Amsterdam is a 45-minute plane ride from Gatwick. It’s far enough away that one can’t feel as dirty as all Britain must surely feel after Downton Dave “tipped the staff” by handing out 26 new Tory peerages. As I wrote recently: why aren’t we angrier?
Partly, it’s because we have a new bogeyman to keep us preoccupied. The endlessly whipped-up, false hysteria about a refugee crisis that we refuse to even call by its true name shames us all – not least on a weekend where there was a 5,000-strong march in Dresden in support of refugees. The marchers’ slogan? “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here”.
It’s impossible in Amsterdam not to be aware there is another way. Last night I took my daughters to Anne Frank’s House for a sombre, reflective hour amidst the chilled gaiety of this magnificent city.
I last came 20 years ago. It has changed a lot, not least in the way the redoubtable Anne’s horrific experience is placed in the context of the wider Holocaust. Brave the queues (go late) and visit.
Born in Frankfurt, in 1933 Anne fled with her family to Amsterdam when the Nazis took power, hoping they might be safe there. For seven years they were. Then the Nazis took The Netherlands in a mere five days, and they were again in danger. So much so, they went into hiding in a secret annex behind a bookcase above Otto Frank’s offices on 6 July, 1942.
Only eight “helpers” knew of the families in hiding. Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman, Miep Gies, and Bep Voskuijl were employees, and Gies’ husband Jan Gies and Voskuijl’s father Johannes Hendrik Voskuijl, were also in on the secret. Then, sadly, someone unknown betrayed them. Anne died in Bergen-Belsen just a month before the camp was liberated.
And yet, as I write this, there’s Theresa May opining again that “free movement was never intended to mean freedom to cross borders in search of benefits”. It’s enough to make one weep with shame. Contrast this with Angela Merkel rising above Britain’s political pygmies to accept 750,000 refugees in Germany, and use the German army to build shelters for them.
I know what economic migrants look like. My ma and most of my Italian family were exactly that. They left post-war Italy in search of a better life, one free from famine and unemployment. They were not in fear of their lives, or of being raped and otherwise abused. They were “merely” hungry. Eventually, in Boston, USA and London, England they made their lives better on the back of unimaginable hard work. Those still alive remain wistful for their homes.
Syrian and Libyan refugees can’t afford to be wistful. They are desperate; in fear of their lives. Why do we pretend we don’t know this? We have seen the photos, heard their personal stories. Is it merely that we cannot look past their skin colour? What would Theresa May have said about the Franks? Why aren’t we angrier?
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