VR FOR HISTORY

Anne Frank House VR is a time machine for knowledge.

Over the last seven decades, people around the world have come to know the story of Anne Frank, who, as a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis, wrote a diary for two years before being discovered and sent to concentration camps. She died at the age of 15. The diary, published two years later, has been reprinted in over sixty languages and become, in the words of her father, “a message to new generations.”

Today, Anne’s hiding place — now a museum — is an empty, austere place. The Nazi persecution of the Jews went beyond violence and murder: there was a systematic attempt to eradicate all traces of both the people and the religion. As such, Nazis took nearly everything from the house, leaving only Anne’s faded, forlorn posters and pictures on the walls. It has been preserved this way at the request of Anne’s father, so that the emptiness of the house can remind us of the voids left by the absence of Anne and the 80,000 Jews of pre-war Amsterdam.

But this empty house is not the house as Anne experienced it, an idea that intrigued Force Field VR Creative Director Martin de Ronde. For Martin, virtual reality “could be one of the most powerful mediums [with which] to educate people.” So he approached The Anne Frank House with the idea of recreating it digitally, exactly as it was when Anne was writing her diary. Aware that the passage of time can make history seem more academic than personal, The Anne Frank House loved the idea. As Executive Director Ronald Leopold describes it, the VR experience becomes a way to “not just present history but also to try to transmit the kind of feeling and historic sensation.”

With the addition of VR, the rooms transform. The painstaking attention to detail, including the everyday mundane minutiae brings the rooms to life: cutlery laid out for a meal, personal items on a bedside table, even the dust dancing in the light. As Leopold says, “all of a sudden, the space starts to tell the story. I think virtual reality is a time machine.”

And the power of the VR experience is not just visual. For the sound design, the creators’ detail was just as meticulous, from recording an actual tram from that era to capturing the sound of church bells from the attic, a space where Anne found privacy and safety, if only for moments at a time. It’s an experience “made with the senses,” one that turns Anne from a historical icon to a young girl, hidden away, unable to leave and terrified of making a noise that could lead to discovery.

All of this creates a rich, immersive experience that allows virtual visitors to explore the house in detail, at their own pace. In VR they can even visit the attic, a space unavailable to the 1.3 million people who visit the Anne Frank House every year.

In her diary, Anne Frank wrote, “I want to be useful … to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death.” With her writing, the museum, and this virtual experience, that seems more certain than ever. As one visitor says, “it feels like I’ve stepped into her life.”

©ANNE FRANK FONDS Basel, Switzerland