AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands – Like us, she had read Anne Frank's diary when she was a girl and finally had the opportunity to travel to Amsterdam to visit Anne Frank House. The woman was probably in her 40s. She was an American from Atlanta. She had a kind face and she was alone.
She struck up a conversation with my girlfriend, Rosella, while we were examining a small-scale model of the rooms where Anne and her family hid during World War II along with the van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer. Rosella was explaining to me that the room we were standing in had been used for storage and that we would soon enter the Secret Annex where Anne lived for two years.
"Could you repeat that?" the woman asked.
I drifted ahead to another room, but Rosella later told me that she repeated the information to the woman with the kind face, and that they then looked at a photo of Anne's father, Otto Frank, the only member of the family to survive the concentration camps.
While they were looking at Otto's photo, the woman told Rosella a remarkable story. When she was in sixth grade, the teacher gave her class an assignment to write a letter to a famous person. Her classmates wrote to movie and television stars, singers, and athletes, as you might expect kids that age to do. But she wrote to Otto to tell him she had read Anne's diary five times because it meant so much to her.
Time passed, and none of the students heard back from the people they wrote to. Except one: The little girl who had written to Otto Frank. He replied that he was grateful she took the time to share what an impact his daughter's diary had on her. The girl brought the letter to school and read it to her class. The teacher was amazed.
"When I die, I'm going to leave the letter to this place, the Anne Frank House, in my will," the woman told Rosella, choking up.
Rosella put her hand on the woman's shoulder, giving it a squeeze to comfort her. The woman's lip was trembling, and tears were rolling down her cheeks. She seemed like she might be embarrassed to be showing so much emotion to a total stranger, and turned away to collect herself.
She wasn't the only one struggling to keep it together. Rosella also broke down. She remembered reading Anne's diary when she was young, longing for a happy ending.
Rosella had questions. She wanted to know more about what Otto wrote. But she was afraid to press any further, because this woman was already overcome.
Here they were, two strangers instantly bonding over the book they loved, walking together through the bookcase into the Secret Annex and the very rooms where Anne had written.
Rosella lost track of the woman. She never did get to see her again and regrets not making more of an effort to find her so they could continue talking.
But mostly Rosella feels privileged to have met this sweet lady from Atlanta and lucky for a sequence of events that brought them both to the Anne Frank House, on the very same day, at the very same hour.
Anne Frank House
FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE
The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank