Black history Amsterdam: two black pages that are easily forgotten
You probably don’t know this, but we have a local Amsterdam tour guide connected to our hostels. His name is Matthijs. He has a degree in education, but he traded the classroom for the street a few years ago. He now teaches people everything there is to know about Amsterdam (really, this guy is like a walking Wikipedia when it comes to Amsterdam). In this blog he explains more about some black history Amsterdam and two controversial monuments.
“The first monument I want to show you is in the Haarlemmerstraat, not far from Amsterdam Central. I would say this is one of the nicest shopping streets in the Netherlands, especially for food. It is the “culinary main street of Amsterdam”, with a variety of delicious treats. It makes you almost forget about the black history of Amsterdam.
Black history Amsterdam: controversial statue of Peter Stuyvesant
In the middle of a row of shops in the Haarlemmerstraat, you see a large seventeenth-century building (number 75). It once was the headquarters of the West India Company, supplier of herbs, spices and… slaves. Nowadays it is the home of the Stuyvesant restaurant. If you are lucky, you can take a look at the courtyard from the inside. On your right, you will find a plaque that commemorates the decision to found the New Amsterdam colony (now New York). The statue in the middle of the pond is of the Governor-General, Peter Stuyvesant. He was a well-known advocate of slavery and an antisemite. People sometimes compare it to the statue of General Robert E. Lee, who sparked riots in Charlottesville in 2017. What do you do with a statue like that? Remove it? But then, what to do with the Canal Belt, where most of the slave traders lived in the Golden Age?
Walk from the West to the East side of Amsterdam
Though questions to answer. But you can take time to think about it, during a long walk from the West to the East side of the city. Walk from the back of the West Indies House to the Herengracht. If you follow it all the way, you will end up at the Amstel. It is a long, but beautiful walk. You will see many interesting things. When you arrive on the other side of the Amstel, a huge façade wall looms up before you: the Hermitage. If you walk through the museum, you will end up in a green oasis known as the Hoftuin. A perfect place for a break after your long walk. Go to cafe ‘Dignita’ for good coffees or lunch. When you leave the garden on the other side, you come to the Monument of Recognition in the Weesperstraat.
Monument of Recognition Amsterdam
102,000 of the 140,000 Dutch Jews were murdered in the Second World War. That is 75% of all the Jews in the Netherlands. It is the highest percentage of all Western European countries. In comparison, 40% of the Jewish population in Belgium and 25% in France were killed. Just after the war, a local committee wanted to erect a monument to thank the people of Amsterdam for their heroic deeds: a Monument of Recognition. Not that there weren’t any heroes during the war. There were many! For example, the people who rescued 600 Jewish children just a little further in the Hollandsche Schouwburg (which is free to visit). But still, the monuments focus on the heroes instead of the victims. The Jewish community often calls it a “rotmonument” (“despicable monument” in Dutch). We understand the controversy of it. Because of the construction of the Holocaust Namur Monument (very late for a country with such a loaded history), the Monument of Recognition will move to a location further away.
Black history Amsterdam is not just history
Two black pages from the history of Amsterdam. And this is not to say that injustice is a thing of the past. For example, at least 10% of women work involuntarily as prostitutes in one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions – the Red Light District. Recently, the Dutch minister of education involved himself personally with the Canon (50 moments in history that every student should know) because the black pages had to be given sufficient attention. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. But black pages often refer to the slave trade or the Second World War. With that, you run the risk of forgetting all those other moments in history where people made good, questionable, or bad choices. And miss the fact that black pages are still being written.