Visit the Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum) in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This blog address contains a report and photographs from my 9-day visit to The Netherlands in October 2018 for short spells at Naarden in North Holland’s Gooi region, and at Eibergen in the Achterhoek area on The Netherlands’ eastern border.

I hope you enjoy reading it. I suggest that you start by scrolling to the bottom for the blogpost about old town Naarden, and then read upwards from there, in chronological order.


Early this afternoon, my relatives took me to the Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum) at Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1 in Amsterdam’s old Jewish quarter comprising an area less than 1km2. This area is now a cultural precinct.

This Museum is the largest and most important museum in The Netherlands to focus on Jewish history, religion and culture. It is housed within a group of former Ashkenazi synagogues.

The permanent exhibition covers expected themes – the role of religion and tradition, the links with Israel, the persecution of Jews during the WW2, personal life stories and the mutual influence of Jewish and Dutch culture. There are also two temporary exhibitions on display at any point in time.

We visited the Geschiedenis 1600–1900 (History 1600–1900) galleries and the Geschiedenis 1900–heden (History 1900–present) galleries. Here is a reproduction of the Museum’s interpretive notes at the exhibits on display:

“In the 17th century, the Republic of the United Netherlands – roughly The Netherlands as it is today – became the centre of world trade. Amsterdam developed into a busy transit port where all manner of raw materials and commodities changed hands. Merchants from every continent were greeted warmly, and trading companies sailed their fleets all over the world. Amsterdam had truly become an international city.

The combination of economic success and a relatively tolerant religious environment – unique in Europe [at that time] – made the city attractive to foreigners. This drew not only French and German Protestants to Amsterdam, but also Portuguese ‘New Christians’. They were descendants of Jewish families in Spain and Portugal, who had been forced to abandon their religion under Catholic rule. Jews who had always remained Jewish came to the Republic [of the Netherlands] from the German states and Poland.

Jews had already lived in the Low Countries during the Middle Ages, but they fled due to anti-Jewish actions and persecution. From the early 17th century onwards, Jews were able to practise their religion here [in the Netherlands] in relative freedom, without having to wear distinguishing marks or live in ghettos. This was a new start.

Around 1600 the first New Christians arrived in Amsterdam: merchants who spoke and wrote in Portuguese or Spanish and barely knew any Hebrew. Their ancestors had converted to Christianity at the end of the 15th century, usually under duress. Other immigrants, Jews from Italy, North Africa and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey), made their way here too, some of them descendants from families who had once been expelled from Spain. We now refer to both these groups as Sephardi Jews, after the Hebrew [term] for Spain, Sepharad.

Ashkenazi Jews moved to Amsterdam from the German states, Central Europe and Poland. Ashkenaz was the Hebrew term for the German Rhineland and Northern France. This group had always continued to practise Judaism: they spoke Yiddish (a language that mixes elements of German, Hebrew and local languages) and used Hebrew for prayers and the study of religious texts.

After they arrived in Amsterdam, all these immigrants stayed in close contact with relatives and members of the religious community elsewhere in the world, who in many cases came to join them in this thriving international city.

At the start of the 18th century, Amsterdam had developed into the biggest and most important Jewish city in the world. Despite the declining economy in the Republic, more Jewish immigrants continued to pour in, especially from the German states and Central Europe.

Jewish scholars came to this metropolis from all over the world to have their work published in Amsterdam, the unrivalled centre of Jewish and Yiddish book printing. Renowned rabbis from many countries were all too eager to lead the local Jewish congregations.

Non-Jewish travellers could hardly believe their eyes in Amsterdam. They were deeply impressed by the Ashkenazi Great Synagogue (1671) – the building we are in now – and even more so by the imposing Portuguese Synagogue (1675) opposite. There was no other city in the world where synagogues of this size existed, and which were also clearly recognizable to everyone passing by; they were considered to be the symbols of the liberties enjoyed by the Jews here [in Amsterdam].

In the 18th century, Jews increasingly became part of local society. Jewish pedlars and kosher butchers settled in a growing number of small towns and villages. The pedlars hawked their merchandise and became a familiar sight at markets and fairs. But there were still places where Jews could not settle or trade certain goods.

The arrival of large numbers of Askhenazi migrants to the Republic in the 18th century gave rise to a distinction between ‘our’ Jews – those who had lived here for a longer time – and the newcomers. These foreigners, who had no permanent abode, were usually rejected by the local governors.

The lifestyles of the Askhenazi and Sephardi elites were comparable to those of the non-Jewish upper classes. They maintained good relationships with the House of Orange, leading most Jews to feel more affinity for the ‘Orangists’. At the same time, in a society that became increasingly divided, some Jews also sympathised with the other side, the revolutionary ‘Patriots’.

In 1795, the French revolutionary army conquered the Republic. Following the example set by the French, the ‘Batavian Republic’ was founded on the principles of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ … After the political emancipation of 1796, Jews were recognised as citizens of the Batavian Republic and from 1815 as citizens of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They were now subject to the same laws and enjoyed the same rights as other citizens. The one thing that still set them apart from their non-Jewish neighbours in the eyes of the Dutch government was their religion.

This same government determined that the Jewish religion had to organise itself formally, after the example of the protestant churches. The ‘Israelite Religious Community’ now had a supreme committee, Chief Rabbis in all provinces and government-supervised Jewish education.

Because of this new organisation structure, the traditional Jewish leaders lost a great deal of their power and influence. But as Dutch citizens, every Jew could now actively participate in society, in or outside of their ‘own’ community. New opportunities appeared on the horizon.

In the course of the 19th century the Dutch Jews were transformed from tolerated outsiders into fellow countrymen. The upper classes and a handful of forward-looking people seized at an early stage the opportunities offered by the legal emancipation and soon forged ahead in science and politics. Several Jewish painters were very successful in the art world.

The majority of the Jewish population experienced only slow improvements in terms of income and living conditions. Family trades were not easily relinquished and the old prejudices held by the non-Jewish population persisted, as did poverty.

Despite their economic differences, the vast majority of Jews eventually integrated into society successfully. Dutch replaced Yiddish at home and in school, and Jews of every station in life felt deep affection for their country and the Royal Family. On the brink of the 20th century, most Jews living in the Netherlands considered themselves to be proud and full Dutch citizens.

There was Amsterdam and there was ‘outside’. Before the Second World War, two-thirds of all Dutch Jews lived in Amsterdam. The city was the centre of their universe. Other Jewish communities in the Netherlands were referred to as the Mediene.

Around 1900, the Netherlands had 176 Jewish communities of varying size: The Hague and Rotterdam each had more than 10,000 Jewish townspeople, while some rural Jewish communities consisted of only a dozen families. The industrialization that took place at the end of the nineteenth century prompted many rural Jews to move to the city in search of employment. By 1940 only 139 Jewish communities remained.

Jewish people from the provinces tended to be shopkeepers, travelling salesmen, butchers and livestock traders. A few major Jewish companies were based outside Amsterdam, especially in the textiles and food industries. These had grown from retail stores and local industries in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

In the first half of the twentieth century, many Jews develop loose ties with their religion. The rise of liberalism, Zionism and above all socialism, provided alternatives to the Jewish religion. The government and the workers’ movement took over many aspects of social care, making the large group of Jewish poor less dependent on the charity of the Jewish community.

