23 October 2011

Bicycle Culture and the Holocaust

Posted in Talking about . . .

Then I learned to ride the bike like a Hollander . . .

It did actually take a little getting used to. It’s typical of the bikes here – a fairly large frame with very upright handle bars. The brakes are back-pedal, which also takes a bit of getting used to. All roads have dedicated bicycle lanes and there are also separate bicycle “roads” parallel to the road for cars and the pavement for pedestrians in many places (see pic). Cyclists seem to have right of way just about everywhere, and you have to be careful because lots are a law unto themselves and ignore the rest of the traffic most of the time!

The handle bars make the centre of gravity quite different from the other bikes I’ve ridden in Europe, and especially when there is a load on the front or the back, it’s harder to manoeuver. But the locals are incredibly adept – people ride with a toddler in a seat on the front of the handlebars and a bigger child in a seat behind the rider. I even saw a woman riding with one hand holding up the head of a toddler in the front seat who had fallen asleep! Some parents have a buggy that goes on the front of the bike that children sit in (although I gather these are really expensive), and other people have a fairly large container attached to the front of the handlebars that their dogs (yes, plural) ride in. It’s pretty amazing!

Me and my bike Me and my bike

Me and my bike

Buggy on front with child seat inside Infant Seat attached to Handlebars
Child seat on back

From Top Left: Buggy on front with child seat inside, Infant Seat attached to Handlebars, Child seat on back

Traffic lanes: First, note my bike with pink saddle cover on left on pavement; then cycle lane; then parking lane; then two lanes of car traffic; then cycle lane and pavement on other side of road.

Traffic lanes: First, note my bike with pink saddle cover on left on pavement; then cycle lane; then parking lane; then two lanes of car traffic; then cycle lane and pavement on other side of road.

In the attic of our house in Haarlem, there are two inscriptions written on the wooden rafters. One reads: “Overnacht 8 December 1944 voor razzia door de moffen C van E K Nielshout” The other inscription (in the same handwriting) reads: “Hotel de onderduiker”

Here’s the context and the explanation: Arbeidsinzet was the name for the often forced integration into the German war economy of laborers from the occupied territories during World War II. In Dutch, the term was then literally translated as "forced labor". A “razzia” was a Nazi raid on Jews and Dutch citizens – often to fulfill workcamp quotas. Dutch citizens often hid to avoid this forced labor, and an ‘onderduiker’ is a ‘person in hiding’. In Dutch, the most common term for the German people, after the regular/official one, is "mof” (plural is “moffen"). It is regarded as a derogatory term, used exclusively for Germans, and reflected Dutch resentment of the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War. In Haarlem, in early December 1944, a number of razzias were carried out to find Dutch men to conscript into the German workforce. 1300 men were taken in these “Santa Claus raids”. Obviously, one or more people hid in the attic of this house in early December 1944 to escape conscription. The woman who owns the house managed to make contact with the son of one of the people who hid here, and he has been to the house to see his father’s inscription.

Overnacht 8 December 1944 Hotel de Onderduiker

From Left to Right: Overnacht 8 December 1944, Hotel de Onderduiker

It has become apparent to us that the Holocaust is still very much in view in France and Holland, and an issue that is frequently discussed. Our friends, Denny and Helma Borsboom, who are in their 30s, said that their parents are still preoccupied with what the occupation (and the collusion between parts of the government and the Nazis) means for the nation. I got that impression from the tour guides in Paris as well. It makes me realize how very isolated we are from the effects of WW2. While we pay our respects to those of our own nations who died in WW2, we are not burdened by the guilt and terror that the occupied countries have had to deal with.

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