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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Amsterdam: Rembered Pain Amidst Today’s Pleasures

  Today we have a guest blogger, my brother Phil, who writes of a recent excursion to Amsterdam. Enjoy.

Amsterdam is New York with the addition of designated vice zones and minus the guys who pounce on your windshield at traffic lights.  

This is a busy place. Walkers, bicyclist, scooters, buses, trolleys, and cars occupy many of the same spaces only at different intervals. Movement at the right time is key.  

If you’d like to avoid traffic all together, take a glassed-in boat canal tour of the amazing architecture. Look up and see if you can spot any of the buildings that look like they’re leaning forward toward the street. Make this investigation before you hit the coffee shops. 

If you want to try depression on for size, stroll around the red light district. For context, there’s the sex museum. 

For a town filled with pleasure seekers, the waiting line to the sadness of the Anne Frank Museum is surprisingly long. Here conversations are whispered, affect muted, eyes and ears straight ahead. This is where Anne Frank, her sister, their mom and dad, and four others hid from the Nazis for two years until they were discovered, arrested and sent to concentration camps. Only Otto Frank, her father, lived to tell the tale. 

The story is told through short videos, words from Anne’s diary providing the narration. There are also video interviews with Miep, an office worker and friend of Anne’s who worked in the jam factory under the upstairs hiding place, and with her father Otto in 1967.

 A walk through the museum is a shuffle through small bedrooms, a makeshift kitchen, a toilet. The original steep winding staircase is segmented now into smaller sections. Frodo and his friends would have had trouble negotiating these shin busters.

A false bookcase functioned as a hinged door providing access to the secret living space, the barrier between getting caught and living another day. Windows are blacked out and must never be opened. Artifacts sit behind museum glass—a typewriter, theatre magazine pages sent to Anne by a friend, photos, Nazi edicts on where Jews could not go, the identifying star to be sewn on and worn by all Jews. 

It’s hard to look at the old monopoly board tacked to a wall and not think about the rotten roll of the dice around the corner for everyone in the house but Frank. 

The feeling here is horror, disbelief. It stays with you after you leave. How could grown men, with sons and daughters of their own, be so completely non-human to others, particularly the innocent, whose crimes were being different?


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