Monday, April 30, 2018

Two Thousand Years of History in Utrecht

The day was dull and rainy. After saying goodbye to Anita, Johan dropped us off at the train station. 





Across from the station was a large dragon statue and fountain. It was said to be commissioned in honour of twin girls who died tragically. An alternate opinion is that it’s in honour of mother- in-laws.

We arrived in Utrecht in about thirty minutes.



The rain was really coming down as we made our way to the Dom Cathedral area. We had preordered tickets to the
Dom Under tour at 11:30 which is a tour based on excavations and findings from under the church and nearby area.

This was an excellent tour, our guide was very good and I learned a lot.





There is over 2000 years of history at this site. There had been a Roman fort there. The first church was built in 635AD. Numerous churches had been destroyed and rebuilt on the site of the Roman fort. A Romanesque church was constructed in 1023AD and then a gothic in 1254AD.
The cathedral was built separate from the tower so that the monks had a straight path to where they worshipped five times a day between the tower and nave. 





During the 1580 reformation, the previously Catholic cathedral turned Protestant.



On August 1, 1674 a hurricane caused most of the nave to collapse. The tower stayed intact because it was separate from the cathedral due to the monks walkway. The ruins of the nave stayed in place for 150 years until the debris was removed but the nave was never rebuilt.

The rest of the cathedral was bricked off from the nave and it is still in use.







After the tour, we explored the cathedral and the beautiful cloisters area. I loved the gargoyles.



John pulled a pair of light rainproof pants from his backpack which he put on over his pants. I was impressed and more than just a little envious.



We walked around the city in the rain and stopped for lunch in a cosy bar.

We later searched for a few stores that sold Mephistos. One was out of business and the other didn’t have any of the dressy Mephistos. Sigh. 





A lovely Ann Frank statue was situated in front of Jans Church.

I almost got run over by bikes a few times when I walked out onto the street.

Cold, wet and tired, (or at least I was),  we stopped to pick up some snacks and drinks before catching the train to Schipol Airport and the shuttle to our hotel.

A Day of Remembrance and Friendship

In the morning, Martien and Jolanda drove us to Anita’s home in the town of 
Vught. We also met Anita and her mom, Sjan in Africa in 2016. It was the first time all six of us were reunited since Africa. Sjan, Anita and her son Matts visited us in Canada last year.



We met Johan, Anita’s husband, Anita’s daughter Robin and beautiful granddaughter Maeve. We first had coffee and a delicious dessert called Bossche Bols which is a Dutch pastry treat filled with whipped cream and covered with chocolate which is a specialty from the area.



Anita took us to a grocery store so that I could pick up my favourite cheese, licorice droppes and Milka bars.

After a delicious lunch of kroket (another Dutch specialty),  Sjan, Anita, John and I visited Camp Vught which was a work camp run by the Nazis during WW2 for political prisoners, Jews and anyone else the Nazis disliked. It was also the only   concentration camp in the Netherlands as prisoners were also killed here although not on the scale of the other concentration camps.

Here are some of the facts that I learned on this visit to the camp:



In May 1940, the Dutch surrendered within five days after the Nazis bombed Rotterdam.

Replica of the original camp



The camp was 1 km long by 400 m wide. The only original building left from the war is the crematorium



At the time, people in the town didn’t know it was a camp. It was built at this location because it was isolated but also not too far from a train station and roads. Prisoners had to walk 1 1/2 hours from train to camp.  The camp opened in January 1943 . Over 32,000 prisoners went through this camp; many were women & children.

Prisoners were given a number instead of their names in an attempt to take away their identities. All of the adults had their whole bodies shaved and had to wear striped uniforms. Children were not shaved and kept their own clothes.
The colour of the triangle on the uniform indicated what type of prisoner they were; criminal, gay, political, Jew or gypsy.

There were no windows on the barracks because the prison wasn’t ready when prisoners came. It was a very cold winter that year. 

Children over four years old had to stay in their own barrack. People over sixteen stayed with the other adults.

This was a working camp. Amongst other things, they made light bulbs for the Phillips company. They worked 6 days a week from 5am until 6 or 7pm but did not work on Sunday. 

 Prisoners were punished by being whipped with a stick 25 times. Often, prisoners were forced to whip each other.

A barrack elder had to take care of the 250 prisoners in each barrack.

For meals they were rationed one cup of coffee for breakfast, soup made from dirty water for lunch (there was no clean water) and dinner was bread.



Mattresses and pillows were burlap filled with a bit of straw. It was better to sleep on the top bunk because the straw fell down on the bunks below. The barracks were never quiet because people were sick; many throwing up.

There were builders in the camp. Prisoners would write notes for their family which the builders would smuggle out.





1800 children were taken away to the Sobibor extermination camp in Germany where almost all died. If the children were sick and could not work they were taken away. The train ride took three days without food or drinks. When they arrived at Sobibor, they were taken to the gas chambers. There is a monument with the names of 1,248 children that were taken from the Vught Camp to their deaths in Sobibor. 



There is still the cutting table in the crematorium where bodies were cut up into smaller pieces. If a person died of hunger or beating, the official cause of death was said to be heart problems.





Once one of the prisoners complained about the conditions in the camp. As punishment, they put 74 women in a small cell only 10’x10’ from January 15-16,1944. The walls were painted with a poison that burnt the skin if touched. There were 72 square tiles (each tile was 12 inches by 12 inches each) on the floor and 74 women. After two days when they opened the doors, ten women had died. 