Even so, many Jews held firm to certain religious customs and traditions and confined their social life to their own community. Even non-religious Jews celebrated the beginning of Shabbat on Friday evening with a festive meal and treats. Most Jews continued to observe Yom Kippur. And religious or not, all Jewish men and women considered it important to be buried at a Jewish cemetery.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Dutch society was divided into four ‘pillars’: Catholic, Protestant, socialist and liberal (the latter, in the Dutch context, being primarily concerned with economic liberalism). Each of these pillars consisted of a tightly-knit network of political, economic, social, cultural and religious or ideological organizations. Outside politics, there was little interaction between the pillars. People lived out their lives, from the cradle to the grave, in their own circle.

There was no Jewish pillar in the sense of political parties or radio broadcasting companies; many Jews belonged to the socialist or liberal pillars. Still, separate Jewish schools, newspapers, institutions and clubs did exist. This was partly a matter of choice: since [Jews] wanted care to be attuned to their background, they founded Jewish orphanages and hospitals. On the other hand, the increased pillarization meant that Jews had no option but to set up their own organizations: they could not join Catholic or protestant ones.

On 10 May 1940 German troops marched into the Netherlands. In the autumn, the occupying forces enacted the first measures designed to isolate the Jews from the rest of the population. In 1941 the German authorities ordered that a Jewish Council be set up. Through this organization they maintained contact with the Jewish community and disseminated all the anti-Semitic measures.

By providing it with a measure of autonomy, [the Germans] gave the Jewish Council the impression that it could influence events. The joint chairmen of Amsterdam’s Jewish Council, David Cohen and Abraham Asscher, hoped that their cooperation might help to prevent the situation from deteriorating still further. After the war Asscher and Cohen were fiercely criticized for their role in the Jewish Council and accused of helping the Nazis. The city of Rotterdam also had its own Jewish Council, as did every province. All these councils were subordinate to the one in Amsterdam. In some towns – Enschede for instance – they put up a stronger resistance than in Amsterdam, saving hundreds of Jews from deportation.

Westerbork transit camp, in the province of Drenthe, was set up by the Jewish community in 1939 by order of the Dutch Government, to take in Jewish refugees from Germany. When the Germans invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, more than seven hundred Jews were living in the camp. Westerbork initially remained under the authority of the Dutch. After the Nazis adopted the plan of exterminating all Jews (the ‘Final Solution’) at the beginning of 1942, the former refugee camp was converted into a Judendurchgangslager (a transit camp for Jews) under the German command.

The Jews were transported by train from Westerbork to the death camps in Eastern Europe. Between July 1942 and September 1944 a train left Westerbork every week, generally bound for Auschwitz or Sobibor, sometimes for Bergen-Belsen or Theresienstadt. Almost 107,000 Jews, 245 Roma and Sinti, and a number of resistance fighters went to their deaths in this way. At first sight, everyday life in Westerbork seemed fairly tolerable. The place was partly run by designated Jewish leaders. Internees had access to health care, education and sport, and once a week there was a cabaret. All this was intended to keep the people calm to prevent rioting. But when Tuesday came around there was always the dread of the train, the transports to the east.

Some 25,000 Jews went into hiding during the Second World War. About 18,000 of them survived the war; the rest were discovered [by] or betrayed to the Germans. Those in hiding often received help from non-Jewish acquaintances. Later on, resistance organizations set up a system: besides hiding places, they supplied ration cards and forged identity papers and arranged means of transport.

On average, Jews in hiding had to pay about a hundred guilders a month for these services. Dutch Reformed protestants and communists were particularly active in helping Jews to hide. Those hiding in the provinces had the best chances of survival. In the city there was a greater risk of being given away, and the German and Dutch police were far more active in conducting razzias (hostile raids) to round up Jews. In rural areas, people often had advance warning of razzias. Hiding places ranged from back rooms and converted cupboards to sheds and ditches and carefully concealed holes in the ground. Jewish children were sometimes given new identities and assimilated into non-Jewish foster families.

The Netherlands was liberated in two stages: first the south, in September 1944, and then the north and west, in May 1945. Some 30,000 Jews survived the war, most of them by going into hiding. Only about 5,200 Jews returned from the camps.

Their repatriation to the Netherlands was a laborious process and they met with a cold and bureaucratic reception in their home country. Jews who returned were presented with numerous administrative formalities and scarcely received any support in trying to rebuild their lives. Survivors often had nothing left: their relatives and friends had been murdered and their possessions stolen. The government declined to take any measures to address the specific problems of the Jewish population, arguing that they did not wish to discriminate as the German occupying forces had done. The decades following 1945 witnessed a bitter struggle for redress. There was little interest in or understanding for the plight of survivors among the Dutch population, which was coping with its own poverty and distress.

Of the approximately 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands before the war, a community of about 30,000 remained after 1945. Many of these survivors were traumatized, and all had lost relatives and friends. The support that family life or a circle of friends can provide was largely absent. The survivors had the arduous task of carving out a place for themselves in the dislocated and impoverished society of the Netherlands and of helping to rebuild the country and the Jewish community.

Their traumatic war experiences caused some Jews to turn away from Judaism, whether temporarily or permanently, while others exerted themselves on its behalf. Yet as early as 1945, even before the entire country had been liberated, the Jewish Coordinating Committee for the Southern Netherlands was established, and a start was made on restoring Jewish social and religious life. Jews sought each other out for mutual support and organized activities within their small community: in the synagogue, at sports events such as the maccabiade (Maccabiah Games), and at youth clubs.

Many survivors no longer felt at home in the Netherlands after the Second World War. While those around them were busy tackling the job of restoration and rebuilding the country, Jews were unable to share their experiences with anyone and could not picture their future here. Some Jews lived in fear of a new wave of persecution. They looked with suspicion at Dutch society, from which it had been possible to deport over 100,000 Jews without the state offering them any protection.

So emigration was a possibility that many Jews considered. According to official statistics, 4,450 Jews left the Netherlands between 1946 and 1953, but the numbers were probably higher. After the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, this seemed the ideal place to go: 1,200 Dutch Jews made their homes in this new country. Another 1,400 settled in the United States, and the rest went to Canada or Australia. Between 1950 and 1986, a total of 9,800 Dutch Jews emigrated to Israel. Not only people left the country: the entire interior of the synagogue in Leeuwarden, for instance, was shipped to Israel in 1965.

In the decades that followed the Second World War, many Jews were convinced that there was no future for their people in the Netherlands. Jewish life would never be as it had been before the war. Many Jewish communities vanished, especially in the provinces. Jews in Amsterdam moved to the newly built districts of Buitenveldert and Amstelveen.

Despite this pessimism about the future, Jewish life in the Netherlands was rebuilt. The old religious and social structures were for the most part restored. The three associations of Jewish religious communities – Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Liberal – became active again. Jewish organisations were re-established, such as a hospital, homes for the elderly and a psychiatric clinic. Joods Maatshappelijk Werk (a new organisation for Jewish social work) rose to prominence. Over time, there was growing acknowledgement of the events of the war and their painful impact. That impact was not limited to the generation that had experienced those events first hand. In 1973, an Act of Parliament granted financial support to the victims of wartime persecution. Dutch Jews became increasingly vocal about issues such as the impending release of the ‘Breda Three’, a group of war criminals, and the plight of the oppressed Jews in Russia. Since the 1970s, the Netherlands has once again a strong, multi-faceted Jewish community. Dutch Jews take renewed pride in their own identity.”

