The Story Behind the Filipino Girl Who Went to Anne Frank's Secret Annex
The world remembers The Diary of Anne Frank for the graphic and heartbreaking accounts of a Jewish girl in hiding during Nazi-occupied Holland. Frank's spirit lives on through her writing, immortalized in the book and taught in education curriculums around the world. Of course, there's also the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
It's inspired millions, including a 12-year-old Filipino girl named Cruz Remulla. She discovered The Diary of Anne Frank at the age of seven and was the first book she read about World War II. By the age of eight, she had already re-read Frank's diary three times.
"The fact that she was so young, and her diary made an impact on young girls. It encouraged me to voice out my opinions and, of course, start a diary myself," she tells Esquire Philippines.
In July 2018, Cruz was spending summer break in Nice, France where she would visit a local library two days a week. There, she read a book about Anne Frank called En Avant Le Fille. What struck her was the glaring omission of the secret annex Remulla knew by heart. She found the details of the publisher and wrote to them to correc them on it.
The Anne Frank House was copied in the email and, because of the email, Cruz was formally invited to see the house for herself. She ended up getting exclusive access to two rooms in the home that are off limits to the public. The visit to the secret annex was "immersive," she says.
In July 1942, the Frank family, together with the Van Pels family, went into hiding in the secret annex at Prinsengracht in the Netherlands.
Remulla visited Otto's office, which even had the original buffet cabinet of the couple, and the family pantry. Most items are only replicas, as the originals were lost during the war. "I was very surprised as it was my first attempt to follow her footsteps," she says.
Accessible through the original secret stairway, the annex provided Remulla with a glimpse of the inner workings of the Franks' lives, as well as the collective dread and comfort it provided even in the most dire of circumstances.
Franks father, Otto, had requested the museum to always preserve the staircase. And they did. That stairway would be one of the house's most important symbols. As for the annex, the space housed dignity, family, and hopes of freedom that would endure for the decades that followed the dark period. Kids, like Remulla, get a chance to relive the harrowing tales of the war through it.
The secret annex of the Anne Frank House dates back to 1739, encompassing the golden age of Amsterdam during one of its biggest population booms. Frank's dad, Otto, ended up using the attic space of the property as his office quarters 200 years later.
When Frank's sister, Margot, got a call-up for a labor camp in Germany, the Frank family decided to use the annex as a hiding spot. The only way to enter the space was a secret entrance behind a revolving bookcase. Very few people knew about it, including the Pieron family, who were the official owners of the premises.
When the Pieron family sold the building to a new owner, Anne was anxious that the annex would be discovered. In an entry dated February 27, 1943, Anne wrote the following:
"One morning the new owner arrived with an architect to have a look at the house; luckily, Mr. Kleiman was present and showed the gentlemen everything except our little 'Secret Annex,' he professed to have forgotten the key of the communicating door. The new owner didn't question any further. It will be all right as long as he doesn’t come back and want to see the 'Secret Annex,' since then it won't look to good for us."
The owner never came, but more than a year later, the annex and the people hiding there, including the Frank family, were discovered. Otto was the only one to survive the war and see the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation.
Anne Frank lived there for a total of 761 days. There had been a rhythm to their daily routines, of course. But it was those slow Sundays that Frank abhorred the most. In one account of the worst day of the week, she wrote:
"I wander from one room to the next, down the stairs and back up again and feel like a songbird that has had its wings torn off and flies against the bars of its cage in total darkness. 'Outside, fresh air and laughter,' a voice inside me screams; I don’t even try to answer anymore, I lie down on a divan and sleep in order to shorten the time, the silence, the terrible fear too, because there is no question of killing them."
A special coordinator for the project had toured Remulla through the private space.
The sense of isolation was something Remulla herself could partially relate to, especially during the pandemic. Her visit also provided her with some perspective on her own experiences alone.
"The secret annex itself was as I expected reading the book so many times and watching documentaries about it. I felt if I was Anne Frank it would be hard to live, as it was so cut off from the outside world or things that one is used to," Remulla explains. "I think it can be similar in a way to the lockdown we experienced during the height of COVID-19. I realize how lucky I am to be living freely and comfortably."
The real victims of war aren't to be looked at as mere statistics on paper. Dissecting a tragic event like the Holocaust is more than just reciting the death toll or the genocide that took place; it's learning about the humanity lost and the lives that were never realized. These secret spaces say so much. Kids like Remulla remind us that the young can sometimes grasp the reality of evil more than the average adult.
We also discover that the face of the wicked is a purely human one, too. Anybody can be evil. That's why it takes guts to be kind. The Frank family survived for as long as they did on the goodwill of others. Anne Frank, for what it's worth, knew this, as well. She summed it up beautifully when she said, "in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
With the Anne Frank House, we are taught that virtue exists, even in the most clandestine of spaces. Sometimes, it only takes small acts from children like Remulla to remember that.