Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Haarlem, Heroes and a Hope

Sunshine and shadows dance on the boxes overflowing with fragrant red and green apples in our sun porch. They need to be peeled and stored away for winter pies, but I need to pick up again with our travel stories. The apples will have to wait a while...

Our trip to the Netherlands and England had always been about more than seeing the sights in the two countries we visited. 


The art galleries; museums; music; theatre--they moved me deeply, and I celebrated sharing their soul shaping beauty with our three young granddaughters. But there was also a history that shaped my parents, and their histories shaped me, just as the whole generation of children born to parents just after World War 11 was shaped by its shadow. Being in the Netherlands I wanted to share that history in a redemptive way and weave threads of hope and faith into Tippy's, Tori's and Katherine's hearts. 

And so before we left for Europe, the process began by watching DVD's about two important people. One was a Jewish girl, who died when she was younger than our girls are now--Anne Frank; and the other was a Christian Dutch woman, Corrie Ten Boom, whose faith led her on a journey of risk, courage and forgiveness, and whose story continues to speak to people today.  
Amsterdam Centraal Station

Early on an August Saturday morning, we set out from Amsterdam Centraal Train Station, bound for Haarlem, Corrie's home town, a 15 minute train ride away.

I had left it too late to make reservations on-line, so we hoped that we would get in on one of the four English tours of 20 people. 

We stepped off the train into the historic town of Haarlem and began by asking the way to Corrie Ten Boom's house.

The town was quaint with beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets and cosy cafes and shops. We spotted a pancake house along the way and made mental note of it for lunch later on. 
Haarlem, Paesi BassiThen we found ourselves standing in front of a very ordinary Dutch house with a jewelry shop in the front: . In the small alley, a line had already been started by a multi-generation family of eight from Michigan. With us that made a total of thirteen people waiting for the 11.30 tour. We chatted with the first family and felt sorry for the crowd that began to gather and obviously exceeded the twenty person limit per tour. 

Shortly before 11.30 the door outside which we were waiting, opened. A woman whose eyes at once looked keenly observant and ready for humour; peered down the line. Her russet coloured hair was swept into a loose French roll from which tendrils escaped. She seemed to be of late middle age and her softly lined face had a vital glow. She wore a green shot silk Indian tunic and pants, with purple trim; and sandals on her bare feet. 

She began counting the people in the line, by saying, "I always count flexibly, and never count children." In that sentence she summed up the ethos of the Ten Boom family, which took in and hid Jewish people during the war, always making room for more. The whole story can be read in Corrie's book, The Hiding Place. In the end this cost many of Corrie's family their lives when they were betrayed by a Dutch Nazi collaborator. They were arrested, and deported to a concentration camp. She never saw her elderly father again as he became ill and died, shortly after arrest, and her beloved sister Betsie died while imprisoned in the concentration camp, along with other family members.

Corrie was set free due to a clerical error and survived into old age. After the war she opened places of respite and restoration, not only for people traumatized and displaced by the war, but for Dutch citizens who had collaborated with the Nazis and were despised. Later she traveled the world telling the story of God's love, the hiding place, and how he had enabled her to forgive even the guard who had treated her sister with extreme cruelty--a grace that only God could give.

I can't know what threads of hope and faith were woven into our granddaughters' hearts and souls that day; that remains between them and God; but the opportunity to expose them to heroes whose faith meant action--that was even more wonderful than I had hoped.

We made our way to the pancake house we'd spotted that morning-A Crepe Affaire. It was whimsical and funny, and the crepes were delicious!

Food for body and soul.




Friday, October 02, 2015

Lessons from the Past

My agenda for our trip to Amsterdam was deeply personal and born of a desire to share family roots, culture and history with our grandchildren. I had thought that I might share some of the history I have already written about, but in the end I chose instead to stay "in the moment" during the precious time we had with them and let them learn through the experiences to which we exposed them.

