I’m standing inside a room, if you can even call it that. It measures maybe two by three metres. My shoulders are hunched, my head lowered, and I’m listening to the house owner tell me how an entire, extended family used to live in this room.
Just a few days earlier I was gliding along the canals of Amersfoort, onboard a boat, huddled on wooden benches with my aunt, uncle and a handful of strangers. A burst of budding leaves and flowering trees lined the waterways as the sun shone down on cobbled walkways and historic buildings.
I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to explore this ancient Dutch city.
Listening to the tour guide, I tried to pick out words but often referred to the English cheat sheet, noting dates that aged Amersfoort back to the late 1200s.
The western boat route took us by houses built into the first city walls and provided glimpses of Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren, a 98m high tower that not only provides a visual reference point within the city but houses the middle point of the Dutch grid reference system. We slipped under bridges and floated alongside water gates and the birthplace of the famous Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian.
Drinking in the age of this little city, it was apparent that she had been well looked after. Despite her years, she was neatly presented, breathing out secrets of a long, knowing life.
Now, some days later I find myself as a guest inside the tall windowed grandeur of one of Amersfoort’s oldest houses, peeking in through secret doors and into the more recent history of the Second World War. A Jewish family hid away inside this little, little room.
It’s this kind of history, the human component, which really resonates with me. I stay for a short while, hunched and imagining how one lives a confined life, and a life full of fear.
And then the owner pulls away some wood to reveal a tiny window with views directly over to the synagogue. There, within those views, I realise, must have lain some comfort.