Apart from the rich information in the Museum’s narrative, I took an interest in paintings that were exhibited in the Geschiedenis 1600–1900 (History 1600–1900) galleries. I liked Eduard Alexander Hilverdink’s 1889 painting of Amsterdam’s old Jewish quarter and Emanuel de Witte’s 1660 painting of tourists visiting the Portuguese Synagogue.

But I was particularly drawn to J van Hien’s circa 1770-1775 portrait of tobacco merchant and financier Benjamin Cohen (1726-1800), because Cohen has a connection to my family forebears.

Cohen became prominent when he managed his father’s tobacco company into one of the most prosperous and influential firms in The Netherlands. He owned tobacco plantations and exported to the Baltic area. His business acumen led him to large-scale financial operations first in Amersfoort where he lived and from 1786 in Amsterdam. In 1788, his firm contracted to import 40,000 carats of diamonds annually from Brazil. It was then possibly the only Jewish firm in Amsterdam to issue loans, and in 1793 made a loan to the Prussian government of five million guilders and another in 1796 of three million guilders.

Cohen was a deeply committed member of the Orangist faction in Dutch politics and acted as financial adviser to Prince Willem V of Orange. The stadthouder and his wife Wilhelmina of Prussia, their children and staff were given refuge at Cohen’s home at Zuidsingel 38 in Amersfoort in 1787 when riots were occurring in The Hague at the end of the Patriotic revolt. A patron of Jewish letters, Cohen sponsored the publication of Hebrew mathematical and philosophical works. As a parnas (chief administrative officer of a Jewish congregation) in Amsterdam’s Ashkenazi community, he was one of the leading Jews in The Netherlands.

My late father wrote in his 2011 memoir that his great, great, great, great grandfather Abraham Hartog Hirschel – who was born in 1717 in Poland before moving with his family to Amersfoort around 1750 – met Cohen and was hired as Cohen’s household manager. Hirschel held that role in 1787 when Prince Willem V and his family found refuge in Cohen’s home. After the revolt was quelled, Willem’s father became the first King of Holland. As a gesture of appreciation, Willem gave Hirschel an engraved silver ink set. Cohen’s home, known as Huis Cohen or the ‘house with the purple windows’, became the property of the Catholic Church during the mid-19th century. In the 1950s, it was the house of the Dutch Cardinal Johannes de Jong (1885-1955). It now contains a museum in honour of Canadian soldiers that liberated The Netherlands from WW2.

This link between Cohen and my family forebears makes a fitting point at which to end this blog, for tomorrow I return home to Sydney, Australia.

Visit the Portugese Synagoge (Portuguese Synagogue) in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This morning, my relatives took me to the Portugese Synagoge (Portuguese Synagogue) at Mr Visserplein 3 in Amsterdam’s old Jewish quarter comprising an area less than 1km2. This area is now a cultural precinct. The Synagogue is a major drawcard.

This large and beautiful Synagogue is one of the most important legacies of the vibrant Jewish community in Amsterdam. It is also known as Esnoga or SnogeI – esnoga is the term for synagogue in Ladino, the traditional Judaeo-Spanish language of Sephardic Jews.

The first Jews to settle permanently in The Netherlands were descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic Jews, known as Sephardim. Their migration was triggered by a series of dramatic changes in the Iberian Peninsula, where they had lived for centuries in uncertain conditions. In 1492 the Spanish Jews were hounded by the Inquisition and had to choose between converting to Catholicism or leaving the country. Many fled to Portugal, but in 1497 they were forced to undergo mass baptism after all. Both in Spain and in Portugal, some of these conversos (converts) continued to practice Jewish rituals secretly at home, while living as Catholics in the eyes of the outside world.

In 1536 the Inquisition extended into Portugal. Many Jews then decided to flee the Iberian Peninsula altogether. A substantial number of conversos migrated to Amsterdam from the early 1600s. Once in Amsterdam, many returned to Judaism openly and publicly. They called themselves Portuguese Jews, even those who came directly from Spain. They wanted to avoid being identified with Spain, which was at war with the Dutch Republic through the Eighty Years’ War.

The Amsterdam Sephardic Jews came to be one of the largest and richest communities in Europe, especially during the Dutch Golden Age, and their aspiration to build a monumental synagogue reflected this.

In December 1670, the Sephardic Jewish community acquired this site at Visserplein to build a synagogue. Construction began in April 1671. In August 1675, the synagogue was opened.

The inscription above the entrance is from Psalm 5:8: ‘In the abundance of Thy loving kindness will I come into Thy house’. The sign also contains the Jewish equivalent of ‘1672’, the year the building was intended to be completed, and ‘Aboab’, the name of the chief rabbi who initiated the project.

The building is free-standing and rests on wooden poles; the foundation vaults can be viewed by boat from the canal water underneath the synagogue. The entrance to the main synagogue is off a small courtyard enclosed by low buildings housing the winter synagogue, offices and archives, homes of various officials, the rabbinate, a mortuary, and the noted Bibliotheek Ets Haim-Livraria Montezinos (Ets Haim Library Livraria Montezinos) which is the oldest functioning Jewish library in the world. The library is recorded on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

The interior of the synagogue is a single, very high rectangular space retaining its original wooden benches. The floor is covered with fine sand, in the old Dutch tradition, to absorb dust, moisture and shoe-dirt and to muffle noise. Only five synagogues in the world have a sand floor, and this is the only one surviving outside the Caribbean region.

The Holy Ark is situated in the south-east corner of the building and faces Jerusalem. On the other side of the room is a tebah. The women’s gallery is supported by 12 stone columns, each representing a tribe of Israel. There are three large brass chandeliers that hold 1,000 candles. All candles are lit during worship services. The candlelight shines outwards through 72 expansive windows.

This is the most breathtaking synagogue I have ever seen. It is a place of genuine sanctuary and truly worth a visit.

Circle The Netherlands’ Gooimeer by cycle: Naarden to Almere to Naarden, anti-clockwise

The Gooimeer (Gooi Lake) is a semi-enclosed semi-circular body of freshwater in the north of The Netherlands, a locality which is known as het Gooi or simply ‘t Gooi.

In the past there was the Zuiderzee, a shallow bay of the North Sea that extended about 100km inland and 50km wide, with an overall depth of only 4 to 5 metres. In the 20th century, the majority of the Zuiderzee was closed off from the North Sea by construction of the Afsluitdijk (literally, ‘enclosing dyke’), leaving only the mouth of the inlet to remain part of the sea.

The saltwater inlet changed into a freshwater lake called the IJsselmeer (IJssel Lake), named after the river that drains into the lake. By a combination of drainage channels and polders (tracts of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea), an area of some 1,500 km2 was created as arable land. The Ijsselmeer thus became an importance source of drinking water for Amsterdam and north Holland generally.

At the western tip of the semi-circle is a railroad bridge connecting Weesp on the southern side of Gooimeer with the modern city of Almere on the northern side. There is a parallel highway bridge, the Hollandse Brug (Holland Bridge), including a cycleway separated from the traffic, known as the A6. The eastern tip of the semi-circle is crossed by two parallel highway bridges, also with a separated cycleway, known as the A27.

The Gooimeer is one of several interconnecting bodies of water that form a full circle. To the left of the Gooimeer is IJmeer and clockwise from there are Markermeer and IJsselmeer, which directly faces the North Sea. To the right of the Gooimeer is Eemmeer and clockwise from there are Wolderwijd, Veluwemeer and then Ketelmeer which connects with IJsselmeer to complete the circle. Some of these waterways were formed by construction of the Noordoostpolder (North-east Polder) and the Oostelijk Flevoland (East Flevoland) polder, tracts of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea.

