Today marks what would have been Anne Frank’s 89th birthday. As a teenager, she dreamt of becoming a journalist or writer—and while those dreams were tragically cut short, she succeeded in her ambitions not “to have lived in vain” and “to go on living” after her death through the pages of The Diary of a Young Girl. And her legacy can reach people in a brand-new way with Anne Frank House VR, now available on Rift, Oculus Go, and Gear VR.
The Anne Frank House museum partnered with developer Force Field VR to recreate the Secret Annex where Anne Frank and her family lived in hiding from July 6, 1942 until their arrest on the morning of August 4, 1944. Using cutting-edge visualization technology and extensive historical research, the end result opens up the experience to an even wider audience in a fully immersive way.
“The real Secret Annex is empty,” explains Anne Frank House Executive Director Ronald Leopold. “The furniture was removed by order of the Nazis after the arrest of the eight people in hiding. It was the wish of Otto Frank, Anne’s father, to leave the rooms of the Secret Annex empty. Otto Frank was the only one of the eight people in hiding to survive the war. It is difficult to imagine what the hiding place looked like with furniture, and how cramped it was.”
In keeping with Otto Frank’s wishes, the museum’s rooms remain devoid of furniture. For the VR tour, all rooms are furnished in the style of the times to better approximate what it would have been like for Anne Frank and her family.
Available in seven languages (Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Hebrew), the experience is provided free of charge and contains both a straightforward tour and Story Mode, where the echo of Anne Frank’s diary entries imbue each room and piece of furniture with significant weight. The dust particles make the stark absence of the Annex’s inhabitants poignantly present, while quotes from her diary narrate the experience.
“A VR headset is different from wandering through a 3D environment on your computer, where there is literally a distance between you and the screen,” notes Leopold. “With VR, you can immerse yourself in a story.”
At the Anne Frank House itself, the museum will offer Anne Frank House VR to mobility-impaired visitors, letting those who are unable to climb the stairs see the Secret Annex for themselves. Discussions are underway to use Anne Frank House VR for the museum’s educational programs, as well as for traveling exhibitions worldwide beginning with the Anne Frank Center in New York and the Anne Frank Zentrum in Berlin.
“This project helps to bring Anne Frank’s life story to the attention of people all over the world,” Leopold says. “Hopefully it also helps to encourage reflection on the dangers of anti-Semitism, racism, and discrimination and the importance of freedom, equal rights, and democracy.”
— The Oculus Team