Anne Frank's Bells

Anne Frank's Bells 30.10.17

Westerkerk

From our bedroom I can hear the bells of the Westerkerk strike the hour. I love lying there listening to it’s bold chime, a reassuring reminder of the rhythms of the world outside. This weekend we are staying at my cousin's flat on Nieuwe Leliestraat, just across the canal from Anne Frank’s annexe, hidden within a townhouse next to the old Westertoren church and its 278 foot belltower.

Every quarter of an hour, there’s a short carillon tune before it rings out the time of day. When the Frank family first went into hiding they couldn’t get used to it’s sound, which must have been pretty loud given the proximity. Anne, however liked it from the start, finding it a comfort, especially at night.

During the years in hiding Anne longs for the outside world. Whilst radio broadcasts keep the family up to speed with the progress of the war, and friends Bep and Miep bring news from the streets below, it’s nature that brings Anne the greatest sense of connection with life beyond.

She describes sitting with Peter on the floor in the attic looking out of the window at ‘the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air…We were so moved and entranced that we couldn’t speak. Riches, prestige, everything can be lost... But the happiness in your own heart can only be dimmed.’

Anne throws open a window into her own life’s experience via her diary. And yet her world was being shuttered in, her freedoms restricted and reduced day-by-day. Before too long, the Westerkerk’s bells were removed, ‘carted off for the war.’ The simple daily pleasure of the bells was denied her. 

To me, those bells have become Anne’s voice. They are the sound of her spirit, carried outwards into the world with characteristic upbeat boldness. They are a reminder to look up at the sky, to enjoy the fresh air. ‘As long as this exists there will be a solace for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances.’