Friday, 28 August 2009

Amsterdam: Most Sombre Moment

Waiting in the queue for the Anne Frank House, the bells of the church struck the hour, irresistibly reminding us of John Donne’s famous poem:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

And how diminished have we been by the deaths of so many? It was one of those moments when it was easy to feel despair at our frailty, the seeming pointlessness of human endeavour in the face of such evil.

The House is, unsurprisingly, a slightly odd place. To start with, the exterior is a modern box, which is bizarrely incongruous.

The tiny annex rooms still retain an interrupted atmosphere, despite the thousands of tourists who must tramp through them yearly.

But, I didn’t find it a depressing place, despite the horror of their years of incarceration in dark, airless rooms, betrayal and deaths. Despite my rather morbid thoughts in the queue, I came out feeling energised by our potential.

In Anne’s writing, in the pictures pasted to the walls, in the recollections of birthday gifts and dinners, in the fact that people helped them, there is the sense of possibility of the quietly amazing things that humans are capable of if we allow ourselves to be involved in mankind.


  1. Feel a bit subdued after reading this. I think this is especially because the news is inviting us to consider what it would be like to be hidden away from the world like this.

    The poem - solid, quotable sense. Imagine being able to write like that!

  2. Anne Frank was a remarkable girl, an inspiration to all who read her words.

  3. Great post! Anne Frank inspires.

  4. 3c - Good association (well, not good, but you know what I mean!).

    It was definitely a good, inspiration reminder that our problems are mere gnat bites compared to what so many people have not only endured, but truly lived through.