I had been talking to Tippy, Katherine and Tori about this trip for a couple of years. Our excitement and anticipation grew as we planned details. One highlight on my agenda was the Anne Frank House. Anne was someone whose life I wanted to speak into theirs. Two of them had read her diary earlier in their teens, and, like many teenagers they had read the heartrending romance by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. in which the Anne Frank House plays a significant part. 

On a weekend in early August, in preparation for the trip, we watched two movies together. One of them was a DVD of the 2009 BBC mini series, The Diary of Anne Frank, with British actress Tamsin Greig playing Anne. It was incredibly well done and moving, capturing Anne with honesty, as a human being that they could relate to.

I couldn't get tickets online for the dates we'd be there, however I found that you could also skip the lineups if you booked a visit as part of a larger trip, so I booked us in for a five hour tour. I had no idea how interesting the whole day would turn out to be!

We started at 1.30 with a tour of the Gasson Diamonds Factory. In 1945, at the end of WW11, it was founded by Samuel Gasson, who had escaped deportation by the Nazi's by fleeing to Switzerland earlier in the war. He had worked at the company when it was owned by another Jewish family. Diamonds that he had smuggled out of the country in his shoes, enabled him to found the factory anew at the end of the war. Those who remained in Amsterdam faced the relentless call ups to report at Amsterdam's Central Station. Most were never heard from again. Every time an employee was deported, their name, and the date they were taken was engraved on the windows with a diamond. Seeing those names, over 70 years later, bearing silent testimony to real people who lived and died, during a time of terror, was poignant.


The Nazis seized ownership of the factory from the original owners, who were sent to concentration camps, where they died.

The rest of the factory tour was fascinating, with opportunities to learn a lot about diamond cutting, as well as the fact that the only diamonds in Rolex watches are Gasson diamonds!


Next, we walked to an old and beautiful Portuguese Jewish synagogue. Our guide told us the history of the Jewish community in Amsterdam and we learned that antisemitism is still rife and growing, resulting constant police presence to ensure safety. To get in, we entered through two sets of double doors. The second doors were not opened until we had all entered the space between them and the first doors had been closed behind us. There was so much history, so much to see and read, but the time available seemed all too short to fully take in the wealth of Jewish history on display.


A tour bus was waiting to take us to the Anne Frank House. As we drove towards the building where Otto Frank, Anne's father had his business office and in which the secret annex was housed, the lineup did indeed stretch for what looked like miles.

We looked up and saw the beautiful Westerkerk, the church that Anne could see from the annex window.
 It was early evening, and the historic clock chimed the hour as Anne would have heard it do all those years ago. I came with a sense of pilgrimage. Since my teens I had known of this remarkable girl and now she felt so close.

To actually walk quietly through the doorway that was hidden by a bookcase, and up the narrow stairs to the hiding place, and wander through the rooms that remain exactly as they were left, felt like walking on holy ground. The postcards and photos of movie stars are still on the walls, where Anne pasted them. It was incredible to see the place in which the domestic drama described in Anne's diary took place. Of the eight people who hid there for just over two years until they were betrayed, only Otto Frank survived the war. 

Anne's young voice survived in her diary, though, and we hear it, so full of life, hopes and dreams. 

While Paul and the girls waited, I had one more thing to do. I joined the line of people waiting to sign the guest book. It felt important to record the fact that we had been here, evidence that this place mattered to us.

Ahead of me signing the book was a girl of about 13. She wrote and wrote and seemed to be pouring out her heart on its pages, oblivious to the line of people waiting behind her. No one murmured, or stirred impatiently. There was a feeling of respect, as though each person's moment here was their own, and not to be rushed. When she put down the pen, I stepped to the book and recorded our names and reason for coming all the way from Canada to be there, "So that our grandchildren would know that all human life has value." It wasn't profound, and didn't begin to capture the deep emotion in my heart as I wrote it, but our names were in the book! 

I put down the pen and turned to join the three girls, so full of life, waiting for me with their grandfather. We stepped out into the sunshine of the Amsterdam evening, and a world in which they will live much longer than we. On that evening it felt like we had done something important to prepare them.