With the Markinks, we revisited Amsterdam to see some of the things they had not yet visited. One of the gems only a local might find was Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic), a fully operating secret Catholic Church, hidden in the home of a linen dealer during the Reformation in the 16th century. The government of the Netherlands adopted the Dutch Reformed Church as their offical church and took over all of the Catholic Churches in the area for their own. Catholics continued to worship but were forced to go underground and change their format drastically. A linen merchant allowed the church to transform the top three floors of his home on the canal in the Red Light District into a secret center of worship for Catholics all over Amsterdam. And boy, was it transformed. It had a rectory, confessionals, baptistery, organ, and an absolutely beautiful sanctuary replete with altar, pews, a fold-out pulpit, and enough artwork and ornamentation to rival any cathedral. Above this cathedral was the storeroom and pulley of a fully working linen warehouse. No one would ever know the most important business that was done there: That of preserving a dedicated group of faithful congregants.
After visiting the church, we took a food tour of Amsterdam. We tried the many colors and flavors of macaroons, which are NOT made from coconut like they are in the U.S.. We also tried Gevulde Koeken, delicious cookies made with almond paste; krokets, deep-fried meat paste designed as a cheap meal during World War II because they had very little meat but were filling and tasty; and pannekoeks, plate-sized Dutch pancakes made with either sweet or savory fillings.
Finally, we visited the home of Anne Frank. She was only one of six millions Jews murdered by Nazis during World War II, but her story stands out because of the diary she wrote while hiding in a secret room built behind a bookcase in her Father’s business. Her father, Otto Frank, sold spices and pectin for canning. When his daughter Margot Frank was called up by the Germans for “work,” he knew what that meant. He brought his family into hiding, where they stayed for two years. They were caught and arrested by the Gestapo, even as they celebrated the fact that the allied troops were entering The Netherlands. The Jews in this hidden group were sent to various concentration camps. Anne, her mother, and her sister, were sent to a women’s work camp but were eventually moved to Auschwitz. They were on the last train to this horrible camp before Allied Forces liberated The Netherlands. Sadly, only her father, Otto Frank, survived the ordeal. Anne’s diary, found in the secret annex, was returned to her father after his return to Amsterdam, and he published it in 1947. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the house, but images of the 500 square foot apartment, completely hidden by a bookcase in Otto Frank’s office while his employees continued running the business, will be forever etched in our minds. May we never have to relearn the lessons these horrors have taught us.