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Rarely have I experienced a historical book that is so accessible and so imaginative

With the book Atlas of an occupied city by journalist Bianca Stigter, you walk through today's reality, as it were, with historical virtual reality glasses on. An extra layer appears over the familiar backdrop of Amsterdam's streets: of World War II occupation. What wartime past is hidden in the streets and behind the facades?

Atlas of an occupied city unlike a regular topographical atlas, is not composed of maps, but of descriptions of addresses. Addresses about which the author was able to find something in the numerous archives and literature she consulted that took place locally at the time of the occupation. The book is divided into descriptions of addresses by district, indicated by the postal code and accompanied by numerous black-and-white photographs, hand-drawn maps and survey maps. Everyone I have seen holding the book in their hands immediately does one thing: look up what happened in the neighbourhood or address where the reader himself lives, works or goes to school. Rarely have I experienced a historical book that is so accessible and so imaginative that the reader immediately connects with it.

On each other

Closer inspection of the pages reveals how close residents, people in hiding, resistance fighters, NSB members and the German occupation forces in the city were to each other. There are streets where purely geographically, an unbearable tension must have been palpable. The place where the book launch of Atlas of an occupied city took place last year, makes the tangible reality of the book's content immediately clear. The venue was Gerrit van der Veen College in the street of the same name in South - which was named after this resistance fighter after the war.

Before the war, a girls' HBS was located here, but at the beginning of the war, the building was immediately requisitioned by the occupying forces and the Amsterdam branch of the Sipo-SD (Sicherheitspolizei and -dienst) was established at number 99. The street was then called Euterpestraat. 'Being taken to Euterpestraat' - that was the beginning of the end, as recorded in the Atlas. It was definitely a surreal experience for those present at the book launch to hear this history while sitting together in the auditorium of a secondary school where today's havo and vwo students park their bikes in the basement where prisoners were tortured during the war. The students were involved in the book presentation and had done research based on the book in the neighbourhood where their school is located. It is haunting to read that on the same street as the Sipo-SD, people in hiding and the resistance also lived and in an attic on a stencil machine The TruthThe Parool and The Free Catherine were turned out.

Eastern port area

The fact that the Eastern Harbour area was not yet inhabited during the war does not mean that it played no role during the occupation. Port activities were at a standstill and all Dutch ships had fled to England. The area was transformed into a logistics hub for the occupation forces. On the Borneokade, sea mines were stored in a shed by the occupying forces. The Kriegsmarine occupied the General Trading Depot at Cruquiusweg 25, as well as the warehouses located on this road and Zeeburgerkade Sunday to Saturday.

In sheds on Javakade, metal and leather obtained on the black market destined for the German war industry was stored as well as food for the German army in the Wehrmachtsverplegungshauptambt. KNSM warehouses on the Levantkade successively held NSB members and Germans in May 1940, men rounded up in a raid in Rotterdam in 1944 to go to work in Germany, and on 7 May 1945 a prison camp for collaborators and others who had been 'wrong'. In shed Argentina on the Oostelijke Handelskade, household effects of deported Jews were stored that would later be shipped to Germany for its citizens.

Lloyd Hotel

The Lloyd Hotel on the Oostelijke Handelskade and associated warehouses were used by the occupying forces for various wartime purposes. The Atlas reports extensively on this, as well as on the many other sheds confiscated by the Germans in the Eastern Docklands. Towards the end of the war, in the Eastern Harbour area, port installations were destroyed, quay walls, carriers and gangways were destroyed and ship cranes were blown up by a Sprengkommando.

The Stadsrietlanden was the Dutch Railways' shunting yard from which transports left for Westerbork. Named victim in this section of the Atlas is 13-year-old Keesje Brijde who died on 13 December 1944 after being shot while searching for cinders in the shunting yard that was part of the Sperrgebiet. A memorial has been set up at the plantation on Sporenburg named after him.

Indian neighbourhood

Even during the war, the Indische buurt was a neighbourhood where many people lived, went to school, worked and tried to provide themselves with necessary food. The incidents described at the addresses also show in this neighbourhood how close residents and occupiers were to each other, and war and daily life were a stone's throw away from each other. At 48 Balistraat, a school housed the issue room of the central kitchen; further down Balistraat at number 106 II, there was a stash of weapons under the house that was discovered by the Sipo-SD in 1945. Second Ceram Street 19 was the district post of the Air Protection Service. 'In total, about 41,000 people in Amsterdam could find a seat in public shelters; if they stayed put, there was room for 50,000.'

Halmaheira Street 4 II was the home of a Jewish baker and employee of The Truth who was rounded up in 1941 and murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. Madurastraat 35 II was the hiding address of a teacher who, when he had to move, hid his grandfather's library of books on Dutch Jewry in his new hiding place. Timorplein 21 housed the Third Craft School. 'In 1941, more than a hundred Jewish students had to leave this school.' Ab Caransa was the only survivor of this group and wrote a book about it. Flevopark was then called Zuiderzeepark. 'In 1942, the municipality had potatoes planted in the park. In 1943, the bodies of six English airmen were found here, whose plane had been hit by anti-aircraft guns and exploded in mid-air.' Whereas in June 1944 there is still mention of a ban on picking flowers in the park, during the Hunger Winter almost all the trees disappeared from the park.

Zeeburgereiland

The spot where new housing estates like the Sportheldenbuurt are now rising was a strategically located military and airfield site during the war, which remained a military and aviation destination for a while after the war as well, until Sewage Treatment Works East was established there in the 1980s. The Atlas mentions Zeeburgereiland during the occupation: 'After the German invasion, the entire island was transformed into Fliegerhorst Schellingwoude, the largest base for German seaplanes in the Netherlands. The aircraft were used for coastal surveillance, to lay sea mines, but also to rescue pilots and naval personnel from the North Sea and the IJsselmeer. On the island, the Germans laid roads and built hangars, barracks, bunkers and an ammunition depot. Almost everything was hidden under camouflage netting. There was also a military hospital.'

The Atlas does not fail to mention that Jan Budding and Wiet Abercrombie from Amsterdam-Noord once rowed to Zeeburgereiland at night and drilled holes in the floats of a number of seaplanes. This is one of many individual examples with which the voluminous book is peppered. Incidents that show on a human scale what it meant to live in Amsterdam during the occupation.

The Atlas is a city topography of factual facts that bunched together on its pages show not only the setting but also the fortunes of residents and occupiers who together populated the streets in this dark episode of the city's history. With her admirable monk's work, the author has created a monument as interesting as it is accessible to all Amsterdammers. It is a memorial that you can walk through today's streets with the eyes of a past that is still largely standing straight.

Podcast

Since 1 May, an audio version of Atlas of an occupied city has been published and audio walks through Amsterdam East and Amsterdam Centre are available.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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