I recently returned to Paris from a four-day reporting trip to Amsterdam to cover a story about a proposed Dutch shechitah ban. It was my first time in Holland, and I was struck by the city’s warmth and beauty and by the way it seems to gleefully dart back and forth between the seedy and the genteel.
Amsterdam also has much to offer the Jewish traveler.
The Anne Frank House should be at the top of any yiddishe tourist’s itinerary. The museum, housed in the building where the diarist and seven others hid from the Nazis in the famous “Secret Annex,” is just a short walk from the Dam, one of the city’s central squares and a main center for shopping. It’s a remarkably subtle installation – helped by the fact that photos are not allowed, forcing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the experience.
I was caught off-guard by how emotional the exhibit made me, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been. There’s something timeless about Anne’s story and something to be commended about the way the museum has chosen to present it – respectfully but not morbidly, powerfully but without bombast. It may well have been the most effective Holocaust memorial I’ve ever visited.
Anne Frank House
For those eager to continue to retrace Anne Frank’s steps, a visit to South Amsterdam is in order. There, you can pause and reflect at her statue on Merwedeplein, the square the Franks lived on before going into hiding. Just down the street, you’ll see a bookshop with a yellow awning – the store where she purchased her famous diary for her 13th birthday.
Bookstore where Anne Frank bought her diary
This neighborhood is also central to modern Jewish life in Holland. Check out the Sal-Meijer kosher deli, an Amsterdam institution for decades. I’d recommend the half-and-half, an unfussily prepasred half-liver, half-corned beef sandwich. Mustard is provided, though an even better side dish is conversation with the kind Dutch Jewish couple who runs the business.
If you have one more attraction in your system, I’d recommend the Jewish Historical Museum, housed near the Dam in four conjoined former Ashkenazi synagogues. (Across the street is the city’s Portuguese Synagogue, a spare, compelling space that is also worth a visit.) The museum explores Jewish rituals, from life-cycle events to Torah study, as well as examining Jewish history in the Netherlands since 1600.
Jewish Historical Museum
The most effective room takes a look at the period from 1900 to the present, examining the thorny question of why some Dutch Jews left for Israel after the Holocaust and others chose to make a go at a robust religious life in Holland. There’s also a children’s museum on-site, though I did not go in.
Just a few hours by train from Paris and London, Amsterdam is well worth a visit for tourists. Jews helped shape this city, and Jewish identity is still intertwined with Amsterdam’s own sense of self.
Photos by Alex Weisler