How to Make a Diorama of "The Secret Annex"

By James Holloway ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Reference materials
  • Drawing materials
  • Foamboard
  • Craft knife
  • Ruler
  • PVA glue
  • Toothpicks
  • Masking tape
  • Acrylic paints and brushes
  • Thin cardboard
  • Balsa wood

As German persecution of Jews increased in occupied Holland during World War II, Jewish businessmen Otto Frank and Hermann van Pels made the decision to go into hiding along with their families. A secret annex at the rear of a building rented by their business in Amsterdam became the hiding place for both families. Their experiences in this tiny hiding place are memorably chronicled in the diary of Otto's daughter, Anne Frank. Building a diorama of the secret annex is a challenging but vivid way to learn about this tragic period in world history.

Study the layout of the secret annex. The inhabitants of the annex used three of its floors, each of which consisted of two or more rooms. The office and kitchen area on the lowest floor was used only at night, while the upper floors contained the bedrooms and living area. A hidden door behind a bookcase on the middle floor connected the annex to the main building.

Draw a floor plan of the annex. Draw each floor separately. Decide what scale you want your model to be, taking into account the space you have to store and transport your diorama.

Cut the area of each floor out of foamboard using a craft knife and a ruler. The first and second floors had projecting landings, while the third floor did not. You may wish to include these, but you can leave them off if you want to keep all three floors the same shape.

Draw the outlines of the walls, both internal and external, on foamboard. Mark and cut out the windows before cutting out the walls with a craft knife. Cut out the doors.

Glue the walls to the base and to each other using PVA glue. You may wish to pin the walls in place using toothpicks, or use masking tape to hold them together while the glue dries.

Paint the walls and floor with acrylic paints. If you find that paint is not adhering properly to the foamboard, a thin coat of PVA glue will improve paint adhesion. Allow the paint to dry. The exterior walls of the annex were red brick. You can buy textured plastic sheets to represent brick, or you may press the brick pattern into the foam with a blunt pencil.

Add furniture to your diorama. The secret annex was densely crowded with furniture. Free space was extremely limited. You can use scale-model furniture, such as that produced for dollhouses, or make your own models out of thin cardboard or balsa wood. Make the ladders that connected the levels of the house from balsa wood or toothpicks with their points trimmed.

Warning

Always use caution when cutting with a craft knife. Make all cuts on a safe surface.

About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.