Wednesday, February 16

a history lesson

'Ghost of Amsterdam' photo series
I keep thinking about this link that Casey sent me a few months back.
We had to do a little research last week about our neighborhoods — I hadn’t thought a whole lot about my immediate area (it’s an inconspicuous residential street that connects to a drag of vintage shops, late night snack joints and coffeeshops) because it seemed so quiet and quaint. In my searching, I found out that the vicinity of my abode is home to such a sad story —
The Gassan Diamond Factory
Though my building was built in the 1920s, the row of houses across from us was erected in the 1600s. They acted as warehouses and tenement houses back in the day when this was the bustling Jewish quarter. On the same street was the Waterlooplein market, the center of commerce for the neighborhood’s population (it has since moved a few streets down). A few houses down stands a former diamond factory, a huge source of economy for the people who lived in the area. Interestingly, my street is technically on an island, cut off on the sides and ends by canals (former swamp land, I was told). It was here during WWII that the Nazi’s cut off bridge access on both sides, trapping a large portion of the Jewish population before taking them away. A few blocks away, a statue called De Dokwerker stands to commemorate the February Strike, the first action taken by non-Jews to protest the Nazi treatment of the Jewish population in all of occupied Europe (the strike was quickly squashed). The neighborhood was pillaged and, after the war, the Jews who returned relocated to a different part of the city.  We visited the Dutch Resistance Museum this afternoon and located my street on a map in the exhibit — it had one of the highest population densities of Jewish inhabitants who, literally, vanished in a night.
The small bridge as you step out my front door.
It’s chilling to have those images in the back of my mind as I ride my bike home in after dark. I pass the diamond factory on my right, now open for tours — and a building or so away are photographic murals of the Waterlooplein market taken before the war.  I can’t help but to reflect on how quiet it always is as I roll along… and I can’t help but to go back to that old adage, “if walls could talk…”

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