Daily Diary – July 26

by ashilliard07 on 27 July 2010

Jewish Historical Museum & Walking Tour

Our day began at the Jewish Historical Museum at the corner of Nieuwe Amstelstraat and A.S. Onderwijzerhof.  This location also marks what is considered the former Jewish neighborhood, an area that was marsh land on the outskirts of the expanding city.  The museum is currently housed in four former synagogues, and includes an interactive kinder (children’s) museum.

 A law passed in 1901 that required buildings not fit for human inhabitation to be destroyed and rebuilt.  This is evident in the mixture of new and old facades of the buildings throughout the former Jewish neighborhood.  I found this particularly interesting because of the nature of my research project.  I am naturally drawn to the distinctly different architectural styles of the living spaces that are adjacent because of various materials employed, as well as the mixture of older and newer buildings. 

There were a few stops made throughout the walking tour that had extremely compelling history.  The first of which was the Walter Suskind bridge.  During the German occupation of the Netherlands, this man risked quite a lot to ensure that Jewish children and babies did not have to follow their parents into Nazi work camps.  Suskind’s offer to help families did not always succeed, as I imagine it would be extremely difficult to trust a stranger to care for your child.  The Jewish families had no idea where their final destination would be, thus some would trust Suskind for the sole benefit of the children.  This bridge located in the former Jewish neighborhood of Amsterdam commemorates the remarkable risks taken by Walter Suskind.  The second stop with an incredible history is currently the city hall building.  In 1738, a boy’s orphanage was constructed, however in 1943, Germans entered the house and took all of the boys away.  Three caretakers offered to stay with the boys voluntarily, but nobody from this group returned.  There is an outline of where the orphanage once stood, made of stone with the story engraved in Dutch.  This monument was remarkable because of the ghostly feeling given off by the outline.  It demonstrates that here, in this exact spot, something terrible – yet historical – happened.  My reaction to this site was simply of awe; I felt the gravity of the story told, but to be at the site was extremely moving.  A Jewish tradition when talking about the deceased is to finish by saying may their memory always is a blessing.

After arriving at the Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theater), it was clear that the polished façade was both a monument and a museum.  Inside the building, however, were many more ways in which this building marks an important culturally historical site.  The wall of names was erected in 1993 and consists of 6700 family names.  The twelve panels on which the names are inscribed represent the twelve tribes of Israel.  This space is a symbolic cemetery primarily for Dutch Jews, as about 75% were killed during the Nazi occupation.  There is a tree in the center of the space that represents life; after all, 25% survived.  The theater stage and courtyard behind the building also share memorial sites.  The walls surrounding the theater stage and the façade are the only parts of the Hollandsche Schouwburg that remain from post-World War II.  This building in particular served as a transition point for Jewish prisoners on their way to Auschwitz.  At this point during the early 1940s a German civil authority (rather than a military regime) was placed upon the existing Dutch municipalities.  This was meant as a way to ease the pressures and tensions from upcoming anti-Jewish measures.  The lecture –and the hallways –presented many photographs of Dutch Jews in daily life. 

After finishing the lecture at the Dutch theater, our group walked back to the Jewish Historical Museum for a tour of the interior.  The Kinder Museum is directed toward children who have just finished reading the diary of Anne Frank in school, but takes on a friendly, cheerful feeling of family closeness.

We continued on to the Virtual Knowledge Studio for our presentations with guest lecturer, Paul Wouters.  His introduction as the Programme Leader of the VKS was interesting, as it presented new methodologies and ways of doing research.  Each group presented the current status of their project and had time for feedback.  Although, I believe this group should invest in an egg timer (with a buzzer) in order to facilitate our discussions in a more time-efficient and equal manner.  At the end of the day, I was left with a sense of the gravity of the Holocaust as a tragic event lives on today.  Standing on the same ground as those that lost their lives was incredibly moving, but it’s not about the typical textbook interpretation of the events of World War II.  The incredible sense of camaraderie among the Jewish community is outstanding.  May their memory always be a blessing.

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