According to Wikipedia, the Gooimeer has an association with the crash of El Al Flight 1862 on 4 October 1992. The two right-hand side jet engines separated from the Boeing 747 cargo aircraft and fell into the Gooimeer, witnessed by a fishing police officer. Flight 1862 continued for 8 minutes until it crashed into the Groeneveen and Klein-Kruitberg apartments in the Bijlmermeer neighbourhood in south Amsterdam. The crash is known in Dutch as the Bijlmerramp (Bijlmer disaster).

Official statistics report that 43 people were killed – including the three crew members, a non-paying passenger in a jump seat, and 39 people on the ground. The exact number of people killed on the ground is disputed, as the building had a large number of illegal immigrants at the time of the crash.

Naarden is on the south bank of Gooimeer and it is here that I began my route, cycling the circle in an anti-clockwise direction. I first passed Naarden Vesting (Fortress Naarden) which quickly brought me to the southern shore of Gooimeer and from here I followed fietspaden (bike paths) in a generally north-east direction. These took me through 5km of mature forest in the vicinity of Valkeveen (where I remembered to activate my tracker app) and then onto the harbour town of Huizen which has a population of about 42,000.

The Dutch term huizen means ‘houses’ and it is thought the town is so named because the first stone houses in the region were built here. I stopped to take photographs of a sign illustrating the range of sea birds found in marshlands and on waterways near the commercial pier, an elegant brick building containing a pancake restaurant, and the marina for pleasure craft. It is pretty here.

I departed the harbour area by heading south along Havenstraat and then eastward on Bestevaer. At the second roundabout which is a T-junction beside a canal, I turned left into Zuiderzee which angled eastward and became Zuiderzeeboulevard. The Gooimeer is again visible to my left. I moved onto Delta, a local through road, which has a dedicated cycle lane which sometimes peters out and re-starts as the road weaves multiple lefts and rights towards the south-east.

Delta then crosses the north-south Aanloophaven canal and becomes Bovenmaatseweg. I turned left into Zuidwal in an attempt to get closer to the Gooimeer foreshore but found myself land-locked in a residential estate of drab two-storey homes. I made a few turns but found myself re-tracing my path. I then consulted my tracker app to establish my whereabouts  find a way back to Bovenmaatseweg and decided to continue on its eastward trajectory.

The suburban neighbourhood is quiet and no one is to be seen. I heard a gradually approaching vehicle from behind and as it moved beside me I noticed that the vehicle was deliberately positioned in the paint-marked cycle lane in an apparent attempt to nudge me. When it had barely passed me, the vehicle continued for some time entirely in the cycle lane. I got thinking that if I had been directly hit by the vehicle or otherwise fallen no one would have seen the incident. I was rather shocked by this experience – it was the first time and so far only time I had encountered Dutch driving behaviour which deliberately threatened a cyclist.

I collected my thoughts and continued along Bovenmaatseweg but as the road pointed south I turned east into Aristoteleslaan and passed extensive sporting fields. The street then became Stroomzijde and then Floris V Dreef where it intersected with the elevated A27. For some reason I turned right and headed south and then turned east to pass under the A27 in search of the cycle lane that would take me northward. But I found myself on polders of farmland for as far as the eye could see and realised then that the cycleway must be on the other side of the A27, from where I had come. So I made a U-turn and returned to the intersection of Floris V Dreef and the overhead A27.

Following other cyclists, I rode onto Deltazijde and was glad to find that it inclined upward to the level of the A27 on a pathway named Stichtse Brug and then onto the broad bridge that crosses Gooimeer to the left and Eemmeer to the right. The pathway now becomes Stichtse Pad and I cruised the long straight decent to ground level on the northern shore of Gooimeer. The land is flat and treeless, signs of reclamation, which made it easy to pick out a route forward.

I chose the first road that headed west, Rhijnauwen. It soon morphed into Lijsterweg which borders a developing industrial estate at Stichtsekant. Kilometres later, the smooth bitumen pavement in Lijsterweg came to an end and turned into Meesweg which passes through lightly forested parkland known as Cirkelbos, which contains criss-crossing bike and walking paths. It is relaxing here, quiet and remote.

Within the forest, I noticed a signpost to Almere Centrum and followed the arrow-point in a northerly direction. The Groenlingweg fietspad folded east, beside the oddly-named canal Waterlandse Tocht (Waterland Tour) which lies east-west. Ducks relax beside the pathway and I stopped to take a photograph, but they flew into the water and paddled away.

The pathway coursed into Michauxpad and led me into Waterlandsebos, an area of native parks and gardens. At a small pedestrian bridge which fords the intersecting Lange Wetering (Long Waterway) canal, I glimpsed the potential ‘photograph of the day’ and took a shot. I continued westward alongside Waterlandse Tocht for many kilometres, revelling in the relaxed cycling conditions.

On my right is still the canal, but now on my left are relatively modern housing estates, signs of suburban Almere. The population of Almere and surroundings is 220,000 and there are firm plans to expand to 350,000 inhabitants by 2030. Where the canal intersects with Vrijheidsdreef, I observed another signpost to Almere Centrum and followed that, turning left.

The pathway entered Hanny Schaftpark, a lovely urban greenspace with a large lake, right on the edge of the Centrum. I rode around the shopping district for a brief look and then, after checking my tracker app for a better location for a rest and food, headed for Weerwater, a small artificial lake in a newish commercial precinct.

For this outward leg, I cycled 39km in 2h10m at an average 18km/h (not including the first 6km which was accidentally unrecorded).

After a short lunchbreak, my cycling journey resumed. I started out by following the western edge of Weerwater into the neighbourhood of Stedenwijk and then onto the southern-most point of Weerwater. Keeping on fietspaden, I crossed over Sturneyweg to pick up Farflerpad which nicely led through a park – the Vroege Vogelbos – which had a small canal on my left. I continued into and then through Kromslootpark, another greenspace. Now a small canal, Rechte Wetering (Straight Waterway), is on my right.

I made a dogleg to the right into Gooimeerdijk-West which folded into the east-side pathway up towards the deck of the elevated Hollandse Brug. This led me under the deck, then into a corkscrew upwards onto the cycleway that lies on the western side of the bridge. Another corkscrew on the other side of the Gooimeer took me down to ground level, into IJsselmeerweg that becomes Naarderstraatweg.

When I arrived at the straight-line canal linking Naarden Vesting to my left with the sea-facing waterways at the historic township of Muiden towards my right, I branched to the right and followed Naarderstraatweg until reaching Hakkelaarsbrug (Hakkelaars Bridge) where I continued straight ahead along Zuidpolderweg to get to Muiden for the last time on this trip to The Netherlands.

At Muiden I looped right into Vestingplein and right again across the lovely little bridge into Zuiderzeeboulevard which brought me onto the other side of the Naarden Vesting to Muiden canal. Now the canal is on my right and on my left is an expanse of rolling farmland made from polders.

A few hundred metres along I turned left into Noordepolderweg and rode along the quiet farm road that bisects the polders. I followed this northward until the shoreline of the IJmeer and gradually turned right to trace the shoreline in an easterly direction, riding along Zuiderzeeboulevard which became Dijkweg. Several kilometres on I arrive at the village of Muiderberg and turned left to the local Spar supermarket in Dorpsstraat for an ice cream.

