Discovering My Amsterdam Heritage in Amsterdam

26 Aug

Amsterdam has been the destination my heart has yearned to visit. My Grandfather’s last name was Amsterdam. We know his family moved from Spain to Portugal to Amsterdam to Poland where his family got the last name Amsterdam while others became Hollanders. So I always wanted to see where my family found safety. (I have written about this in the blog below.)

My first connection came unexpectedly. We first toured the Anne Frank House, which was of course heartbreaking to know how close they came to survival. But while there I noticed something I never realized. Anne’s mother’s maiden name was Hollander. I had an Oy vey moment. I knew that Anne Frank and my mom were both born in 1929. But now there was the connection in name. Could we possibly have been distantly related? My horror was multiplied. I have already found so many of my family murdered in the Shoah. (See blog below.)

Then while taking a canal tour we rode past the new town hall and ballet. We were told that the old Jewish Section of town was razed to build this and there was a community outcry. But it still happened. As we rode past I saw a black monolith with Hebrew inscribed in gold. I knew I would be back.

The next morning my husband and I took the 14 tram to the Portuguese Synagogue. We walked around the area. It was not open yet, so we could not go inside. But I assume this is where my family worshipped after their arrival in Holland. I saw the outside of the Jewish Museum. I need to go back to visit these sites in he future.

In front of the Synagogue was a statute with the date February 25, 1941. On this date was major strike started against the Nazis because of the roundup of Jewish citizens. The Germans were harsh in stopping the strike. Many would died and be deported. It was my first reminder of the Shoah.

But my focus was on finding the monolith. My husband and I started walking the almost mile to the Town Hall. Along the way I saw my first stolperstein, golden stones, in front of a home listing the Holocaust victims. I knew they existed but had never seen them before outside of photos. It was another ache to the heart.

We continued our walk until we found the monolith on the edge of the land overlooking the canal. The black monolith commemorating those who died. Again I thought of all who found safety there in the 1600s but could not find it in the 1900s. I have to be honest, it reminded me of the giant black monolith of “2001 A Space Odyssey ” indicating great change. The change here was the decimation of the Jewish community.

A short walk away from the monolith was a statute in honor of Spinoza, who was born in Amsterdam at this location. I was surprised to find it here, although I know his history. There was a plaque nearby that discussed Spinoza’s impact on ethics and philosophy.

My desire to discover my Amsterdam heritage in Amsterdam was not totally quenched. I will need to go back to the Synagogue and museum another time. But I still feel closer to my family history.

7 Responses to “Discovering My Amsterdam Heritage in Amsterdam”

  1. Amy August 26, 2019 at 8:14 am #

    I also have roots in Amsterdam. My 3x-great-grandfather Hart Levy Cohen was born there around 1775. I have no idea where his family had been before or when they had first come to Amsterdam. While in Amsterdam in 2013, I went to the archives and searched for records with an archivist who specialized in the Jewish history of Amsterdam, but we could not find anything since in 1775, the Jews did not use surnames, so everything was just patronymics. When did your ancestors get to Amsterdam? There might be better records for them if it was after 1800.

    We toured the synagogue, the museum, Anne Frank’s house, and also the museum established where the Jews were kept while awaiting deportation. All very moving.

    But Amsterdam also was a LOT of fun—the art, the canals, the music, the beer—it’s one of our favorite trips of all time.

    • zicharon August 26, 2019 at 8:18 am #

      My family went there n he 1600/1700s. By the 1800s they made the mistake to go to Poland. I will have to go back. We only had a couple of days. I did not have time to do all I wanted!

      • Amy August 26, 2019 at 2:32 pm #

        I didn’t even know that Jews went east to Poland from Amsterdam.

      • zicharon August 26, 2019 at 3:37 pm #

        Yes. A big mistake. I will get reference when I am home. But a large number of Spanish Jews ended up in Zoolander.

      • Amy August 27, 2019 at 7:13 am #

        So tragic.

  2. littleblackcupboard September 9, 2019 at 11:43 pm #

    I share your love of Amsterdam, both my parents are Dutch and were living in the Netherlands during WWII. I have only been to the Netherlands twice, the history of the place is incredible, and overwhelming. Now that I am researching my own family history and what they and their compatriots experienced during and after the war I know that I need to go back. I hope you also are able to return.

    • zicharon September 10, 2019 at 5:44 am #

      I do hope to return one day. It is such an easy city in which to travel. There is so much more to see. Good luck with your family history!

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