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Amsterdam, Anne Frank, and the Dutch Resistance

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam has long welcomed the persecuted throughout the centuries, including Catholics and Jews. But when Nazi Germany took over, Jews — including Anne Frank — were deported to camps. The Dutch Resistance fought back.

Complete Video Script

Amsterdam has a long tradition of welcoming the persecuted. When the Netherlands won its independence from Catholic Spain back in the 1500s, the Dutch government outlawed Catholicism. But locals here conspired to give Catholics a place to worship — provided they kept a low profile.

This 17th-century merchant house look normal from across the canal… but inside is a hidden Catholic church. Called “Our Lord in the Attic,” it dates from 1661, when post-Reformation Dutch Catholics were forbidden to worship in public. Imagine this small church crammed with worshippers. It’s like a grand church…in miniature.

Jews also found safe haven in Amsterdam. Nearby stands the bold, 17th-century Portuguese Synagogue.

While the Dutch were tolerating Catholics here, elsewhere, Catholic nations — in response to the Protestant Reformation — were expelling anyone who worshipped differently. And that included Jews. The ever-pragmatic Dutch smartly welcomed Jews from Eastern Europe, Spain, and Portugal, and put their business acumen to use to help build their economy.

Amsterdam’s thriving Jewish quarter was a Babbel of tongues, and this synagogue served its Portuguese-speaking community. It’s a commanding structure, built in the 1670s, when Catholics were still worshipping in secret. It survived World War II, and still functions as a place of worship — with the Ten Commandments, in Hebrew, still shining down on the congregation.

Whether Protestants, Catholics, or Jews, through the ages, the Dutch have given refuge to the persecuted. But they couldn’t protect their haven from the Nazis.

This building, a thriving theater in Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter before the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, was part of that sad story. Visitors enter an assembly hall Nazis used for local Jews destined for concentration camps. Today, it’s a thought-provoking memorial that makes an indelible impression on its visitors — whether tourists or school groups having a thought-provoking field trip.

On the wall, thousands of family names represent the tens of thousands of Dutch Jews who were assembled here before being deported to camps in the east… and death. And that included the family of Anne Frank.

At the Anne Frank House, visitors learn the story of eight Jews who, in 1942, went into hiding. They went behind this secret swinging bookcase, into the attic above a shop, and hid almost silently for two years.

Among them was 13-year-old Anne, whose journal has inspired millions of people. You’ll see how Anne’s father, Otto, tracked the progress of the allies after D-Day…and pencil lines tracking how Anne and her sister were growing up in hiding. Anne’s room is still decorated with photos and magazine clippings — showing the idols, dreams, and passions of a 13-year-old girl. A small window, letting in a splash of the outside world, lifted her spirits. Then, one fateful day, the Gestapo came. All eight were deported, sent east to concentration camps. Only her father survived. Anne died just weeks before the end of the war. Her handwritten diary inspires visitors, and her book has been translated into 70 languages. Visiting the Anne Frank House humanizes the horror of the Holocaust through the story of just one of six million victims.

Nearby, the Dutch Resistance Museum takes you behind the scenes during the Nazi occupation, and tells how the Dutch fought back. Pistols were hidden in books. With this corset, stuffed with ration cards, a woman who looked pregnant helped feed both hidden Jews and resistance fighters. And courageous moms with strollers did their part as well. Resistance fighters falsified IDs. This student, wanted by the Nazis, disguised himself as a woman. Propaganda movie clips tried to make Dutch Nazis look like winners. While the Germans confiscated all radios, the Dutch secretly got their news from England via miniature radios. This one’s hidden in a matchbox. The suffering was horrific. Many starved. And many barely survived — on a diet of tulip bulbs.

Rick: So you grandparents actually lived through this.
Rolinka: Yeah. The winter of ’44¬–45 was called the “Hunger Winter,” where people in the cities were starving, and they started to eat tulip bulbs, just to have something in their bellies.
Rick: Wow.
Rolinka: Grandparents starved so that children could live, and that entire generation of people is actually shorter than their countrymen. Today we eat well, and our young people are the tallest in Europe.