Friday, July 10, 2009

Jessica's European Favorites: Holland, Part 2

For Kara (and anyone else who may have been confused by this): we traveled to Europe about a month ago but have since returned. Every once in awhile you’ll find a new post on this here blog about our time there, but it doesn’t mean we’re still traveling.

One of the most meaningful and interesting aspects of our time in The Netherlands was encountering so much WW2 history. I have long known that the country was occupied by the Germans during the war, and grew up reading books like Anne Frank and The Hiding Place. Both are favorites of mine. But seeing some of these places made it that much more real – and shocking – and heartbreaking.

The Anne Frank House is one of Amsterdam’s main tourist attractions. It is commonplace to see the entrance line winding around several city blocks. We thankfully made it there early and avoided the line, but it would have been worth seeing even if we’d had to stand there for awhile.

Anne Frank's house in the one all the way on the left. The rest of the museum takes up the other building in this shot.

Anyone who has read her book will remember Anne’s accounts of the small rooms she shared with eight other adults for those years during the war. Going up to the “Secret Annex,” it was just as she described it. Looking around, it is no wonder that tempers flared between the residents. It must have been a terribly cramped, lonely existence. Amazing that Anne retained so much spunk in her writing. And terribly sad that her short life ended in the concentration camps.

The Dutch Resistance Museum is a lesser known destination in Amsterdam, but extremely well done and fascinating. Since my grandfather (who I call Opa) was an active member of the Resistance, and was even imprisoned because of his activities with that group, it was especially meaningful to my family. But I really appreciated the experience apart from the family connection. Beyond telling the tale of those brave Dutch men and women, the museum digs deeper, telling the story of the country’s experience during the war.

It starts with the events leading up to the war, which I found especially interesting. On some level, I’d always kind of thought, “Man, if I was a Jew during that time, I’d have high-tailed it out of town while I still could. I would have seen it coming.” But I realize now that I, unlike those people, have the beauty of hind sight. While at this museum, I really learned just how cunning the Germans were. They exercised their control over the country in little, gradual ways. Before many people knew it, The Netherlands was in the grip of Germany. It was fascinating to learn about. And horrifying to think that it actually happened. And not that long ago.

While in Amsterdam, we also stopped by the building that once held Opa when it was being used as a prison during the war. It was also the first stop for Dutch Jews as they made their way to the concentration camps. Today it looks like a basic government building, although the shadow of a prison remains. It is surrounded by restaurants and a nearby square where concerts are held. The city’s Hard Rock CafĂ© is within a stone’s throw.

This plaque commemorated the place:

My grandma (Oma) was around my age when that prison held her husband. Can it be possible that things can change so much in one lifetime? As I sit now in my beautiful home, thinking about the happy and easy life we have here, I cannot imagine what it would feel like to live in a war-torn country. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have Josh in a Nazi prison. Would I be so brave, if faced with such evil? Would I resist, knowing it might cost me my life? I hope so.

While in the darling city of Haarlem, Josh and I visited Corrie ten Boom’s house. I’ve always loved The Hiding Place, which is Corrie’s tale of what happened to her and her family during the war. It is a truly inspirational story of God’s faithfulness and grace, even during such dark times. Corrie’s story is one of remarkable faith, courage, and sacrifice, as she tells of her resistance activities, of hiding Jews and finding homes for people on the run, and even her arrest and concentration camp sentence. Instead of succumbing to fear and anger, she allowed God to work through her to bring light and hope to people in desperate need of it.

The family watch shop, still with the ten Boom name:
The actual hiding place - in Corrie's bedroom.
People hiding would climb in through the bottom shelf of the little closet.
The family Bible was out in the living room. Psalm 91 was a passage that was near and dear to the ten Boom family.

I've always loved this Psalm, especially the first four verses:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

They say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."

Surely he will save you
from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

In her book, Corrie makes it clear from where she derived her strength. She found her abundance of courage, wisdom, and hope in God alone.

I’m confident that if I was in a similar situation, any peace or self sacrifice or courage would have to come from God. There is no question in my mind - I don’t have a lot of those qualities within me naturally. To make even a fraction of the difference Corrie and many other resistance fighters made, I would need to depend on God’s work in me and through me.

But then, that is always the case – war or no war.

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