My Story with Amsterdam

When I first arrived in Amsterdam on February 1, 2001 for a six-month stay, I didn’t want to know about the city’s sordid past, just its present-day beauty. The appalling and capricious weather sometimes drove me indoors, but it didn’t keep me from loving the melodious carillons, the “whipped cream” gables atop centuries-old houses, and the vast museums.  Just strolling by the ever-shifting and unforgettable canals enchanted me.

The Resistance Museum    After a few weeks, I reluctantly went to the Resistance Museum, fearing a lot of gory pictures.  Instead, I was galvanized by the hidden Amsterdam it depicted –the calamity of losing almost 75% of the Jewish population, the courage of the small number of people who resisted the Nazis, and the motivations of those who did not.  A week later, I attended the commemoration of the February 1941 General Strike.  I’d never heard about it.  Thousands gathered on a frigid day to honor those who had poured into the streets to protest the Nazis’ first roundup of Jewish people.  People of all ages quietly laid flowers by the statue of The Dockworker, the symbolic figure of the Strike. Since that day, the stories of the Holocaust and Resistance have never let me go, sending me to many exhibits, libraries and archives to learn more.

The Hidden Side of the City   During three other long stays in Amsterdam, I’ve spent hours locating important places that aren’t usually found in guidebooks.  For example, only a small plaque shows where the Resistance set fire to the census cards that told the Nazis where to find Dutch Jewish citizens.  Similarly marked is the child care center where children were kept before deportation.  Some were smuggled away in the night, or from the end of the line when they were taken out for walks.  In addition to finding those obscure sites, I also learned about the hidden side of common landmarks.  The Concertgebouw’s magnificent concert hall was once hung with swastikas.  The splendidly renovated Rijksmuseum displays china which may have been taken from a Jewish home by the Nazis.  Read about it here.

The Questions    Everywhere I look in the city, I find the period just before my life began, when human beings were put to the ultimate test of their ethics.  I ask myself again and again:  What did they do in the face of the pressures to collaborate?  What would I have done?  What must I do now?  I hope this site will help you ask those and other questions for yourself.