After the Budapest – Amsterdam cruise finished, we stayed in Amsterdam for two more nights before the long trek back to Australia. Amsterdam is a beautiful city. Those canals really raise it above more of the same, with reflections and views and history around every corner. It’s not an old city, though. Not like Budapest and Koln and Bratsilava with their links to Roman times. And its real Golden Age was the 17th century when the Dutch East India Company ruled the waves, Dutch painting was at its height and Dutch inventors like Christian Huygens had the freedom to practice science.
We stayed at a hotel near the fashionable Vondel Park, where I managed to take a few nice pictures of the grand houses. The hotel probably used to be a grand house once. As a hotel it left a lot to be desired. But that’s another story.
This visit I wanted to go back to the street I was born in, just to see if I had even a glimmer of recognition. Nope. But then, as I’ve said before, you can’t really go back.
We also visited the WWII Resistance Museum, which is just over the road from Artis, Amsterdam’s zoo. My parents lived through the war years in Amsterdam. My oldest brother was born in 1940, just a couple of months after the occupation started. He was the youngest of five children, and the only boy. The oldest was seven.
To call the place the “resistance” museum was in a way, something of a misnomer. Not everybody CAN resist. But that point is made in a short introductory film about how the Netherlands was occupied, and the progression of Nazi occupation from a benevolent stance, where they hoped to win the Dutch to their cause, gradually becoming more and more oppressive after the strikes in the tram service, leading on to the ‘honger winter’ in 1944/5. (you can watch the film in that link to the museum) The choices for ordinary citizens in Holland were collaborate, live with it, or resist. The museum gives examples of each, illustrated in articles, photos and personal objects. Much of the exhibition is about the murder of the Jews. I don’t think the Dutch people will ever get over the massacre of the Jews. It seems to be ingrained in their consciousness. And that part of Eastern Amsterdam where my family lived was one of the Jewish ghettos.
A great deal has been made ever since the war about the French resistance. People in other occupied countries did every bit as much as the French. It’s just not as well known. I believe I had an uncle who was in the resistance. I think he ended up in a camp in Germany and returned after the war stick-thin. And I recall stories of people jumping off trains taking them to labour camps in Germany. This museum is for Dutch people more than overseas visitors. I felt it addressed a feeling of guilt, why didn’t we do more? And the fact of life is, in many cases the choices were impossible.
My sisters were still children at the end of the war – the oldest was twelve. I was born 5 years later, and my sisters taught me all the rude songs they used to sing about the Germans. What little I know about those years I heard from my sisters. My mother and father never talked about it.
But on a more fun note – Pete and I learned how to use the tram system, moving from one line to another to get around. It was lots of fun, rather like tube hopping in London, except it’s above ground. A day pass is 7.50 Euros. The trams can take you to all of the major attractions in the city and you get to have a look at the suburbs, too. I recommend it to anyone visiting Amsterdam.
To round off the day we visited with a distant cousin in South Amsterdam and went to a marvellous Indian restaurant for dinner. And then, with news of the Charley Hebdo bombings in Paris reverberating through Europe, the next morning we went home to an Australian summer.