Outside there is a common grave where the ashes of the 750 people that died in this camp are buried. The rest of the prisoners were shipped to Germany to die.



When the war ended, there were 329 prisoners left in the prison; the guards  shot and killed them all before the Allies arrived. 

The youngest to die in this camp was 2 months old; the oldest was 94.

So dreadfully horrible.

In somber moods, we left the concentration camp and went to the nearby city of Den Bosch. 





The painter, Heronimus Bosch came from this area (his paintings included “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and “Ship of Fools” to name a few). I was delighted by  this pig statue created in the style of his paintings.









We went into the beautiful St Jans Cathedral (built in 1200). There were ancient graves inlaid into the floors and the St Mary’s chapel was so peaceful with its flickering candles.





We actually found a few stores that carried Mephistos but not the dressy ones that I was looking for.














The buildings and centre square with a statue of Bosch were lovely.



It was funny to see a Hudson’s Bay store here.

We stopped for a coffee and headed back to Anita’s place where Johan had prepared a delicious meal. We chatted and laughed till it was time for bed.











 

A Day of Remembrance and Friendship

In the morning, Martin and Jolanda drove us to Anita’s place in the town of 
Vught. We also met Anita and her mom, Sjan in Africa in 2016. It was the first time all six of us were reunited since Africa. Sjan, Anita and her son Matts visited us in Canada last year.



We met Johan, Anita’s husband, Anita’s daughter Robin and beautiful granddaughter Maeve. We first had coffee and a delicious dessert called Bossche Bols which is a Dutch pastry treat filled with whipped cream and covered with chocolate which is a specialty from the area.



Anita took us to a grocery store so that I could pick up my favourite cheese, licorice droppes and Milka bars.

After a delicious lunch of kroket (another Dutch specialty),  Sjan, Anita, John and I visited Camp Vught which was the only working concentration camp in the Netherlands. 

Here are some of the bare facts that I learned on this visit to the camp:



In May 1940, the Dutch surrendered within five days after the Nazis bombed Rotterdam.

Replica of the original camp



The camp was 1 km long by  400 m wide. The only original building left from the war is the crematorium



At the time, people in the town didn’t know it was a camp. It was built on this location because of its proximity to the train station. Prisoners had to walk 1 1/2 hours from train to camp.  The camp opened in Jan 1943 . Over 32000 prisoners went through this camp; mostly women & children.

Prisoners were given a number instead of their names in an attempt to take away their identities. All of the adults had their whole bodies shaved and had to wear striped uniforms.Children were not shaved and kept their own clothes.
The colour of the triangle on the uniform indicated what type of prisoner they were; criminal, gay, political, Jew or gypsy.

There were no windows on the barracks because the prison wasn’t ready when prisoners came. It was a very cold winter that year. 

Children over four years old had to stay in their own barrack. People over sixteen stayed with the other adults.

This was a working camp. Amongst other things, they made light bulbs for the Phillips company. They worked 6 days a week from 5am until 6 or 7pm and the 7th day was free.

 Prisoners were punished by whipping with a stick 25 times. Often, prisoners were forced to whip each other.

A Barrack elder had to take care of the 250 prisoners per barrack.

For meals they were rationed one cup of coffee for breakfast, soup made from dirty water for lunch (there was no clean water) and dinner was bread.



Mattresses and pillows were burlap filled with a bit of straw. It was better to sleep on the top bunk because the straw fell down on the bunks below. The barracks were never quiet because people were sick; many throwing up.

There were builders in the camp. Prisoners would write notes for their family which the builders would smuggle out.





1800 children were taken away to another camp where almost all died. If the children were sick and could not work they were taken away. The
train ride took three days without food or drinks. When they arrived to another concentration camp (Sobibor), they were taken to gas chambers. There is a monument with names of 1249 children that died in Sobibor. 



There is an autopsy table in the crematorium. If a person died of hunger or beating, the official cause of death was said to be heart problems.





There was an uprising in the camp. As punishment, they put 74 women in a small cell only 10’x10’ from January 15-16,1944. The walls were painted with a poison that burnt the skin if touched. There were 72 square tiles on the floor and 74 women. After two days when they opened the doors, ten women had died. 







Outside there is a mass grave of ashes of the 750 people that died in this camp. The rest of the victims were shipped to Germany to die.



When the war ended, there were 329 prisoners left in the prison; they shot and killed them all.

The youngest to die in this camp was 2 months old; the oldest was 94.

So dreadfully horrible.

In somber moods, we left the concentration camp and went to the nearby City of Den Bosch. 





The painter, Heronimus Bosch came from this area (his paintings included “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and “Ship of Fools” to name a few). I was delighted by  this pig statue created in the style of his paintings.









We went into the beautiful St Jans Cathedral (built in 1200). There were ancient graves inlaid into the floors and the St Mary’s chapel was so peaceful with its flickering candles.





We actually found a few stores that carried Mephistos but not the dressy ones that I was looking for.














The buildings and centre square with a statue of Bosch were so lovely.



It was funny to see a Hudson’s Bay store here.

We stopped for a coffee and headed back to Anita’s place where Johan had prepared a delicious meal. We chatted and laughed till it was time for bed.