To live in post-World War II Germany was both exhilarating and troubling for me as an American teenager. Around every corner were new discoveries, some joyous, others sobering.
While my father’s job there in the 1960s had a grim purpose, my parents vowed to enrich our time with as many experiences as possible. Weekends in Paris, skiing in Austria, and exploring German castles were typical family outings, but our favorite getaway was nearby Holland. During a trip to Amsterdam, which was planned to include nothing more serious than blooming tulips, I learned that the home of Anne Frank had recently opened to the public. My father agreed we should visit.
The story of the Frank family is widely known—as Jews, they were forced into hiding in cramped quarters until their ultimate betrayal and discovery by the Nazis. Anne’s courage never flagged in that dismal time as, like me, she covered her walls with photos of film stars and dreamed of becoming a writer. Her spirit stirred me that day and shaped my way of viewing the world as not simply places to see things, but as opportunities to embrace people.
My family was among the first visitors to Anne Frank house as it had just opened to the public the week we were there. Mr. Frank himself greeted visitors at that time and my father took a photo of my mother, brothers, and me with him. Sadly, those old family photos are long gone.
Being there over fifty years ago had a profound effect on me. It was still post-war Europe and those terrible days were still vivid in the minds of many people, especially in Holland and France. There were entire blocks of the city in Germany where we lived that remained bombed-out shells. It was quite sobering to us Americans when we passed them daily on the way to school.
As I travel the globe, I’m touched by the little things we do to comfort one another, like the teenage girl in a Stockholm café who kindly shared her throat lozenges with an aging American woman in distress. Take time to see the tulips in your travels, but don’t overlook the people who so lovingly planted them.