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World War II in Dutch literature and non fiction: 12 recommended books

About Holland



Every year on the 5th of May, the Dutch celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazis during WW2. This is usually done through organising certain festivals and events, however this year the celebrations will be very different. Because of the COVID-19 virus, there will be no events and festivals, and instead people are encouraged to stay indoors. 

Nevertheless, this is a special year of remembrance, because May 5th 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the Dutch liberation. While staying indoors, here is a selection of books which focus on very specific Dutch experience during World War II, stories of everyday life, of great heroism and of tragedy.

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II 

Several biographies have chronicled Audrey Hepburn’s stardom, but none has covered her intense experiences through five years of Nazi occupation in the Netherlands. According to her son, Luca Dotti, ‘The war made my mother who she was.’ Audrey Hepburn’s war included participation in the Dutch resistance, working as a doctor’s assistant during the ‘Bridge Too Far’ battle of Arnhem, the brutal execution of her uncle, and the ordeal of the Hunger Winter of 1944. The book also includes photographs from Audrey’s personal collection and are published here for the first time.

Arnhem: the Battle for the Bridges, 1944

 Operation Market Garden, the plan to end the war by capturing the bridges leading to the Lower Rhine and beyond, was a bold concept but the cost of failure was horrendous, above all for the Dutch who risked everything to help. German reprisals were cruel and lasted until the end of the war. The British fascination for heroic failure has clouded the story of Arnhem in myths. Antony Beevor, using many overlooked and new sources from Dutch, British, American, Polish and German archives, has reconstructed the terrible reality of this epic clash. The book, written in gripping narrative style, is about much more than a single dramatic battle. It looks into the very heart of war.

Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork 

A collection of the diaries and letters of Etty Hillesum (1914-43) who lived in Amsterdam in the shadow of the Holocaust. Her diaries record the increasing anti-Jewish measures imposed by the occupying German army, and the growing uncertainty about the fate of fellow Jews who had been deported by them. In 1943 she was deported and killed in Auschwitz.

The Hunger Winter: Occupied Holland, 1944-1945 

Germany invaded the Netherlands in the spring of 1940. In the winter of 1944-45, when other parts of Europe were being liberated, the Dutch seemed forsaken by the Allies, who bypassed the Netherlands on their drive to Berlin. This book recounts the last winter of the war, and the death of 18,000 civilians due to severe food and fuel shortages.

The Sisters of Auschwitz 

As children Jewish sisters Janny and Lien Brilleslijper lived an ordinary childhood in Amsterdam. As young women, they ran one of the largest Jewish hideaways in the Netherlands – The High Nest, a villa in the Gooi area – until they were betrayed by a neighbour and put on one of the last transports to Auschwitz. Roxane van Iperen stumbled across the house’s history while restoring it with her husband and felt compelled to put the story to paper. The result is a vivid and gripping book, thanks in part to the fact Van Iperen was also given access to the personal, unpublished memoirs Janny Brilleslijper wrote for their close friends and family members.

The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank’s Diary) 

No collection of books about the Netherlands and World War II would be complete without The Diary of a Young Girl, which is now sold in over 70 languages. What makes Anne’s diary particularly resonant is the real voice of an ordinary teenager in an extraordinary situation. At the end of the book, when Anne writes that the family has been betrayed and she knows that there is no hope left, one has an acute sense of the needless loss of such enormous potential.

Winter in Wartime 

Jan Terlouw’s award-winning children’s classic about the horrors and dilemmas of war. Sixteen-year-old Michiel takes care of a wounded British pilot in the Netherlands during World War II. He joins the secret struggle against the Nazis, working to end the occupation and protect those in danger from it, knowing all the time that spies are everywhere and one wrong word could cost him his life.

For more WW II literature visit the Dutch News website

Source: Dutch News 

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