Amsterdam Walking Tour: The Jewish Quarter

Jan. 30, 2018

After visiting Our Lord In the Attic church, we could have gone back to Dam Square to take a tram to the walking tour starting place, but Dale thought it couldn’t be too far, so we walked, with me navigating. Besides, we had to find someplace to have lunch along the way.033 (67)

I noticed many Chinese style buildings and signs written in Chinese – we were walking through Amsterdam’s Chinatown! We didn’t stop to eat there, however.

We stopped for lunch at Dutch Bistro, which is right next to Rembrandt’s house – also a museum and recommended by my brother, but we didn’t have time to visit.

 

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Image of Rembrandt Corner Dutch Bistro from https://www.pinterest.co.uk/sarahfox14/interiors/?lp=true (downloaded from Google Images)

 

We were chilly when we arrived at the restaurant, so we both ordered soup: Dale ordered a pea soup Dutch style with pieces of sausage in it, and I ordered pumpkin soup.

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Image from https://evainthekitchen.com/blog/bitterballen/

The waitress would not give us free tap water unless we ordered a drink so Dale ordered coffee and I tea. We also asked for an order of bitterballen, which are fried balls filled with a mashed meat, served with spicy mustard for dipping. We wanted to try this Dutch appetizer but generally people order it with beer, we later found out. (That’s OK, neither of us are beer drinkers.)

 

It was less than five minutes from there to the Jewish Historical Museum, where we were to meet our tour guide. We were to look for someone holding an orange umbrella with 360 written on it.033 (82)

Only four people had signed up for the tour today – us and another couple, Jews from New York City. Our guide was a young woman with wavy blonde hair topped by a gray knitted hat, named Floor (pronounced like in English, except that it means Flower).  She’d been a high school teacher for six years, but wanted more freedom to travel at any time of year – off season is cheaper and less crowded – so she became a tour guide.

Much of her narrative was about Jews during Nazi occupation. Their population was decimated in Amsterdam – from 80,000 people to, by the end of the war, 5,000.  This, Floor said, was because of the Jewish Council in Amsterdam – they were put in charge of controlling the Jewish population and enforcing anti-Jewish laws. The Amsterdam Jewish Council reasoned that it was better to cooperate with the Nazis in order to have a better chance of being treated favorably and surviving. So when the Nazis asked the Jewish Council for a list of names and addresses of all the Jews in Amsterdam, they complied with an accurate and complete list. Floor had a binder with pictures, and she flipped to a map of the city with black dots scattered on it, heavily concentrated in certain areas.

Jewish population in Amsterdam pre-WWII
Floor showed us this map of the Jewish population as of May 1941 – each black dot represents 10 Jews.

 

Because of this, the Nazis knew where all the Jews lived and which ones were missing from their homes (like Anne Frank’s family).  When the Nazi forbade Jews to have bicycles, the Council collected all the bicycles from their people.  Everyone had to be registered with an ID pass that you had to carry around with you at all times.  If you were Jewish, a big J was stamped on the ID.  Therefore, it wasn’t possible for Jews to disobey the requirement to wear a yellow star.  To add insult to injury, Jews had to buy the stars – they weren’t given to them for free!033 (84).JPG

In contrast, a city in the south of the country only lost 25% of its Jewish population, because the Jewish Council there thought differently – they made a mess of the registry, with inaccurate addresses, names missing or faked, so that the Nazis could not keep track of all the Jews in that city!  And in spite of the expected leniency, when the Nazis no longer needed the Jewish councils, those in Amsterdam, just like in the rest of the country, were rounded up and deported to concentration camps.


Floor told us this and other stories, including many about the Frank family, as we walked to various landmarks in the Jewish Quarter, such as silver plaques placed along the edge of a canal with the names of Jewish people who had lived in houses along the canal that got deported and died in the camps.  The plaques listed each name, birth and death years, and the name of the camp at which they perished – Auschwitz, Sobibor, Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen.

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Plaques with names of Jewish Holocaust victims who lived in the houses lining this canal.

 

 

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View across the canal

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We walked to Wertheim Park to see the Auschwitz memorial. 033 (92)The original glass with whatever was written on it had been cracked, but it didn’t matter because the entire surface was covered with bouquets of flowers (fresh – they must be replenished often) honoring lost loved ones.1-30 flowers at Auschwitz MemorialWe didn’t go into the Jewish History Museum or the Portuguese Synagogue. I would have liked to see the synagogue but Floor said it was usually locked unless you booked a tour in advance.033 (95)Most of the Jews that originally settled in Amsterdam were Sephardic Jews, who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s. the first wave of Ashkenazi Jews (from Poland, Russia and Ukraine) arrived after World War I, and finally there were émigrés who arrived after Hitler came to power, seeing the Netherlands as a neutral sanctuary (it had been neutral in WWI). Tragic!

