Tuesday, October 31, 2006


"Attentie! Attentie! De Chemocar rijdt door uw straat..."

The sound of the loudspeaker sets me on edge. It doesn't matter that it's announcing the presence of friendly orange-vested municipal workers trolling through the neighborhood for chemical waste products. It doesn't matter that the announcement is delivered in the voice of a Dutch female telephone operator. It doesn't matter that each repetition of the announcement is preceded by a funky Middle-eastern melody, like some kind of ice cream truck in Damascus...

The sound of the loudspeaker sets me on edge because it's mounted to the top of a slow-moving truck, moving through my neighborhood, announcing its propaganda in a foreign (albeit recognizeable) language.

I know this sounds crazy -- but every time the Chemocar drives through our neighborhood (maybe once every three months or so), I think of the Holocaust. Maybe it's because I'm a foreigner myself... Or maybe it's because I live in a neighborhood that was highly populated (and depopulated) by Jews during the time of the Second World War... Or maybe it's because I'm developing a nasty case of paranoid schizophrenia... But whatever the reason, it seems that I can't help but feel like a Jew in hiding whenever the Chemocar comes around. My natural impulse is to freeze, to breathlessly listen to the endlessly recycled message blared through the loudspeakers, and above all else to keep the curtains closed.

I can't imagine what it actually would have felt like to have been a Jew in Amsterdam during the 1940s. I can't imagine what it would have been like to hear those words and those policies -- amplified for the neighborhood to hear -- against me and my people. The Verzetsmuseum, just a five minute bicycle ride from my house, is a good start to understanding that period of human history. The Anne Frank huis, on the Prinsengracht, is interesting and instructive. The Corrie Ten Boom huis, in Haarlem, offers a unique perspective.

But the Chemocar helps me to imagine it a little more fully. And I don't think that's such a bad thing -- as long as my overactive imagination doesn't get me hauled off in a straightjacket, into the back of a padded truck...


At 12:18 AM, Blogger e.e. said...

For me (something close to your experience)its on the first Wednesday of every month they check the Tornado sirens...these were first put in for war/bombing, now are used to warn us of the war the earth has proclaimed on us. But when I hear them, I try to imagine what it would be like to hear that with the fear of planes flying overhead. On a side note, as a child growing up in Missouri I used to think that a "Tornado" was a fire engine (since the sound of the siren and the sound of a fire engine were the same). So, pictures of a fire engine coming through the wall of our house would fill my mind as we crouched in the basement when the siren would go off.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

Oh yeah! I remember the tornado/air-raid sirens of America, too! And I remember some of the similar feelings of angst and anxiety... It's good to know that I'm not so crazy -- or, at least if I am crazy and eventually hauled off to the mental institution, I'll have a friend there to keep me company! :-)

At 11:21 PM, Blogger Stef said...

That would seem kind of surreal.

On our missions trip to Kiev we saw a Communist Party political rally that evoked in me a response similar to yours. I suddenly felt nervous, like I had to be cautious of my words an actions. And I wondered what it must have been like for Kiev residents when the Communists were still in power.

The experience was unforgetable, but a little disturbing, too.


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