Shortly before my arrival, an elderly man had fallen outside the store and he was being monitored by caring passers-by. While enjoying my ice cream in another section of the forecourt, a siren sound was heard whereupon a Police vehicle promptly arrived. Within minutes, another siren sound was heard from a different direction. I expected that to be an ambulance but the arriving vehicle was Police also.

By now I had finished my ice cream and decided it was time to depart for Naarden. I followed Dorpsstraat back out of the village and, instead of turning right into Dijkweg, I chose the direct route via Googweg. When more siren sounds were heard ahead, I pulled over for two oncoming ambulances at speed. It struck me as peculiar that as many as two police vehicles and two ambulances were called out to attend to an elderly man suffering abrasions from a fall outside a shop.

No sooner had I re-mounted my bike that I realised I was at the entrance gates to Joodse Begraafplaats (Jewish Cemetery), the largest Jewish cemetery in The Netherlands. This cemetery was founded in 1642 by German Jews and merged with the adjacent Polish Jewish cemetery founded in 1660. Checking later, I learnt that buried here are nine persons with my surname and one person with my father’s mother’s surname. I vowed to return here on a future visit to The Netherlands, armed with information about these people who are buried here. Perhaps they are relatives?

When Googweg terminated at Hakkelaarsbrug, I turned left into Naardervaart for the roll home. Several kilometres on, I crossed under the elevated A1, stopped to peer at two camels tethered there and then continued until reaching the Naarden town limit where Naardervaart becomes Rijksweg. I followed this into Konig Wilhelminalaan towards my destination but, when approaching the now familiar Alexanderlaan turnoff, I decided to visit old town Naarden and Naarden Vesting one last time on this trip. On a late summer’s afternoon, I took photographs of the fortress structures from yet another angle. I dwelt a little, but now it was time to return to my relatives.

For this inward leg, I cycled 31km in 1h41m, also at an average 18km/h. I was pleased to have navigated myself to new places, and back, with relative ease. Cycling in The Netherlands is so so enjoyable.

Explore the Kasteel Huis Bergh (Bergh House Castle) in ‘s-Heerenberg, The Netherlands

This afternoon my relatives took me to a former family home in Terborg, in the one-time municipality of Wisch which is now known as Oude IJsselstreek (literally, ‘old IJssel region’). From Eibergen, Terborg is a 35-minute drive to the south-west.

My Dutch cousin’s grandparents lived at Terborg for more than 60 years, and my cousin has fond memories of visiting their home as a child and teenager.

Immediately after the end of WW2, my father sought out surviving relatives and, seemingly not finding any, decided to make a new life by signing up for the Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger, or KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army). Somehow my father did not realise that one of his father’s brothers had managed to see out WW2 while living at Terborg.

From Terborg we travelled to ‘s-Heerenberg, a Dutch town of about 8,000 people on the Dutch-German border, about 12 km south of Doetinchem.

‘s-Heerenberg is the location of one of the most important castles in all of The Netherlands – the Kasteel Huis Bergh (Bergh House Castle). It was built for the counts of Bergh, starting in the year 1250. Some parts of the Castle date from the 14th, 15th and 17th centuries.

The Castle and all its belongings were acquired in 1912 by Dr Jan Herman van Heek (1873-1957), a textile industrialist from Enschede and a significant collector of artworks and historical artefacts.

There are important early Italian paintings on display including a very special panel – depicting the angel Gabriel – by the world famous Duccio di Buoninsegna circa 1255-1319, who is generally known as Maestà. There are also works from the 15th century Hieronymus Bosch school, including The Marriage Feast at Cana.

The Castle also houses an exceptional collection of medieval manuscripts which Dr van Heek procured when he acquired the entire Friedrich Wilhelm Mengelberg Collection in 1919 after the death of the German-Dutch sculptor, architect of church interiors, and art collector.

The Castle is enclosed by an embankment which gives access to wooded grounds called De Plantage (plantation). These grounds were laid out in the 18th century. The embankment used to have an inner and an outer moat.

I felt a connection here at Kasteel Huis Bergh. The Castle’s modern-day owner, the van Heek family, has for generations owned Het Assinkbos, a 66ha section of forest south of Haaksbergen where 22 members and friends of my family attempted to hide in a secret underground dug-out in 1942. They were betrayed, captured, deported and soon died.

While I was in The Netherlands in October 2017 Mr Bernard Rouffaer, a member of the van Heek family, generously hosted a commemorative event at the place in the Assinkbos where the hide-out was made. For more information, visit

My family was similarly honoured when Mr Rouffaer attended the stolpersteine (‘stumbling stones’) laying ceremony in Eibergen earlier today.

Stolpersteine for Eibergen in The Netherlands

Today was a very special day – today’s scheduled activity was the main reason for this particular trip to The Netherlands.

A group of local history volunteers in Eibergen, who in 2014 formed a non-profit association known as Stichting Ik vraag me af (loosely translates as the ‘I wonder…’ Foundation), created the initiative and sourced funding for German artist Gunter Demnig to lay 13 stolpersteine (literally ‘stumbling stones’, in essence brass plaques) in honour of the 13 Jewish members of the Eibergen village who were removed from the community in 1942 and perished under Nazi rule.

The stolpersteine project, initiated by Mr Demnig in 1992, commemorates individuals at exactly the last place of residence (or sometimes employment) that was freely chosen by the person before he or she fell victim to Nazi terror. By November 2018, Mr Demnig had laid more than 70,000 stolpersteine in cities, towns and villages across Europe. The stolpersteine project is the largest decentralised memorial in the world.

Held early on a Sunday morning, the stolpersteine-laying ceremony in Eibergen was attended by relatives and other representatives of  those who died. However no relatives have been identified for one of the 13 people, who was the local chazan, a person who leads synagogue services. Attendees included interested locals, the mayor of the regional council and media.

My father’s three older brothers, both their parents, an uncle and an aunt of the four young men and the aunt’s two sons (being my father’s cousins and childhood friends) had a stolpersteine laid for each of them.

The Foundation had kindly invited me to give a short speech during the laying of six stolpersteine at Grotestraat 64-66, the last home of my father’s family. Despite my prepared script, I unexpectedly became very emotional when reading it aloud. I had to take many short rests and deep breaths. Here is what I said:

“I am here representing my Australian mother, brothers, sisters and family to say a few words on behalf of my late father Izak (Jack) Herschel who lived with his parents and three brothers in the home above this bicycle store at Grotestraat 64-66 from 1939 until 1942, after re-locating from a nearby home where they had lived for 20 years.

My grandfather – Levie Herschel – came to Eibergen to marry Aaltje Maas in February 1909. Aaltje was the youngest of five children from a family in the village here.

Levie and Aaltje first lived at Grotestraat 114 further along from here, where Levie established a butcher’s shop. This business was known locally as the Wagemakers butchery. They and Aaltje lived above the shop together with their sons Hartog, Abraham, Eleazer and my father Izak.

The family moved into this house at Grotestraat 64-66 on 30 October 1939. By this time Levie had closed his butchery and was now a cattle trader selling into the Amsterdam meat market.

In early October 1942, German soldiers came to this building, taking my grandparents and three of their sons as prisoners. All five were transported to concentration camps, which they did not survive. Levie and Aaltje died within days of being taken prisoner. Last Monday, October 8, marked the 76th anniversary of their death.

Michiel van Thijn was also living in this house in October 1942. An antique dealer from Oosterbeek near Arnhem, Michiel married Karoline Maas, the oldest sister of my grandmother Aaltje Maas. After Karoline died on 20 September 1940, Levie and Aaltje invited Michiel into their home. The German soldiers took Michiel prisoner on that same day in October 1942 and he – like Levie and Aaltje – perished on October 8 1942.

