This entry was posted on November 29, 2022 by somuchworldsolittletime. It was filed under Netherlands, North Holland - Amsterdam and was tagged with amsterdam.
I’ve been waiting for you to take a photo of this remarkable street, as I know something special about it. And now I find out you’re living right there! Four or five years ago, a British couple (now back living in England) lived next to us here in Melbourne for a year, and we became good friends. When his work resettled them in Amsterdam, I visited them there. They too lived very near where you live now on those same “tunnelled trees blocks”. So here’s the story they told me about those trees and those houses:
One afternoon my friend had locked herself out of their (rented) house, and was waiting for her husband to return home and let her in with his keys. Her next door neighbour arrived home and noticed her sitting reading on her front steps and came over to talk. Once he learned that she’d locked her keys inside her house, he said, “If you’ll permit me, I can let you into your house.” She replied, “Of course”, thinking he must have an extra set of keys given him earlier by her landlord (who was living temporarily overseas and so renting out his house).
He went in his own front door but fifteen or so minutes later he came out her door–yes. from the inside of her house. She was totally shocked that he had somehow gotten into her house from inside it, until he explained that before WWII that area of Amsterdam had been a place where many Jewish families lived. During the war quite a few of them — including the owners then of her house and his next door — hid inside their homes with the help of non-Jewish friends who came to live in their houses in order to supply them with food and answer questions about their whereabouts when the occupying Germans came searching for them.
They managed to live in dark, dirt lined rooms they dug out by extending their cellars into the areas among the tree roots under those extra-wide streets in front of the houses. They also dug connecting tunnels between their dugout rooms and the ones next door, so they could visit and get some relief from their imprisoned existence.
Eventually, years later, the large trees above the ground began to lean over in the remarkable way your photo records because so much of the supporting dirt underneath them had been removed. Every tree that is leaning now indicates a house where Jews were in hiding underneath it. To this day, the backs of most of the cellars in those blocks still have these dugout rooms behind a false wall. Because her neighbour knew about that , he was able to move from his cellar into hers by going through those never-filled-in rooms in front of his house and hers.
I was in her tiny, musty and cramped cellar where there was a washer and dryer. Its ceiling was so low that I had to walk staying bent over. The back wall certainly looked permanent to me.
My friends said some of the Netherlanders of whom they asked questions about this remarkable story replied that “We don’t talk about that” or just abruptly changed the subject without any comment. They never found out if the Netherlanders were so reluctant to talk about it because of questions after the war of these home’s ownership, or if the hidden families had been betrayed during the occupation and murdered by the Germans , but they assume this denial-reaction must be due to some deep fear- and/or shame-filled association with the fate of the families hiding in the cellars.
They were never able to uncover the truth about their survival or not. Maybe you will be able to? I’ve wondered about it often and would love to learn whatever you find out.
–Gretchen (in Melbourne)
November 30, 2022 at 02:48
What a beautiful scene, and an amazing story!
November 30, 2022 at 08:01
Wow. That is a fascinating story. I had no idea.
November 30, 2022 at 13:35
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