Home From Amsterdam….Changed

Captain’s Log   5,804

Back home again.  The trip was all I had hoped it would be…and more.  Thanks to the graciousness of Anneke, our host, we were able to see so many things we wanted to see as we launch into our writing project.  We needed to see and feel Amsterdam and all the history nestled there.  We needed to learn about the Dutch people and how the culture there has changed over the years.  We needed to immerse ourselves in the dark times of WWII as well.  And we did.

We took two private tours with history professionals on two different days.  We toured the old Jewish quarter and learned a lot about the culture and the people that once comprised 25% of the city.  The old theatre where the Jews were housed before being taken to transit camps is located there.  

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During part of the Second World War, in 1942 and 1943, theHollandsche Schouwburg (the Dutch Theatre) was used as a deportation centre for Jews. The theatre, that was built in 1892, became a place of grief and anguish. Thousands of men, women and children were sent by train from here to Westerbork transit camp in Holland, and from there to death camps. Few of them lived to return. In the course of the WWII, 104,000 Dutch Jews were killed in Nazi extermination camps.

Today the Hollandsche Schouwburg is a war memorial, in remembrance of the Jews who perished under the Nazi regime. The entrance hall leads into a memorial chapel where an eternal flame is burning. Engraved on a special Wall of Remembrance are the 6,700 family names of all the 104,000 Jews from the Netherlands who perished during WWII.

The average stay here was five days.   Anne Frank was not taken here.  She and her family went directly to Westerbork.

It was a truly powerful experience.  I saw my surname on the memorial wall.  I knew that a family member named Brandes had been very instrumental in the Anne Frank story, and to see that name on the wall gave me chills.  I didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t know how to react.  I just stood there and stared and tried to begin to comprehend how much suffering happened during those times.  It took me several minutes before I was even able to tell Anneke and Sally I had found it.

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It still chokes me up to even think about this.  

We also went up into North Holland to see what remains of the Westerbork Transit Camp.  Call it what you will, it was a concentration camp.  People were taken there for one reason.  Sure, the Germans tried to make it nice and cozy, but it was still part of hell.  People were “allowed” to practice their faith.  How kind of the Germans.

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It was just a matter of time.

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The commander of the camp lived well.  Westerbork was used for different things after the war.  This house was occupied until 1972.

There is a memorial at Westerbork that honors the 102,000 people taken from the camp for “relocation,” which was another way of saying “extermination.”  One piece for every person.  There were gypsies at Westerbork too.  Their memorials contain flames instead of stars.

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Mind jarring.  I still cannot believe I saw this.

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The train only went to one place.

We visited the Anne Frank house too.  History will never know who turned them in, but someone made seven and a half guilders per person for doing it.  Shameful.  Truly shameful.

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Anne’s room that she decorated with pictures of movie stars.  It takes your soul to another place when you see this for real.  She was really in that room.  I touched the door frame on the way out (okay to do that).  I wonder how many times she touched it herself.

And yes, there was a resistance.  A lot of it.  If they captured you, you would certainly die.  It took courage to stand up to the Germans in these ways.  But it was done.  And done well.  We visited the Verzetsmuseum (Resistance Museum) in Amsterdam to learn more about what things were done.  Illegal newspapers, forged papers, hiding Jews, and so much more.  We have this glamorized idea that the resistance people were hiding in the woods shooting Germans.  Many were.  Many more were doing underground activities that were equally dangerous and important.

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Printing presses for newspapers and forged documents

We also had some time for just fun.  We spent two days in the city on our own (giving Anneke a good break).  We did the tourist things and had a lot of fun.  I absolutely ADORE Dutch pancakes, and we found a lovely little corner place and chowed down.  I had mine with ice cream and Sally chose a savory pancake with cheese and ham.  Delightful!

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Not my pannenkoeken, but you get the idea.  We dined at the Pannenkoeken Corner and had a table at the window on the canal.  Truly delightful!

We also visited the famous floating flower market.  Barges are lined up in the canal and serve as flower shops year round.  This was huge fun for us.  We bought Anneke a lemon tree in a can.  Just add water and sunlight!

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Bulbs, anyone?  There are thousands!

It wouldn’t be a trip to Amsterdam without a toe dip into the Red Light District.  I remembered where it was from my last trip, so I guided Sally down into the older part of the city where the streets are really REALLY narrow and alleyways twist and turn everywhere.  We saw five prostitutes and Sally had enough.  She wanted to go back to the train and get out of there!  Our favorite prostitute was cleaning up her space with a Dyson vacuum cleaner.  Nice to see they tidy up.  One thing we noticed about the rooms.  No beds.  Sometimes just a chair.  Hmmmmm……

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Window on the left is occupied.  Window on the right is ready for business.  And no, I did not take this picture.  It’s not a good idea to photograph this activity.  You can get in serious trouble with certain people.  And I must say, I wouldn’t want that lady in the window to chase me.  Just sayin.

One of the biggest challenges for us was dodging the bicycles.  They are everywhere!  And they just go wherever the hell they want.  It is up to you to get out of the way.  Between dodging bikes and trains and all the people on the street, sometimes just walking was a harrowing experience.

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At least they all have bells.  So you get a tiny warning that you are about to get run over.  We actually almost got run down by a horse and carriage too.  People in Amsterdam just go.