About 10 days before the German raid, my father’s mother Aaltje arranged with Father Bernardus Kaeter, the senior priest at St Mattheüs Church in the Grotestraat near here, for Izak to live secretly in St Mattheüs Rectory. My father thereby avoided capture and so survived the war.

In a memoir that my father Izak published on his 90th birthday in 2011, he expressed fond memories of playing football with other young boys in the neighbourhood, first in the cobblestone lane leading to a tannery and later in a field near the railway station.

If my father could be here today, he would be proud that his Dutch family is being remembered in the laying of stolpersteine right here.

The Herschel family from Australia thanks all who contributed towards making today’s event possible, especially the Stichting Ik vraag me af.”

Soon after I finished speaking, the stolpersteine were placed in the ground in honour of my father’s parents, his three brothers and the uncle in solemn silence. A member of the Foundation placed a long-stemmed white rose for each of the six people. I felt immensely proud that the local Eibergen community had taken such a deep interest in the disappearance of my father’s family.

A similar procedure took place at four other close-by sites in Eibergen, including at Kerkstraat 9 where my father’s aunt and his two cousins lived.

Here is an English translation of a post-ceremony report by Ans de Groot, a committee member of Stichting Ik vraag me af and one of the organisers of the event, which is published at

“On Sunday 14 October 2018, Gunter Demnig laid 13 stolpersteine at five addresses in Eibergen. After a long preparation, it became possible for us to be part of Gunter Demnig’s second tour of Holland in 2018. Gunter Demnig came to Eibergen on Saturday 13 October and he spent the night in a local hotel (De Kastanjefabriek).

The Municipality of Berkelland allowed us to receive our guests in the Villa Smits, the old Town Hall, in the Grotestraat. For which our heartfelt thanks and also for the overall support from the council.

On Saturday afternoon, Café Grenszicht arranged the room for 50 people and prepared the coffee buffet. Early Sunday, organisers turned on the coffee machine so that we could welcome the guests with a fresh cup of coffee. Foundation committee members also organised the information displays.

Shortly after 8 o’clock the guests started arriving and took coffee, and then a seat in the assembly hall. By 8.30 the room was full and there were people standing at the rear.

Bert Smeenk, the MC, announced chairperson Leonie Holweg who delivered a word of welcome:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the Stichting Ik vraag me af (the ‘I wonder’ Foundation), I warmly welcome you all to the stolpersteine laying in Eibergen.

A special welcome to some of our guests who have made a long journey to be present here. We also want to acknowledge the next of kin that cannot be present today due to other commitments.

When we started this project in the autumn of 2015, I personally did not expect it to happen as quickly as this. This is due to the efforts of Ans de Groot-Sevenhuijsen, Willemien Beusink and Bert Smeenk on behalf of the Foundation. To the contributions of our generous donors and also anonymous donors who made it financially possible. We would also like to thank the Municipality of Berkelland for their cooperation and for making Villa Smits available.

Finally, I want to read a poem by Nico Wijnen:

They are so far past

What names on a stone

Yet they are still present

Visible around us

After the stone laying, I would like to invite you back here at Villa Smits for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Then we can have a chat with each other.”

The Berkelland mayor Joost van Oostrum spoke words of appreciation for the work of the Foundation and said it was important for him to be here today.

Bert then invited us to follow him to the first address, Grotestraat 64-66. Mr Demnig was already present and the 6 stones to be laid here were stacked upright, which made an impressive picture. Here stolpersteine were laid for Levie and Aaltje Herschel-Maas, their sons Hartog, Abraham Salomon and Eleazer and their brother-in-law Michiel van Thijn.

During the laying of the stones Dominic Herschel, from Sydney, spoke about his grandparents and his uncles he did not know. He heard about them from his father. Thereafter Leonie Holweg spoke the words she will say at each place, with the names for whom the stones have been laid, and Willemien Beusink puts a white rose for every victim.

The next stolpersteine was laid at the place where the synagogue once stood at the corner of Kleine Hagen and Kerkstraat. This was for Bettus van Gelder, the last chazzan of Eibergen. He had sought refuge in the synagogue when there was no house left where he could live. This is where Ans de Groot read a word of memory for Mr van Gelder, as no surviving relatives have been found.

Then we went to Kerkstraat 9, the former butcher’s shop Boenders. Here stolpersteine were laid for Mietje Maas-Herschel and her sons Abraham Bernard and Herman. At this place Sjoerd Boomsma spoke words of remembrance for his relatives Herschel-Maas. He spontaneously asked Ineke te Brake-Antink to join in commemorating her neighbours. She used to live across the street, next to the synagogue. She laid the roses with Willemien. The Maas family from Groenlo also commemorated their relatives with white roses.

Then we walked via Hagen and Brink to J. W. Hagemanstraat, named after the resistance fighter Jan Willem Hageman. At number 37 lived the family Menco and for Leonardus Menco and his son Salomon Abraham (Sallo) Menco two stolpersteine were laid here. Bert Smeenk read the prepared text of Bep Dormits-Menco, daughter of Leo Menco. She lives at Arnhem and could not get to Eibergen in the early morning, although she would have liked it very much.

Finally, a stolpersteine is laid for Betje Zion-Gans, in front of the building where former Zion’s department store was located at J. W. Hagemanstraat 29. Simon Nagelmaeker read the prepared text of granddaughter Betty Kazin-Rosenbaum. She lives in Israel and her family could not attend because of a clash with the wedding of her eldest son. On behalf of all granddaughters, Henriette Ensel-Zion read the prepared text of Marcelle Zion. Finally Fred Ensel says the Kaddish, the prayer for the deceased.

Gunter Demnig and the mayor left at this point.

Impressed by all that we observed and experienced, we walked back to the Villa Smits in the radiant sun. For more than an hour we talked with each other. As well, a group went with Bert Smeenk to the Jewish Cemetery beside the Berkel.

We, the committee members of the Foundation, look back on an emotional yet very successful stolpersteine laying ceremony. We hope that our guests agreed with us and they, just like us, will often reflect on this day.”

Visit for more information about the Foundation and its activities.

Fietsroute loop: Eibergen to Haarlo to Borculo to Ruurlo to De Haar to Beltrum to Hupsel to Eibergen in The Netherlands

This morning Bert Smeenk took me the short distance to meet his neighbour Bert Westhuis who two days ago led me on a cycle ride from The Netherlands’ Achterhoek to Vreden in nearby Germany and return. Today Bert Westhuis and partner Jacqueline kindly lent me a bicycle and guided me on a cycle ride to other parts of Achterhoek.

Like two days ago, we commenced from the poplar-lined Zwilbroekseweg until its intersection with Rekkenseweg. We crossed over the former main road Groensloweg and into the Eibergen centrum where rolls were purchased at a local bakery and popped into Jacqueline’s pannier. We continued beside the shops on the Brink then veered right into a park known as the Maat before turning into Grotestraat to leave the centrum.

Heading generally north-west, the road became Borculoseweg and at the point where this road widens and becomes the N822 we moved onto the parallel fietspad (bike path). The landscape progressively opens into broad farmland as the N822 bridges over the new and sweeping arterial highway N18 Groenloseweg whereupon Borculoseweg is renamed as Eibergseweg.

