Thursday, June 12, 2008


I love pineapple. It's probably my favorite fruit. Except maybe strawberries. But I love pineapple. Yesterday I went to an open market a few blocks away from my flat (it's only open once a week) and found an amazing selection of pineapples (they had ones to taste) for 1 euro each. I did a bit more shopping and came back to buy one. Apparently I came at just the right time (right before closing) because Monsieur at the fruit stand informed me "et un gratuie aussi", which means "and one for free too". So I got two pineapples for one euro! Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

Corrie ten Boom's House

I know I should have posted this a long time ago. My apologies.

On my second day in the Netherlands, I got to take an afternoon trip to Corrie ten Boom's house. My hosts both had to work, so I was on my own. Starting when I got in the airplane in Dallas, I had began reading Corrie's famous book The Hiding Place, which tells the story of her family's experiences living through Nazi occupied Holland. As most of my readers are probably aware, Corrie's faith played a huge role in her life. She knew she couldn't simply stand by and let the Nazis run amuck in her country. Her heart was especially touched by the plight of Jewish-Dutch people living there in Haarlam. I finished the morning I went to visit Corrie's house.

What I found most sobering and scary about the book was the description of Christianity in Europe, especially Holland, at the time. Holland was a Christian country. The churches were active. And yet public outcry against the Nazi treatment of the Jews was almost non-existent. A considerable amount of the "Christian" Dutch population collaborated with the Nazis. The vast majority of these Christians simply stood by and refused to get involved. Holland had a population of 140,000 Jews before the war began (not counting Jews that had fled from Germany earlier). Only 40,000 of these Jews would survive the Holocaust. 71% of the Jewish population died in Holland, and the Christian Church was mostly silent on the issue. Compare these statistics with Denmark. Before the invasion, 7,800 Jews lived in Denmark. When the "Final Solution" was declared in Denmark, the local population was so horrified that they immediately sprung into action. Only 60 Jews in the entire country were ever caught. The Danes saved 99.2% of their Jewish population.

So what made the difference? From what I can tell, Denmark had already reached the post-Christian status. A minority of Scandinavians were attending services every Sunday before the war (the occupations in both Norway and Denmark dramatically increased church attendance, and the effect bled into Sweden as well). My belief, with no serious research, is that the Church in Denmark was able to have a greater impact on Danish society precisely because it had been purged of all the pseudo-Christians who attended simply because it was popular. When the hard times came (the Occupation), the Danish Church proved faithful, not only able to respond in a Christian manor to the Nazi's intentions toward the Jews, but also influence their society toward a more Christians outlook as well. The Dutch Church, on the other hand, was crippled by countless people who were Christian because that was the socially acceptable, easy thing to do. But when the hard times came (the Occupation), their faith proved to be fruitless as they stood by and watched the Nazi's slaughter thousands of their own countrymen.

So where are we in America today? I shudder at the thought that we are closer to where Holland was at the outbreak of the War then to where Denmark was, but I am saddened to admit that I think we are indeed more Dutch than Danish. Why this is the case is difficult to discern. I will give a quick thought though: I think that the Church in America, much like the Dutch Reformed Church, is much more interested in making sure that its members say the right things, agree with a specific catechism (statement of faith), and can go through the motions of good Church members than in actually affecting the hearts of her people. Not that the former is bad. Indeed we must have correct doctrine or trying to live Christians lives is impossible. But so many modern churches in America consider church attendance, tithing, missions work, etc. as the "important things" and ignore the nitty gritty of real life: anger, pride, gossiping, backstabbing, causing other Christians to sin, foolishness, idolatry, and many more.

Okay, I'm done with the rant. Now onto the stuff you've all been waiting for. Pictures!!!

Outside the Ten Boom watch shop. The store is the front part of the house (which is the museum) and is still a real jewelry and watch shop.

This is the signal that Corrie's underground movement used as a secret signal. When the Alpina sign was in the window, it meant all was fine. If the sign was gone it warned people not to stop. On the night of their arrest, the Germans figured this out and used it to trap other members of the underground.

