Long memories of past crimes
It’s easy to make friends in Amsterdam. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that, since most of the human vices are legal, people are relaxed and satisfied. The city is clean, beautiful and bicycles out number motor vehicles; the Dutch are fanatical cyclists. In addition, there are lots of cafes where people seem to hang out and look for people to be friendly to. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to actually get paid to go to that wonderful city. One afternoon, I was sitting in a cafe; doing what you do while in Amsterdam, and I was approached by a group of young people. Perhaps it was because I was wearing jeans and boots that they seemed to immediately recognize me as an American. One of the less shy ladies of the group came up to my table and said, “USA, USA, Coca-Cola, cowboy, Madonna, have a nice day.”I’m unused to strangers, or non-strangers for that matter, liking me. It seemed just the fact that I was an American, and they were high, was enough for us to strike up a friendship. Without being asked, they joined me at my table; there were about five of them. I had just returned from taking a tour of the Anne Frank Museum. The experience was both powerful and disheartening. The home was small and modest, and the attic where 13-year-old Anne Frank and another Jewish family had hid from the Nazis was claustrophobic. Eight people stayed in that crawl space for 25 months until an informant betrayed them. Like many of my generation while in high school I had read “The Diary of Anne Frank.” From that book and others, I had learned about the cruelty and inhuman suffering foisted on both Jews and Gentiles by the German occupiers. As I walked away from that place, I thought of the depthless brutality that took place in that exact spot. Unspeakable cruelty committed by not only zealots and psychopaths but also by average people who, before the war, I’m guessing lived normal lives. Can you blame me for stopping at the first cafe; I came upon after I left that place? When I told the youngsters (probably mid-20s) that I was from Colorado, they went nuts. One of them had actually skied here a few times, and they all knew the lyrics to John Denver’s song “Rocky Mountain High.” Considering the circumstances, the words seemed very appropriate. After enjoying the cafe’s libations and each other’s company for a short while, they asked if I’d like to join them to attend a soccer match.You have to remember, though all of them spoke English better than I spoke Dutch, communication was both hazy and disjointed. I was not sure where we were going, who was playing, or if the bicycle they gave me to ride was stolen. I assume one of them bought me a ticket, because when they handed a handful to the guy at the gate I was allowed inside. Two teams warmed up on the field; one was a local team, the other from Munich, Germany. The crowd seemed evenly divided; half wearing the team colors of Germany, half sporting the red, white and blue of the Netherlands.As far as European soccer goes the fans were relatively civil and polite; there were few fights and no riots but, rather, cheering and chants from both sides. I tried to join in as best I could. One that I remember was “Nederland moet winnen,” which I’m sure had something to do with Netherlands winning. But as the game rolled on and the fans drank more, a chant began to spread across the Amsterdam side that was longer and seemed less good-natured. Before long the chant became an angry battle-cry for which the other side had no response. The one word that I remember was “grootvader.”Even the youngsters in my group’s mood and demeanor seemed angry as they screamed across the field toward the German fans. I asked one of the calmer ones what they were saying, and her loose translation was: “Give us our Grandfather’s bicycles back.”It seems during the occupation of Amsterdam, the German soldiers commandeered many of the citizens’ bicycles. The grandfathers, their children and their children’s children still held that against the ancestors of the German soldiers, so you can imagine the residual loathing caused by the more heinous behavior of the occupiers. Why I bring this up now is if anyone thinks that the hatred that our government is causing in the citizens of the Middle East and around the world won’t come back to haunt us, they are dangerously naive. The impression a nation makes on its friends and enemies outlives, by many generations, those leaders who make the bad choices of arrogance. Jeffrey Bergeron under the alias of Biff America can be seen on RSN TV, heard on KOA radio, and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.
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