The mood is somber, the photos heartbreaking. Here for instance. These young faces, all with so much promise:
As I travel through the exhibit, I come across many tragic stories, as well as one of a couple who were photoghraphed on their wedding day. They survived, but separately. He was taken. She went into hiding; he escaped. They found each other after the war.
What the Nazis did in the Netherlands was the template for what they did everywhere else: forced the Jews to bargain with them through dealing with a "Jewish Council" of leaders in that community. It was a fiendish plot designed to co-opt and defang resistence, based on the trust people had for their leaders. And the leaders themselves, hoping they could make some deal for their people to fend off the the Nazi threat, tried to bargain but were helpless as family by famly, their people were taken until at at last, they themselves received their "Deportation" papers. The next thing they knew, it was over. Of the 80,000 Jews in Amsterdam, 75% died in the Holocaust. The highest statistic in Europe. And most of those who survived went into hiding.
Two days later, I find myself with Peter and Sylvie, friends who live in the southern district of Amsterdam, and are taking me on a tour of their neighborhood. We're on a beautiful, wide lane with long rows of 4-story buildings - Churchill-Laan, not far from 37 Merwedeplein where Anne Frank and her family lived for 7 years before going into hiding.
This is the park they looked out at from their 2nd floor apartment:
A statue of her in a nearby park shows her looking back at her home...
There was very brave resistance of course, and just outside Amsterdam in a village called Enschede, three men (including a Chaplain) went to the Jewish Council with an alternate idea to dealing with the Nazis: they suggested putting all their Jewish citizens into hiding.
"'Hiding' is not in our vocabulary," they were told.
That was the last time they visited the Jewish Council.
Instead, they set about raising funds to sponsor the people in their village with friends and willing families. Money came from every source imaginable - companies and manufacturers, individual donors; the fund raising was non-denominational. Of the 1500 Jews in their village, 500 were saved.
Every single story I read about survivors included making an escape, bucking the system, going into hiding. No one knows who betrayed the Franks but what is certain, is that if they had not gone into hiding, they would have perished far sooner - they almost made it.
I have been to Holocaust museums in the US, but it's not the same. I'm not walking the very streets where Nazis stormed in, where people fled or were seized; I'm not listening to the native language of people who lost their lives in a cold planned execution.
The Amsterdam Jews were easy to find. The government didn't force assimilation but freely allowed communities to stay together. And they kept records. The Nazi's work was done for them.
Why am I telling you this? Because more than ever now as in Amsterdam, I sense anything can happen in the US. This could happen.
There is no security if we don't fight for it. And what I learned from this exhibit was this: Resist. Stay united. Think for yourself. Organize.