This is the living room. The picture above the piano is Corrie's father.

Corrie's linen closet which was used as the secret entrance to the hiding place. You can see at the very bottom that the door is open for someone to slide through.

This is a hole in the wall so you can look into the hiding place. I don't know these people but they were part of my tour.

A shot of the inside of the hiding place.

This is a small hiding place used to hide Jewish valuables, as well as extra ration tickets and so forth. On the night of the arrests, this hiding place was found but the one with the people in it was not.

So there they are. I hope you all enjoyed!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Of Umbrellas and Parties

Yesterday was a looong day for me. I was looking forward to my first weekend alone here in Brussels as a time to relax and finally catch up on my sleep a little big, but then we found out that the EU Commission and Council would be open for the public. This only happens once a year, so one of the interns and I agreed to meet over there at 9:00. Of course it took me about an 45 minutes to get there using trams and metros, and I had to get up earlier to give Truman a substantial walk before I left, so I ended up getting up at 7:00. Not too much sleeping in.

Since most of my readers are probably unfamiliar with EU politics, let me explain the Commission/Council as best as I can. Be aware that I'm still confused about them as well to some degree, as is everyone. People keep saying that "once the Lisbon treaty is passed, it will simplify things!". That should tell you how bad EU bureaucracy is if a 500 page document "simplifies" it.

First was the EU Council. This is an immense building with glass on all sides. It's really pretty neat to look at, but unfortunately I forgot my camera. The Council is where all the heads of state from each of the 27 European Union countries meet to discuss EU treaties, etc. They also discuss new EU policies and laws, etc. The Council can also consist of the specific ministers of each of the 27 countries on a given issue. For example, in poultry trading (the big issue at work right now), the Council is actually the Minister of Agriculture for each country instead of the Prime Minister/President. It's a big deal because we're trying to get the EU to accept American poultry, which they refuse to do because it is dunked in chlorine before being sold. The Council's presidency changes every 6 months. Right now, Slovenia is finishing up their presidency with France to take over next month.

The Commission was next and is the most powerful body right now of the EU. Each country's government can appoint one Commissioner for so long (I think it's 4 years, but I'm not quite sure). These Commissioners are the only real Europeans because they have to swear to not consider their own country when making EU decisions. The head of the Commission is President Jose Manuel Barroso, who is considered the most powerful man in Europe right now. I'm a little confused as to the job of the Commission, but they pass laws and such that are then sent to the EU Parliament for approval.

Both the Commission and the Council had tons of goodies available for free for people visiting. These included all sorts of paraphernalia regarding the EU. Mostly maps, DVDs, books, etc. It was quite the treasure hunt for me because I could get everything in French and English, which I shall use later on to practice with. But neither compared to what was to come at the Parliament! After we finished with the Commission and Council, the other intern had to leave but I went on to Parliament, where each of the EU Parties had a booth with lots and lots of free stuff. I got a safety vest for riding a bicycle (which I was going to have to buy), three umbrellas, and all sorts of other goodies. Below you can see a picture of Truman with my umbrellas:

The blue square one is from the center-right party which includes Nicholas Sarkozy's conservative party from France. It isn't the most conservative one in Europe, but it is the biggest. The green is from the Greens. I had to laugh because, of all three, the Greens' umbrella had the most plastic packaging. The Greens are known because they were the first European Party to launch a pan-European campaign in the last election. The red one is probably my favorite, even though its the Socialist party, because its so big. After I left, I saw someone with a navy blue umbrella as big as this one from the EPP party, which is probably the most conservative main-line party (the British Conservatives are a part of that party, though they have promised to pull out after 2009). I was going to go back in to try to snag one, but there was a huge line, and I would have had to go through security again. Anyway, three is probably sufficient anyway.

So that was my adventure with the EU. I'll probably get a more in-depth official tour with the other interns, but it was great to see everything anyway.