Cycling amidst light forest again we soon arrived at Haarlo, a church village containing fewer than 1,000 people. Haarlo is best known for its octagonally-shaped Dutch Reformed Church, also called the Oude Kerk (Old Church) or the Kluntjespot (sugar bowl), which was built in 1858. Throughout Holland, Haarlo became famous in 1980 for another reason – the discovery at the Memelink farm of more than 1,100 coins from the 13th century. Some of these coins can be viewed in the Museum de Scheper at Eibergen and in the Stedelijk Museum at Zutphen.

From Eibergseweg, we turned right and due north into Haarlosesteeg which took us across the Berkel. We traced the road for many kilometres as it meandered left and then right and then northward again until its terminus at Hekweg (N315) where we turned sharp left to head due west, again on a fietspad.

On the northern outskirts of Borculo we re-cross the Berkel and at a large traffic roundabout turn right into Needseweg, a local road that led us into the Borculo centrum. Some more supplies were purchased from a bakery in Veemarkt and then we wove a way through the town via Weverstraat, Hofstraat, Hoflaan, Doctor Scheylaan, Steenstraat, Pagendijk, Burgemeester van Weliestraat and Burgemeester Bloemersstraat.

Now on the southern edge of Borculo, we turn into Ruurloseweg and then quickly into Lebbenbruggedijk where again we were deposited among farmland, travelling generally south-west. The scenery became increasingly bucolic and the cycling ever more pleasant. We came upon a stream, the Slinge, where we stopped at a park bench to enjoy bread and drink together with interesting conversations about our lives and travels.

After we continued further along Lebbenbruggedijk, we made various left- and right-hand turns or sweeps into farm roads including Hietland, Weusdijk, Höfteweg and Koskampweg for multiple kilometres. Then we arrived at Ruurlo, a town of about 10,000 people. It was an easy pathway from there to Vordenseweg 2 to admire the Kasteel Ruurlo (Ruurlo Castle).

Ruurlo Castle is regarded as one of the prettiest castles in Achterhoek, partly thanks to its setting within a large lake and surroundings marked by expansive green lawns, deciduous trees and perennial forest. The first structure here was built in the 14th century but the Castle appearance nowadays dates from the 16th and 17th centuries, with some recent additions. We stopped to relax, admire the exterior and take photographs.

It became time to leave. Approaching the intersection of Haarweg and Hengeloseweg, we passed by the Doolhof Ruurlo (Ruurlo Maze), a beech hedge maze created in the early 1890s. The maze, which originally belonged to Ruurlo Castle, is the largest in Holland, with trails totalling 1.1km. Its layout follows a design by architect and landscaper Daniel Marot, who was instrumental in spreading the Louis XIV style throughout Holland and England in the 17th century.

Further along Hengeloseweg we turned sharp left onto a sandy/gravel fietspad named Spijkerdijk that coursed its way through lovely mature forest. We were now at the south-west corner of our cycle loop and about to turn north-east to begin the similar-length return journey to Eibergen. But we take another sharp left, along another dirt fietspad named Haarweg which led us to a rural locality named De Haar. We slide into a winding farm road called Muldersweg and a straight one known as Tolhutterweg before branching left into Laarbraakweg and then left again into Foekendijk which we followed for a long straight distance, generally heading north-east.

We crossed the N312 and turned left into Morsdijk for yet another straight section, still with farmland all around. At the intersection with Scheiddijk, we turned more directly north and proceed straight until Groenloseweg (N319) where we turn right for a short section and, leaving the main road, we then turned left into Goormansslatweg. This minor road runs beside a narrow gracht (canal) for many kilometres of delightful cycling.

At the terminus of this road, we joined Peppelendijk, then zig-zagged using Baksweg, an unnamed sandy fietspad, then Kooigootsweg and another unnamed sandy fietspad before re-joining a section of Peppelendijk further on. And then we moved onto another fietspad which fed onto Heelweg, a minor road that took us to the village of Beltrum which has a population of about 3,000. We made our way to Café Restaurant Spilman at Meester Nelissenstraat 21 for a refreshment, relaxing in the shady courtyard.

Now it was time to head for Eibergen. From Gaarden, we followed a very long fietspad that weaved through farmland and occasional forest. Here we came across a stone statue titled Karkgang which depicted a well-dressed woman with handbag hurrying to a destination.

The word karkgang apparently has a double meaning. One, it describes the walking paths that female farm workers used to get to and from the nearest Catholic Church. Two, it denotes the ritual that women used for cleansing in the Church after giving birth. Designed by local artist Els Smit, the statue was installed in 2008 on the occasion of the opening of the cycling and hiking trails in the Beltrum area by the Kerkepaden Foundation.

We connected with a quiet road named Meenweg. Many kilometres later, this road became Bruininkdijk. We were still amongst farmland, the vista beneath the vivid blue sky marked by deep green vegetation. We followed Molenweg, Lintveldseweg for a long section, then crossed over the new N18 arterial at a more southerly point than previously, and now we were on the edge of Eibergen. We took Beltrumseweg into the town, then Kerkstraat, Nieuwstraat and J. W. Hagemanstraat before the rural roads of Rekkenseweg and Zwilbroekseweg.

At the finish of the loop, we rode 55km – most of it on quiet sections of rural road and fietspad – in about 3h56m at a leisurely 14.1km/h. I was thrilled by this experience of rural Holland and wished that in my homeland we had similar cycling conditions. I remain grateful to my hosts, Bert Westhuis and Jacqueline.

Visit Historisch Museum de Scheper (the Scheper History Museum) in Eibergen, The Netherlands

Returning to Eibergen about 20km to the north of Winterswijk, Bert and I visited the Historisch Museum de Scheper (De Scheper History Museum) in a stately villa at Hagen 24. This Museum is the brainchild of amateur archaeologist and historian Herman Schepers, whom I first met when visiting Eibergen in October 2017.

We met him again today, in the brick barn near the entrance to the Museum, with a volunteer who is progressively taking digital photographs of hundreds of farm implements and other artefacts collected by Mr Schepers since WW2 which are currently stored in the dusty shed, awaiting an opportunity to be put on public display. This lent an authenticity to the effort involved in collecting and cataloguing the wide variety of effects assembled and stockpiled by the elderly Mr Schepers.

Looking through the exhibits on display in the Museum, I gained a fresh insight into why a small village like Eibergen had – during the time my father lived there from the 1920s to the 1940s – multiple slaughterhouses and butcher shops; and why so many members of my father’s parents’ families were involved in the cattle trade.

In the late 1800s, the Prakke family established a large tannery and leather production factory in Eibergen. The Praake factory principally produced leather transmission belts used in industrial-scale manufacturing, until its closure in the 1950s. A ready supply of cattle hide would be essential for a reliable supply of raw material for the leather factory.

This Museum was also interesting and a peaceful place to spend two hours looking over the exhibits.


Monument to the Jewish people of Winterswijk, at Mevrouw Kuipers-Rietbergplein

From Aalten, Bert S drove to the north-east along the N318 for about 20 minutes to Winterswijk, a town with a population of about 30,000. Here we visited a monument, unveiled in 2002, to the memory of the Jewish people of Winterswijk.

The memorial is on Mevrouw Kuipers-Rietbergplein immediately behind Heilige Jacobuskerk Winterswijk (St Jacob’s Church Winterswijk). The physical closeness of this memorial to Winterswijk’s Catholic Church befits my father, who was raised among Dutch Jewish families and survived WW2 through protection by a Catholic priest. As an adult, my father enthusiastically embraced the Catholic faith.

