In the Shadow of the Steeple

AUGUST 1944 – 73 YEARS AGO – ANNE FRANK WAS FOUND BY NAZIS IN SECRET HIDING PLACE IN AMSTERDAM, SENT TO A DEATH CAMP

“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” ~ Anne Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank. I read it every year as a teen. I was a post-war child, born of a father who fought against the atrocities of Adolph Hitler in Europe, ended up at the base of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, and spent a year in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, two hours from Hitler’s mountaintop retreat in the Bavarian Alps.

From my scrapbook

I was fascinated by the genre, by the first-person voice of a girl my age recording real-life experiences. As a college student, I went to Amsterdam and took a tour of Anne Frank’s house with its secret annex and hidden staircase. I remember the swinging bookcase and the stairs up to the secret room—narrow, steep, and dark. I remember walking around in the large room that hid Anne and her family. It was filled with windows letting in sunlight when I was there. It was hard to picture that once, the windows were blacked out for secrecy and protection. I stood at one window and looked out at the city teeming with people and life. The most meaningful image was that of a church steeple.

If Anne could’ve looked out that window, she would’ve seen hope and help.

The steeple image has stuck in my mind for almost five decades. I’m now trying to make meaning of it.

It’s the Westerkerk, the West Church. Rembrandt was buried there in 1669. It’s old. It’s a church with a steeple that towers above the city, marking its location so people can find it, pointing upward, and portraying its purpose as a place of God, of believers, of love, of hope and help.

The steeple serves as a visual testimony to all who walk in its shadow.

What happened in the shadow of the steeple seven decades ago when Anne Frank was a twelve-year-old?

There were surely good and God-loving people in the church. As they sat under their steeple, surely, they sang, prayed, took of the Body and the Blood. And then what? When they walked out the front doors, on the sidewalks by the canals, to their homes in the shadow of the steeple, did they live out the church’s mission, their mission?

When I read Anne’s diary as a young girl, my underlying thought was of the people, the good people, who let this happen to her. I mean, how could they? Why didn’t they do something? I realize some did help—provided protection and a path to fleeing the insanity that was. But many did nothing.

Were they unaware? Were they afraid? Of taking a stand? Of carrying out the church’s mission? Did they hide in the shadows?

Ultimately, young strong men—soldiers, like my dad—from other countries were called in to save them from the madness they’d allowed.

Life experience has taught me that good people are mostly silent. It’s easy, better that way, more acceptable to stay quiet in the darkness, to align with similar others, to hold inward vigils, and to excise those who stand out of the shadows.

Anne’s is a tragic story, because hope and help never came.