Monday, 14 May 2018

Amsterdam: Jewish history, my cousins, Iain, A’dam Tower.

July 2017. I enjoyed 4 days in Amsterdam, I learnt about the Jewish deportation, met my cousins, spent time with Iain and enjoyed the IJ cinema complex.

My highlight In Amsterdam was doing a walk with local historian, Peter Schaapman ( ) around the Second World War history of the city. He brings the period alive with photos and discussions. The Dutch and Germans collaborated in the early stages of the invasion, there was a Dutch Nazi party supported by 10% of the population. He showed photos of Jews being persecuted. The Jewish area had its own barriers. The Amstel monument commemorates the Jews who disappeared, and in the pavements are plaques for the deported, 5 or 6 people from many houses. He had made a leaflet recording the Jews who disappeared from just one street which was very moving.  We recharged ourselves with coffee in the stylish, modern Droog café.  We ended our walk at Jewish memorial in Weinstein park.

I continued exploring the Second World War in “The resistance museum” with compelling explorations of life in Holland then and more about Jewish deportations. The nature of collaboration was explored. The resistance started only after a few years of German occupation. The Dutch expected to stay neutral as in the First World War. Surprisingly the main Dutch casualties were Jews who were deported (107 000 died and 8000 were sterilized), only a few thousand soldiers lost their lives. More Dutch citizens lost their lives in the Japanese camps. This interested me because my four closest Dutch relatives (mother, aunt, Grandparents) were all in Japanese camps. Denmark had a much stronger record of protecting Jews and none died there during the Second World War

This was my first visit to the Amsterdam museum and I enjoyed the interactive history of the city.  It explained how the French invasion of Holland in the early 19th century lead to the fall of the Dutch East Indies company (VOC).  I meet cousin Isabelle. Our grandfathers were brothers so we are cousins. We had Dutch lunch of broodjes in a canal side cafe. One of her sons is publishing a book on being a millennial. I walked in the warm evening to the jazz area Bourbon street music cafe and I heard an excellent blues and funk band. “Do no work”.

On Sunday I walked down to Centraal station and took the free ferry across the river to ijisland; it was packed with cyclists and foot passengers.  I meet my cousin Willemien and her family in the A’dam tower.  The tower is newly built and rises above the land with a huge viewing platform on the top. The top was windy and I enjoyed the views of Amsterdam. We lunched en famille in very trendy brasserie.  Noor knew about Alma Jacobs, the first woman doctor in Holland whose plaque I had seen earlier on my history walk.

I enjoyed the beautiful white IJ cinema museum complex next to the river. There was an excellent exhibition on Martin Scorsese which explored the aspects of his work such the depiction of family relationships between brothers and sons and mothers and the Catholic Church.  There were many film clips; his editing is meticulous and in films like “Raging Bull” he depicts a serious fight in a short sequence of edited films. I had tea and enjoyed the river view. The fantastic clouds and rain over the city made for good photos.  I walked back to Iain’s flat enjoying the last summer light on the houses and canals.

On my last morning I saw 3 exhibitions at the FOAM photo museum. A young photographer Robert Glass explored the harsh immigration service in Holland; asylum seekers have a hard time and subvert the fingerprinting surveillance by mutilating their fingers. He photographed mutilated fingers, moving and tragic. There was a retrospective of work of the black photographer Gordon Parks, a staff photographer for Life magazine who documented the segregation in the south, poverty in Haarlem and the march for rights in 1963. Sadly the poverty amongst blacks in the US still remains. The Dane Asger Carlsen crossed the Antarctic and photographed glaciers there.  Three very contrasting exhibitions.

I chopped down a huge nettle outside Iain’s flat, so that he could sit on his bench.  We had lunch in his local cafe and he looked better. When I arrived he had just broken his wrist.  He receives excellent home support.  I did my Dutch food shopping in Albert Heijn and went home by Eurostar via Brussels.

In this visit I enjoyed meeting my cousins, and walking around the city.  I saw a new sober aspect of Dutch history. This was the last time that I saw Iain because he died very rapidly of bladder cancer in February 2018. He was a close friend and I miss him and have visited Amsterdam often to see him. 

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