Explore Het Nationaal Onderduikmuseum (The National Resistance Museum) in Aalten, The Netherlands

This morning Bert S drove me to Aalten, a town 30 minutes due south of Eibergen, to visit Het Nationaal Onderduikmuseum (The National Resistance Museum) at Markt 12. Aalten is a sizable rural town, with a population of about 28,000.

The Onderduikmuseum focusses on hiding and resistance practices during WW2. It highlights everyday life and the personal choices people had to make at that time. The museum is in a house in the old town centre, and a modern gallery-like extension added at the back in recent years. The house was inhabited during the occupation years by the Kempink family including two young children. In the attic, eight persons were hidden during WW2 – the attic is part of the museum display, and exhibits typewriters and printing presses used to produce printed materials that undercut the Nazi war machine.

As the house is centrally located in the town centre, the German Ortskommandant (Local Commander) for Aalten set up office in the front room. This reminded me of my father’s experience, where the Ortskommandant for Eibergen set up office in the front room of St Mattheüs Rectory while my father stayed secretly in an upstairs bedroom (and sometimes the garden shed) between October 1942 and May 1945. Typically, an Ortskommandant was responsible for cooperating with and controlling local police and community leaders.

Apart from the illegal printing house in the attic, the Onderduikmuseum collection includes a hiding place, shelter, weapons, uniforms, anti-WW2 propaganda material, identification documents, photographs and other objects such as food coupons that give an impression of daily life for Dutch families during the German occupation.

There is also an exhibit in memory of Hendrik Jan Wikkerink (1896-1981) who lived in Aalten. Wikkerink, also known as Ome (Uncle) Jan, was a deeply religious member of the Dutch Calvinist Church. He managed to save the lives of about 70 Jewish persons, as well as many others. Wikkerink and his wife, Dela Gesina Wikkerink-Eppink, had eight children between the ages of eight and 20 in 1944 when they started taking people in.

Wikkerink was active in finding hiding places for Jews and supplying them with money and ration cards, which he or his eldest daughter would deliver every week. Toward the end of 1944, the Germans caught up with Wikkerink and he was taken to the Aalten police station. While the arresting officers were out looking for a vehicle to continue their journey, the local police faked an incident by breathing in chloroform to make them unconscious, hence enabling Wikkerink to escape. The Germans retaliated by setting fire to the Wikkerink home, burning all their belongings. The Wikkerinks and their wards spent the last months of WW2 with relatives.

The Wikkerinks, who did not have the means or materials to rebuild their home when the war ended, lived for a long time in an emergency structure. Dutch Queen Wilhelmina, who visited the family in their temporary dwelling, honoured Wikkerink with the Orde van Oranje-Nassau (Order of Oranje-Nassau), a civil and military order to recognise conspicuous acts of chivalry. On 1 January 1978, the Israeli organisation Yad Vashem recognised Wikkerink and his wife as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, an honour accorded to non-Jews who protected Jewish people during WW2.

The Onderduikmuseum is an interesting place and a visit is well worthwhile.

Cycle loop from Eibergen in The Netherlands to Vreden in Germany

This morning I departed Naarden by train, headed for Hengelo station where I was met by my friend Bert Smeenk who drove me to Eibergen in the Achterhoek (literally, ‘back corner’) region of The Netherlands. Eibergen is where my father was born, in 1921.

Part-way through the rail journey, the train was diverted because of the surprise discovery of a WW2 bomb beside a section of track. The diversion added about one hour to the usual journey time of two hours.

Bert greeted me enthusiastically – it is exactly one year since we last met – and we walked a short distance to his car for the 30-minute drive to our destination. In Bert’s home we shared a typical Dutch lunch of cured meats, cheese and bread.

Before my arrival, I’d expressed to Bert an interest in cycling around the Eibergen district. He kindly offered to make arrangements with a neighbour, Bert Westhuis, who is an avid cyclist. Between the two Berts, it was worked out that Bert Westhuis would lead me on a ride this afternoon, using his partner’s touring bike.

He led me onto Zwilbroekseweg, a quiet and straight rural road lined with shady poplars. Verdant green paddocks are all around, often containing Holstein Friesian cattle. As a vehicle approaches occasionally, we move to single file then return to ride side-by-side. I’ve known Bert for barely 10 minutes but the conversation flows easily. I’m again reminded how well the Dutch speak English and how Dutch people are so open to sharing stories with others, even newcomers from across the globe.

We passed through the farmland at Holterhoek and then arrived at Zwilbroek, another farming community. Here we turned left into Vredenseweg, a slightly wider road also lined with poplars. We soon crossed the border into Germany and followed this road all the way to Vreden, a small town in the North Rhine-Westphalia district. Bert W showed me around the town centre where we stopped briefly to take in the exterior of an attractive red-brick church. We returned to Windmühlenstraße which became Windmühlentor and rode back to the roundabout on the western edge of the township to re-join Zwillbrockerstraße which had delivered us to Vreden.

But at its intersection with Ringstraße, a low-key ring road circling Vreden, we turned right and headed north-east for a short distance until reaching Oldenkotter Straße where we veered due north. At Hauptstraße we turned to the east and several paddocks later we arrived at Ammeloe, a village some 6km north-west of Vreden. After passing through the village, we turned west and then north into the Ammeloe road which would return us to The Netherlands at a point more north-east than the previous border crossing.

We stopped at Café-Restaurant Rotering on the Dutch side of the border where the Ammeloe road is known as Oldenkotseweg.  Here we ordered a glass of beer (Bert) and wine (me), enjoyed in the shade under the front verandah. Again, the conversation flows.

Refreshed, we resume our cycling along Oldenkotseweg. The River Berkel is now on our left, as it meanders lazily from Germany into Holland. We reach the village of Rekken where the road became Holterweg and took us onto the other side of the Berkel, where the road became Rekkenseweg. Now Bert is keen to show me Piepermolen (Pieper’s Mill).

Built of deep-red bricks in 1796 with an unusual bell-shaped hull, the mill was used for crushing grain. Around the base of the mill is a mound of earth, a so-called ‘belt’, from which the miller could easily reach the blades. The mill is named after Herman Pieper, the last owner to use the mill for its intended purpose. Part of the mill was destroyed by a storm in 1940, and it was no longer used. A restoration occurred in 1972, then another in 1994 and another in 2007.

A striking dahlia garden stood in front of the mill, and we walked criss-cross through it. The year 2018 was the fourth occasion that local volunteers planted out large beds of dahlia here.

In 2010, during the centenary of the Vereniging Rekkens Volksfeest (Rekkens Festival Association), a dahlia garden was created for the first time. Volunteers planted 100 varieties of dahlia at that time. A dahlia garden was again planted in 2014, containing 160 different varieties, and generating great interest throughout the Achterhoek. Another dahlia garden was planted in 2016 to mark the 250th anniversary of the opening of the Dutch-German border between Rekken and Dinxperlo. And on 27 July 2018, a dahlia garden was opened to the public for the fourth time. One week after our visit on 11 October 2018, the garden was to be dismantled, the bulbs unearthed and sold to local buyers.

We mounted our bikes and re-joined Rekkenseweg which took us generally westward through tracts of farmland. Many kilometres on, we moved onto a very minor road, Hoge Diek, and then took a sharp right into Apedijk. This brought us alongside Ramsbeek, a small stream that flows into the Berkel at Eibergen. By now we have completed a loop and ridden 37km in about 2h24m at a leisurely 15.4km/h.