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.
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.
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.
It was just a matter of time.
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.
Mind jarring. I still cannot believe I saw this.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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……
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.
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.