.
The minute I stepped into the museum, I felt uneasy. Everyone working there seemed a bit too upbeat for a Holocaust museum. When I started the guided tour, my fears were confirmed. The tour takes visitors through the building, including the actual hiding place where Anne Frank lived for over two years. The tour highlighted some of the daily hardships of the people in hiding and explained how Dutch citizens helped to hide them The tour refrained from sharing the more brutal aspects of the Holocaust in the Netherlands.
Even more troubling was the lack of discussion about the Netherlands’ own antisemitism. The museum was quick to highlight the brave Dutch citizens, Jewish and not, who resisted the Nazi regime; it did not, however, contrast them with the people who ignored the plight of the Jews, even when those Jews were their neighbors. The museum did not hold the Dutch accountable for their own actions, even though the kingdom had the highest death rate among Jews anywhere in Nazi-occupied Western Europe.
I was also disturbed by how bored and apathetic the other teenage visitors seemed. It was as if they were there out of an obligation. To them, the Anne Frank House was just another tourist attraction to pose in front of and check off their bucket list. It was not taken as an opportunity to reflect on one of the biggest tragedies in human history. As a Jewish teen, I have learned about and contemplated the magnitude of the Holocaust. I’ve seen how it continues to contribute to intergenerational trauma. I lost so many of my family members and so much of my culture to the Holocaust, I could never treat a museum dedicated to it like just another tourist attraction to pose in front of. I worry this is indicative of a bigger trend of apathy towards Jewish suffering.
While shocked at my fellow teens’ indifference, I was absolutely horrified by the gift shop. At a museum dedicated to a young woman who was murdered by the Nazis, postcards were for sale. Pens were for sale, advertising that one could write “just like Anne Frank.”
The museum makes Jewish people seem like an attraction, rather than a living people who have faced unimaginable suffering at the hands of their fellow citizens. It was disturbing to see my culture portrayed as a relic of the past for tourists to gawk at, rather than a beautiful, living culture practiced by people around the globe.
My experience at the Anne Frank House is a prime example of modern antisemitism. The Anne Frank House erases Dutch involvement in the atrocities of the Holocaust. By not showing this, Dutch people do not have to grapple with their country’s antisemitic past; they can simply place all the blame on the Germans. And when people don’t properly grapple with hatred of their past, how can they confront the hatred of today?