Day 13 – Amsterdam – Canal Cruise and Jewish Walking Tour

We opted to have breakfast in the hotel, for only €16.50 per person. Yes, it was very nice and there were lots of options, but no more! There must be some less expensive options out there.

This morning, we took a lovely cruise on the canals that run all around the center of Amsterdam, with audio accompaniment to point out the highlights of each area. This is a very photogenic city. I will have a difficult time sorting through all the pictures but will work to put them into a separate post by day and activity.

After we returned to our hotel, we walked to meet our guide for our walking tour of the formerly very active Jewish area of Amsterdam. The history of Jewish life here goes back to the 1600’s, when Sephardic Jews came to Amsterdam to escape the Inquisition in Spain. They were highly educated and entrepreneurs, which made them very welcome. They built two synagogues, one of which is still in use today. They hold services daily in Hebrew and Ladino (a cross between Spanish and other languages). I considered attending Shabbat services on Saturday morning but the Ladino part was a little daunting. The building is quite large but there are no markings of it being a synagogue.

In the 1800’s, Ashkenazi Jews from eastern Europe and Russia flooded Amsterdam. They weren’t as welcome because they were largely uneducated peasants fleeing the pogroms and the Sephardim weren’t thrilled to have them. However, by the time WWII came, no matter where the Jews came from, they were marked with the yellow star and ultimately not allowed to leave their neighborhood. It was fenced in like a ghetto. Jews, along with Gypsies, gays, and other non-Christian religions, were starved and those who survived, were sent to concentration or work camps, eventually marked for death.

Near the large synagogue is a memorial to these Jews. Each brick is inscribed with the name of someone who was taken away, over 100,000 that is known. There is one wall that has blank bricks, awaiting names that are being researched to add. The Hebrew letters on the entry wall are also shaped into mirrors that face skyward and can be seen from above. The names of each person who would be sent away has a brick. In some cases, the brick only has their first name, along with their original home town, their date of birth, their age, and the date they were taken away (and most likely their date of death). In some cases, their age was 0 because the mother was pregnant and the baby never had a chance to be born.

We ended the tour outside of the Anne Frank House. Our tickets to see the inside is scheduled for tomorrow, but just seeing this nondescript pectin factory that was Otto Frank’s business, provides even more evidence that they were able to hide for years from the authorities who were hell-bent on finding Jews and doing whatever they wanted to change their lives.

On streets where Jews used to live, our guide showed us brass plaques in the sidewalk indicating similar details about the former residents, including their names, dates of birth, and the date they died. We found more as we walked the neighborhood.

Around the corner from our hotel, there is a flea market, where Jewish merchants would sell all kinds of goods. It gave new immigrants an opportunity make a living doing what they could do. Most of these immigrants only knew their native language, or perhaps Yiddish. Taking away their means of supporting their families was just one of the many injustices experienced by the Jews during WWII. Currently, the market has booths run by people from all over the world, selling used clothing, Indian and Chinese jewelry, and cheap, low-quality items.

The rest of the day was on our own and it was very pleasant, although it could have been a bit warmer. Going from Egypt where it hovered at 100F to Amsterdam with temps in the low 60’s was challenging. We wore all our layers and Jim proclaimed that he will never go anywhere without his fleece jacket! At least we had no rain to contend with.

We had a light, unremarkable meal and fell into bed, exhausted from walking over 15,000 steps. Tomorrow, more fun!

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