War and Love –
A Family’s Testament of Anguish, Endurance
and Devotion in Occupied Amsterdam
By Melanie Martin
Matador/Troubador – £14.99
Whoever reads these words, recall,
my comrades in distress
and their loved ones most of all,
their utter wretchedness,
know this that we too brought to mind
our kin and country dear,
from every night a new day dawns,
and every sky will clear.
(‘The Eighteen Dead’)
Jan Campert, 1941
In April 1941 they decided that every Dutch person should carry personal identification papers – before that we had never seen them.
They wanted it so you could show who you are and those held by Jews had to be stamped with a ”J.” And those stupid Dutchmen the government offices cooperated. As a result, Holland lost the highest percentage of its Jewish population. This was in stark contrast to Denmark, where nobody cooperated – led by their king, who stayed in Copenhagen throughout the war.
Like the prime protagonists throughout this book, my mother – who was the same age as Anne Frank – lived through the horrendous Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. The elongated trajectory of which, was to remain forever more.
In more ways than one.
As such, I can wholeheartedly (if not unfortunately) relate to War and Love –
A Family’s Testament of Anguish, Endurance and Devotion in Occupied Amsterdam. So much of its altogether poignant reading is akin to an actual ‘’testament’’ of my own childhood.
Reason being, by way of my mother’s side of my family, I was made well-aware of such words as Westerbork, The Hunger Winter, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen at a very early age. So much so, that said words have intermittently/subliminally remained with me ever since.
There again, my mother had Jewish family members murdered at Auschwitz.
Family members, me and my sisters were never to meet, although I’m led to believe they were bigger than life.
Indeed, bigger than the vile regime responsible for their murders.
A regime, whose atrocious and barbaric behaviour, is occasionally brought to bear throughout these 236 pages (excluding List of Sources), although never dwelt upon. And this is what accounts for War and Love being such a delicate, and dare I say it, enduring read, as so succinctly mentioned on the back cover: ‘’What makes this book different is that it doesn’t dwell on the horrors of the Holocaust. It surrounds those events with the fabric of human life. The remarkable way that people adapted to the different circumstances they faced and in spite of the peril and hardship they still made the best of their lives, told jokes, played their part in the Dutch resistance and fell in love.’’
There is admittedly, the odd historical error; the big one being on page 122, which mentions that the Warsaw Uprising occurred in 1943, when in fact it was (August) 1944; although the reproduction of so many (overtly eloquent) black and white photographs, as well as the information on the Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands, more than makes up for this.
To be sure, I’m most grateful for the authoress, Melanie Martin, having written and compiled what is clearly a brave, astute, humane and altogether, rather beautiful book.
I’m not sure I could have done the same.
So: thank you.