Today’s journal entry – Thoughts from my amazing assistant Nan Castello!
Today we woke up in Haarlem, Netherlands. As we walked to the bus stop, about 10 minutes away, many of the students commented on how beautiful this place is and how peaceful it feels after being in the hustle and bustle of London and Paris. It is food for the soul to be in this lovely town.
This morning as we climbed onto the bus, our driver said “Good Morning America!” What a fun start to our day! Our first stop was The Corrie ten Boom House. We were greeted on the windy, cold street outside the old brick building by our guide whose name was Sally. She ushered us into the family sitting room and we all sat in a circle as she began to tell us the story of the house, the watch shop below, and of course…the hiding place. One of the first things she told us was that the house was originally built in 1492! Remember the rhyme you learned as a child? “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in Fourteen Hundred Ninety-Two”. The house was built the same year he sailed! That alone was something to take in. She continued with the story, going back several generations and telling us that Corrie’s grandfather felt called by God’s word to pray for Jerusalem. He had prayer meetings in his house weekly to pray for the Jewish people, 100 years later many members of his family would lose their lives protecting those same people. What an answer to prayer! How faithful God is to have prepared the hearts of the ten Boom family for what was to come when the Nazi’s occupied Holland.
The students loved the personalization of having a guide take us through the home, one student said it felt like we were their guests, invited in, rather than just random visitors who showed up to hear a story. We were told that house and the family who lived there was responsible for saving the lives of 800 Jews during the two-year period they were part of the resistance. Later in the day, after the Anne Frank House, one student asked “Why do so many people go see the Anne Frank house, and so few go to Corrie’s house when they saved so many lives, it doesn’t seem right”.
Next we traveled via train to Amsterdam. We split up in groups to see a little more of the city and to eat lunch. Then it was on to the Anne Frank House. This was a very different experience as there are hundreds of people going in and through the house at the same time. We were given an audio guide to listen to as we moved through the house, each in our own little space and our own thoughts about what we were seeing. It is hard describe the feeling of this place. Dark, claustrophobic, (some of us struggled more than others – raising my hand here) somber, heavy. There is a sense of heaviness there and yet also such gratitude that this remarkable young lady’s story was preserved and because of her words and the museum, we can better comprehend the darkness that overtook this continent during that time of world conflict.
Tonight as we debriefed it was touching to hear the student’s reflections on the day. Some of the observations made were:
“One day they would be laughing about how comical it was that they were hiding, and the next day they were terrified” Life was in such turmoil.
“I didn’t know that would be the last day to see my family and to have them all together.” –This quote stood out to several students. It was made by Otto Frank in reference to their time in transport to the concentration camps.
On seeing a large book with all the names of the people lost in the camps who came from The Netherlands “The name Anne Frank was on the list, but right below were 4 Aaron Franks and we don’t know who they were. There were 6 million who died, not to mention all the lives that were affected, their stories weren’t told”
“There was a wall where they marked the height of Anne and Margot Frank as they grew, the parents marked their height as well, they were trying to be a normal family” even in these very unusual circumstances.
I could write much more as the students were all wonderful about sharing their thoughts tonight, but I will let them use their own words when they get home.
It would be impossible for me to sum-up the experience of today. My heart is full with the blessing of being here with these wonderful young people. They handled themselves with grace and dignity, they took in their surroundings and allowed what they saw and learned to truly sink into them. I could not be more thankful that I get to be a part of it all.