Dekkers, Windmills and Anne Frank House

Sunday, June 26, 2016
Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands
Today is our last full day in the Netherlands before returning to the United States on Monday. And, what a great finale day it was! We spent the entire day with the newly ordained elder Wim Dekker and his wife Anne Kristel (De Jong). We fully appreciated getting to know them better and had the most enjoyable day in the Amsterdam area.

The highlights were first going out to a windmill and a museum area north of Amsterdam called Zaanse Schans . While it was for tourists, it was educational and authentic. We went through one of the windmills that harnesses wind power for sawing, milling, pumping water and other purposes. We saw a huge beech log grown in the Netherlands, would you believe, being sawed into slices. We walked into a few of the windmills and saw the huge fan blades up close. In Zaanse Schans they make cheese, too. And wooden shoes. Delft china was featured in the shops. 

The highlight for the day for me was going through the Anne Frank house in the center of Amsterdam. It is well-known and heavily visited. You need to get tickets long in advance for a specific time. We got ours about two months ago and barely were able to get the last tickets for this Sunday.

The story of Anne Frank is well known. Since it was first published in 1947, Anne Frank's diary has become one of the most powerful memoirs of the Holocaust. Its a message of courage and hope in the face of adversity and it has reached millions . The diary has been translated into 67 languages with over 30 million copies sold. I've heard figures as high as 50 million copies. I had never read her diary until this last year when Bev and I listened to it as an Audible version in our car while driving. The Audible version is read very well by a female voice and I was very moved by her story for a number of reasons, probably differing from what many might normally have.

The setting is in World War II Amsterdam which was under German occupation. Anne Frank's family was Jewish and when they saw the anti-Jewish sentiment, they decided to go into hiding in a building annex right in town. It was actually in the business premise of Otto Frank, the father, and the annex was part of that building. 

They survived a little over two years hiding until they were betrayed by Dutch nationals in August 1944. The eight who were hiding were sent to concentration camps, first to Auschwitz and then the Bergen-Belsen . Anne died probably of typhus in February 1945, just months before Germany was defeated by the Allies in May of that year. 

The book made an emotional impact on me because during War II in Germany, my parents were slave laborers and my Dad spent time in a concentration camp. My parents were teens taken from their homes in Ukraine when Germany attacked the USSR. They endured a hard life in Germany and in their story they escaped to the West, living as refugees in Hannover, Germany United Nations camp, and finally finding a home in the United States in July 1949.

Anne Frank’s narrative is interesting. She was 13 when she, her family and friends went into hiding…she was still very youthful. But, by the time she wrote her last entries at age 15 she had grown up a lot. She described the hiding place and life in it in great detail. She shares her feelings of hope and relationship to the others. She was a young lady with great ambition and speaks so freely of it along with her budding femininity . It was so interesting to visit that very place after reading the book and getting the feeling from Anne and the others who were there. 

It is a story that did not turn out well for Anne and this is part of the attraction of her experience on those who come in contact with it. She was not a survivor, but one of millions who perished and left their lives as a memorial of man’s beastly behavior. It is just incredible to think what evil people can inflict on others and turn lives completely upside down by those who are supposedly highly educated and civilized. 

I think of my own life and my parents who ended up fortuitously in the United States. My parents and I were survivors of World War II when many of their close friends perished. All this made me reflective…during and after reading Anne Frank’s diary and visiting the Anne Frank House.

It is amazing that Anne’s diary even survived . When those in hiding were betrayed and arrested, the Nazi’s took all their possessions and sold off the furniture in the annex. A Nazi soldier threw down the briefcase which contained the diary and other papers that were strewn around the room and just left them there. The diary could have easily disappeared, but one of the friends of the Frank family gathered them up and gave them to Anne's father Otto who survived the concentration camp. He learned about the death of his daughters and had the Diary published. Anne Frank has become iconic since then to millions.

I don’t usually reveal too much about the agony of my thoughts that I have about disruptions in people’s lives. Disruptions tear apart the relationships with people and the things you love, but they also open doors to new things in life. It could be war, family estrangement, and religious division affecting the very core of who you are. I’ve experienced all of these situations.

After the Anne Frank House the Dekker’s along with Bev and me walked around Amsterdam . it was a beautiful, sunny day. Amsterdam is a city of canals somewhat similar to Venice where we were last week. We had a drink on the canal. Then we walked some more and had dinner at an outdoor Argentinian restaurant called Gauchos on Leidse Square. We had great food and conversations with Wim and Anne Kristel.  

We had also wanted to see the home where a similar story was told by Corrie ten Boom in her book The Hiding Place that was also made into a movie and had a more Christian underpinning. But, the location was in Haarlem about 40 minutes drive and it is closed on Sundays. We'll save it for another time. 

Then the Dekker's took us back to our hotel. Everything in the Netherlands is so neat and compact. Our hotel is about seven miles from the heart of Amsterdam.

It was a great and wonderful day. We said good-bye to the Dekkers, our new friends.