We left for home about 5:30 in the morning yesterday.  I knew it was going to be a challenging travel day, but I never anticipated the transfer in Houston.  We got off the plane and had to walk for what seemed like a damn mile to the Customs people.  We got our bags and went through Customs again.  We dropped our checked luggage off at some place and then headed back all the way across the damn airport again to go through TSA.  I was listed as a TSA pre-screen but I still had to do all the bullshit.  Then, we hoofed it down to a different terminal to find our next gate.  We had just over an hour to do all of this, and we made it with a few minutes to spare.  We had enough time to buy some water and use the restroom.  Then, it was back on the plane to San Diego.

I was so tired when we landed that I couldn’t even remember my name.  I fell asleep quickly and then woke up in the middle of the night hungry for eggs and toast.  Jet lag is weird.  I think I will be fine.  I put everything away and did laundry.  Taking it a little easy today and will ramp up with more to do tomorrow.

Between coming and going, I watched seven movies on the plane.  Gravity was great!  So was Frozen.   I watched Jobs too and was quite amazed at Steve Jobs’ brilliance and his weirdness.  The vegetarian food on the plane was really quite nasty.  It was some sort of curry thing that looked a bit like puke.  I took one bite on the way to Amsterdam and almost burned up my mouth.  I knew to not even try it on the way home.  It was the same curry stuff that looked like puke.  I ate a roll and some cheese and crackers instead.  Good thing I don’t count on eating plane food.

The trip was life-changing.  I saw so many things my heart had been longing to see.  Hard things about difficult times, but now so many questions have been answered.  Let a new chapter begin.  I am ready.


Filed under Captain Poolie's observations

30 responses to “Home From Amsterdam….Changed

  1. guignol

    btw, we always find the vegetarian food on airlines better than the normal meal: even my son orders it now and he’s not vegetarian. the problem is flying delta or united; everything is horrible on those flights. best to ensure you’re on a european carrier: everything is 10 times better and it costs the same.

  2. guignol

    i lived a year and a half in the netherlands: mostly in amsterdam and a while on north holland. note that westerbork is not in that province but in drenthe, which in dutch terms is the back of beyond and just a wee bit further. you can still bicycle there in one (long) day. btw, there’s a sure-fire way not to get run over by bicycles: stay out of the bicycle paths! which admittedly isn’t obvious at first because a) it’s not in our genes to realize there could possibly be so many bicycles and b) you can easily confuse them with footpaths, especially since they’re called fietspad (fiets is bicycle, not foot).

    after years of refusals (don’t go downstairs sis, dad’s on his holland kick again!) my family finally agreed to humor me and a couple of years ago we had our best vacation ever in a’dam. it’s much more kid-friendly than its sulfurous reputation leads you to believe, and they both did their next school reports on the anne frank huis. it stays with you.

  3. Thank you.

    I studied that history and am overwhelmed. It’s different when the photos are taken by a friend and not an anonymous author.

    Thank you.

  4. Sorry your trip is over so soon. But I have been looking forward to reading about it! I could never have done some of the things you did and places you went. I’m not Jewish, have not even had any close Jewish friends, but the Holocaust thing has haunted and horrified me my whole life. I remember my mother telling me about it, and as a child I couldn’t comprehend why they hated Jewish people so much. In my world Jews were just a different religion from ours. I cannot even begin to imagine being a Jew and living with that knowledge and also to have had relatives in Europe during those times. I have never seen Schindler’s List, I knew I could not bear to see it. Are you going to tell us more about your Dutch Brandes relatives?

  5. LC

    The scary truth that your experience reminds me is that ordinary individuals can, in certain circumstances, commit unspeakable acts of evil. The hopeful truth, as I suspect was shown in the resistance museum, is that ordinary individuals can, in certain circumstances, commit heroic acts of compassion and sacrifice. A life-changing trip indeed and a moving post.

  6. An experience that most of us will never have. Thanks for sharing it with us. Good luck with the jet lag too. Hope this new information gives you wings to fly towards your new horizons.

  7. joe

    I Am Glad You Are Home Safe My friend
    Joe seoane RScP

  8. susanna

    The Good and Beautiful, the Bad and Ugly. I went to some of the places you visited but I didn’t get the pancakes and they looked like a Good and Beautiful highlight!

  9. What an amazing experience for you. What these people lived and died through must NEVER be forgotten.

  10. Life changing to see these horrors first hand. I did a mural once of the bodies, and I was so horrified by what I had done that I couldn’t bring it home. Hitler planned this all along, and he had compatriots that pushed the thinking even further.

  11. Patty O'

    Welcome home. I am so happy you found the information you were looking for. Now the real work begins… Check your e-mails for a couple of bits of information I thought you might find useful on local issues. Get some rest.

  12. goatbarnwitch

    Wow, just wow. What an incredible trip it must have been. I’m glad you were able to find the things you were looking for and look forward to hearing more about these things as they settle with you. Thanks for sharing

  13. Glad you are safely home. I cannot begin to imagine how it must have felt to see your name on that list. Biggest hugs xxxxx

  14. That must have been gut-wrenching. The sheer numbers…

    I noticed you used the word “comprise” correctly. Mazel tov.

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