Housed in one of Amsterdam's characteristic canalside houses, the Annexe located at Prinsengracht 263 provided eight people with a hiding place for two years during the Second World War; a conflict which only one of the house’s former inhabitants would survive.
Opened to the public in 1960, the canalside house serves as a present-day reminder of the war, the plight of its Jewish inhabitants, Anne Frank’s indomitable spirit and the celebrated diary she wrote during the time she spent in hiding in its Secret Annexe.
While it is now a world-famous museum receiving around a million visitors yearly and the most visited building of its kind in Amsterdam, the present status of Prinsengracht 263 stands in sharp contrast with its condition some 50 years ago, when the building was slated for demolition.
A few days after having arrested its eight inhabitants on 4 August 1944, the Nazis stripped the hiding place they found concealed behind a movable bookcase. It was common practise during the war years to confiscate every item from a hiding place once its Jewish inhabitants had been arrested and deported. Of all the contents in the Annexe, only Anne's diary was saved.
As the only former resident of the Annexe to survive the war, Otto Frank returned from Auschwitz in June 1945 to find the Annexe empty and bare. Starting in 1945 and with the aid of his employees who helped him and his family during the war, Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, Otto began to rebuild his businesses Opekta and Pectacon. The Annexe remained empty.
Johannes Kleiman (left) at his desk in the offices at Prinsengracht.
By this time, the building at Prinsengracht 263 and the properties adjacent to it were in a dilapidated state. The aging and poorly maintained canalside houses were no longer suitable for use as commercial premises. In 1950, Berghaus textile factory began buying up as many of the properties that constituted the corner of Prinsengracht and Westermarkt as possible in order to tear them down and build new premises. If Berghaus had succeeded in gaining ownership of the whole block, it would have spelled the demolition of Prinsengracht 263.
Upset by the prospect of the building’s demolition, Otto Frank decided to rent out the building from its owner, a man named Wessels (a trader in recycled paper who had bought the building in 1943) in the early 1950s. Frank made a deal with Wessels that he would be given priority over any other buyer should Wessels decide to sell the property. As a result, Opekta bought the building from Wessels in 1953 for 22,000 Dutch guilders.
However, Frank lacked the funds necessary to renovate the building. In addition, Berghaus had already purchased the building next door at 265 with plans to tear it down, which would have left Prinsengracht 263 to literally cave in on itself.
Façade of numbers 261-265 Prinsengracht (1947).
Otto Frank reluctantly sold the building to Berghaus in 1954 for 30,000 guilders. Its destruction seemed inevitable as Opekta moved to another location in Amsterdam in 1955 and Gies & Co (Pectaton’s successor) was sold off. This left Prinsengracht 263 crumbling and deserted.
In the end, Prinsengracht 263 was only saved from demolition thanks to the pressure of public opinion and the efforts of a few of Otto’s friends. By that time, the Diary of Anne Frank had become a worldwide phenomenon. It had already been developed into a play and a film version was in the making.
It was a committee of Amsterdam’s most prominent scientists and intellectuals who took the initiative to save the building where Anne wrote her diary. They founded the Anne Frank Foundation in 1957 with the immediate goal of opening the building at Prinsengracht 263 to the public, but also in order to promote the ideals of Anne, a goal reflected in the Foundation's charter from its very inception.
Otto Frank with Anne Frank Foundation board members in front of Prinsengracht 263 in May 1957.
The Foundation’s efforts proved successful. In 1957, Berghaus decided to abandon its plans for a new factory on the site and donated the building at Prinsengracht 263 to the Anne Frank Foundation on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. However, in the meantime, the adjacent buildings had been acquired by a property developer who wanted to build an eight-story apartment complex on the corner of Prinsengracht and Westermarkt.
What followed was a series of negotiations between the developer and the Foundation to purchase the entire block for an amount of 350,000 guilders. In reaction, Mayor of Amsterdam Gijs Van Hall stepped in by making a personal commitment to help raise the amount needed. He sent a written appeal to fifty thousand residents and organisations asking for donations to the cause.
Mayor Van Hall’s appeal asking for donations to save Anne Frank House (Volkskrant Newspaper, 12 June 1958).
In the end, Van Hall’s appeal was only partially successful, raising just half the funds needed to save the Annexe. As a result, the municipal authority and the University of Amsterdam began working together to develop a plan to provide student housing on the corner of Prinsengracht and Westermarkt, and save Prinsengracht 263 in the process. The funds the University provided to pre-finance the project were enough for the Foundation to buy the entire block of houses and therefore preserve the buildings at Prinsengracht 263 and 265.
After a great deal of delay, the plan was finally instituted, leading to the renovation of Prinsengracht 263 and its opening to the public on 3 May 1960.