AMSTERDAM — Dutch King Willem-Alexander visited the Anne Frank House museum Thursday after a two-year reboot to give the building a new entrance hall, redesigned exhibition spaces and a new way of telling the story of the teenage Jewish diarist.
The aim of renewing the landmark museum was to "provide more information about the historical context and background of the story we represent, which is the story of Anne Frank," executive director Ronald Leopold said Wednesday night at a press preview of the renewed museum.
What hasn't changed is the museum's moving centerpiece: the Spartan secret annex, reached via a door concealed behind a bookcase, where Anne wrote her world-famous diary as she, her family and four other Jews hid for two years from Nazis during World War II until they were arrested and deported to concentration camps.
"Of course we did not change the hiding place itself — the annex — which is the most authentic place where Anne Frank was in hiding and where she wrote the diary," Leopold said.
The museum believes that telling Anne's story remains relevant more than 60 years after she and her sister both perished in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after contracting typhus.
On Wednesday, the head of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, warned at a conference in Vienna that "Jewish communities in Europe are increasingly concerned about their security and pessimistic about their future."
Leopold said the museum, which receives 1.2 million visitors annually, has an important role to play in combatting anti-Semitism.
"We run a museum and we know how powerful the influence of this museum is," he said. "A visit ... really has a huge impact on young people and encourages them to fight discrimination, anti-Semitism, racism in their own communities."
The museum got a new entrance and changes to rooms including the darkened space that displays the iconic books that made up Anne's diary, which was published by her father after the war and went on to become a symbol of hope and resilience. The diary has been translated into more than 70 languages.
The building housing the secret annex was turned into a museum in 1960. The museum, which remained open throughout the renovations, also has revamped the way it tells the story of the Frank family, and by extension the Nazi persecution of Jews.
"What we tried to do is ... use the family history as kind of a window onto a larger history," said Tom Brink, the museum's head of publications and presentations.
He said the larger history includes the Nazi-occupied Dutch capital during the war "and, of course, European history because all Europe was affected by the Nazi rule."
As well as the physical changes, the museum now has an audio tour which pieces together narrated fragments from the diary, family stories and historical perspective. That allowed curators to keep physical exhibits sparse while still explaining the Franks' story and putting it in historical context.
A room that served as the office for Anne's father's company has just a few photos on the wall. One shows a group of Jewish men in Amsterdam kneeling, their hands on their heads, watched over by a Nazi soldier carrying a rifle.
On another wall is a map drawn up by Amsterdam civil servants for the city's Nazi occupiers with black dots representing the places where Jews lived.
"We wanted to preserve the character of the house, which is very much its emptiness," said Leopold. "I think its emptiness is probably the most powerful feature of the Anne Frank House."