We walked in the direction of the Anne Frank House, passing the place where we’d had lunch. Along the way, Floor pointed out other places important in Dutch Jewish history, including a theatre which had been used as a holding place for Jews awaiting deportation.1-30 Theatre where Anne Frank & family were briefly heldEventually the trains began transporting Jews like clockwork – twice a week, without fail. It was impossible for the people of Amsterdam not to know what was happening – it was going on right in front of their eyes. Former Jewish friends would be herded onto those trains and were never heard from again.

Another thing Floor pointed out were small golden plaques – we’d seen them in Lübeck, Germany on a tour during our Baltic cruise – embedded in the brick sidewalks in front of formerly Jewish residences. Again, the person’s name, birth and death years and the camp in which they were killed were listed. This project is sponsored by a German artist (the same one, probably, that we heard about in Lübeck).

We stopped in a courtyard surrounded by modern apartment buildings that all looked alike. Some weird looking trees were planted in the courtyard, currently devoid of leaves. 1-30 Public housing in AmsterdamFloor told us that this housing had been built in the 1960s to be affordable to the homeless – there really aren’t any homeless people in Amsterdam anymore. She used this location to tell us about the Winter of Hunger – 1944. People in Amsterdam were starving due to lack of provisions by the Nazi occupiers, and many went out into the countryside to beg for food at farms. Some people dug up tulip bulbs – these could be crushed to make a coarse flour; tasteless but at least it contained some nourishment.

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The Netherlands is famous for its tulips – and even in January, these were for sale at the airport.

 

From there, we emerged onto Dam Square, flanked by the royal palace, and the 15th century Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) built in Gothic style.033 (112)

033 (106)In the middle is the white National Monument, a memorial to the victims of WWII.

Floor told us about the square’s most famous incident, which happened on May 7, 1945, two days after German surrender. Thousands of Dutch citizens were in the square to await the arrival of Canadian troops, while the last vestiges of the German occupiers, a few navy men were holed up at a German club on the corner of Kalverstraat and the Paleisstraat. At some point, the Germans placed a machine gun on the balcony and began shooting into the crowd gathered on the square.

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Names of victims of shooting on May 7, 1945, embedded into the tiles in Dam Square. 

 

The shooting came to an end when a member of the resistance climbed into the tower of the royal palace and started shooting into the balcony and the club. The motives for the shooting were unclear (Really? They were Nazis!!). The death toll was between 22-33 and 120 were badly injured.

 

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Dam Square in the aftermath of the shooting. Downloaded from http://www.amsterdamredlightdistricttour.com/news/amsterdam-on-may-7th-1945-the-shooting/

To learn about the incident and the memorial for the victims of the shooting, see here.

We arrived at the Anne Frank House slightly after our entry time of 4:00-4:15 (we had made an emergency bathroom stop at the 360 office). But it didn’t matter; we got in right away.
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We were there for about an hour and 15 minutes on a self-guided audio tour like the one at Our Lord In the Attic. This time I did not stop before the end! We were not allowed to take any pictures and many of the rooms shown in my book about the house were not available for viewing – but the annex was, at least the first floor of it, not the attic where Peter van Pels lived. (I’m not sure I could have managed the steep ladder going up there anyway!)

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Cross section of the building and annex where the Frank family hid for two years, from the book “Inside Anne Frank’s House: An Illustrated Journey Through Anne’s World.”

At the end of the tour was a video where several well-known and less well-known people tell about what Anne’s diary meant to them. Then visitors were invited to type on a computer a similar message of what the diary meant to them. I did type a message and included my name, age, and country, which were optional. (A week after we got home, I received an email from the Anne Frank House, thanking me for my participation.)

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Welcome sign at Anne Frank House in many languages

 

I also lingered long enough in the gift shop to end up buying a book I shouldn’t have bought. I wish I’d bought a smaller one called Anne Frank’s Last Seven Months or something like that. It has the accounts of seven women who either saw her or were with her during the time she was at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. However, that book is probably available on Amazon. The one I got is only available at the museum.

By the time we left, we were very tired and definitely ready to find a place to have dinner! The picture below is NOT of the place we went for dinner!

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Dale took this picture during our walking tour. One thing NOT to do in Amsterdam is go to what is called a “coffee shop” if you actually want coffee and/or food! This particular one is named appropriately because that’s exactly what you get in an Amsterdam coffee shop!

We ended up at an Argentinian restaurant not far from the Anne Frank House, in the neighborhood of Jordaan, reputed to have many good restaurants. However, I would not recommend the place we went – look for Indonesian or Surinam (former Dutch colonies) cuisine, which is supposed to be very good.

 

 

 

 

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