Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
At school, I am an English major, with a focus in creative writing. My specific genre of interest is creative non-fiction, and I recently spent this past summer working on a SLU fellowship that involved a series of essays focusing on how my childhood shaped the adult that I am becoming. Through my work in this field, I became very interested in the story of Anne Frank. Who would she have become had she not suffered the unfortunate demise that in turn made her diary into an internationally recognized piece of literature? Once I latched on to this idea, I expanded it to the city of Amsterdam, the location of "the secret annex." How does the city's history of occupation during World War II play a role in the community that exists today? The function that a history of trauma might play in the development of a person, and by extension, a society was something I decided I would like to investigate first hand.
With my travel grant, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Amsterdam. I spent the better part of an afternoon at the Anne Frank House; the building where the Frank family, along with several other Jewish refugees, spent years in hiding is now a museum. From the outside, you wouldn't guess that within this building, a group of people existed in complete secrecy until the time of their betrayal. Within the museum, however, there is a story of suffering and hardship that literally hangs from the walls.
Similarly, Amsterdam itself bears little evidence of the Nazi occupation during WWII. The city is ornate and beautiful; the streets are lined with quaint waffle stands and a network of canals brings an air of order and tranquility to the streets inundated by bicyclists. I spent much of my weekend wandering, and trying to pinpoint the evidence, or scars, if you will, of the history of trauma. I believe I found it, but not where I expected.
I found myself wondering if it is a coincidence that the same city where Anne Frank was finally turned onto the path to her death is now one of the most culturally liberal environments in all of Europe. Could this past of oppression and literal occupation have triggered the city's current liberal attitude concerning drug use, and prostitution. The red light district in Amsterdam to me seemed to be ridden with contradiction-In one of the most beautiful parts of the city, with the canal lined with white swans, there are windows full of women selling their services. I was left with mixed feelings-is this possibly a reaction against the past of repression, or a living testament to the ways that the people have become comfortable with a life of degradation?
I went to Amsterdam with a set of questions. I left with my head still buzzing, now with a list of new unknowns. The one thing I am certain of was that this experience was powerful enough to prompt a strong desire to return, to fully exanimate this cultural anomaly.