Hunger In Holland –
Life During the Nazi Occupation
By Cornelia Fuykschot
Prometheus Books – £28.95
That much of The Netherlands, Amsterdam in particular, was not only occupied by the nomenclature of the German Wehrmacht during the Second World War (as in most other Western European countries), but also the dreaded Waffen SS, ensured that curfews were conducted with the most pristine of savage efficiency. One of the reasons I know this is because my mother, just like the author of this remarkably poignant book, Cornelia Fuykschot, was a young teenager during the six-year occupation.
But where Fuykschot lived on the outskirts of Utrecht, my mother lived in the heart of Amsterdam, where the ghastly SS were under the direct command of Austrians, who, at the time, were invariably keen to show they were ‘good Germans.’ So ‘good’ in fact, that with the exception of Poland and eventually Russia, one of the most severe of anti-Semitic policies outside Austria and Germany was invariably set in place.
To be sure, in 1939 there were 140,000 Dutch Jews in The Netherlands, while in 1945, only 35,000 of them were left still alive.
That a lot of Dutch Jewry was heavily concentrated in the renowned Jordan area of Amsterdam, helps clarify the appalling figure as to why only one in sixteen of the capital’s Jews survived. This amounts to the highest proportion of Jews murdered anywhere in Western Europe. Despite the fact that Dutch Jews were supposedly more tolerated by, and more integrated into Dutch society when compared to their brethren in say Poland or Vichy France.
Apart from a few (incidental) instances, Hunger In Holland – Life During The Nazi Occupation doesn’t really elaborate on the thorny issue of Dutch Jews; but when it does, it reveals a certain uncanny, idiosyncratic innocence, the likes of which one doesn’t stumble upon very often. In Chapter Six, ‘The Roundup’ for instance, Fuykschot writes: ‘’Where did they go? Most people did not find out until after the war. A large proportion of the Dutch Jews had always lived in Amsterdam, a city traditionally hospitable to those not welcome elsewhere […], the Jews were long-time citizens of Amsterdam, where one long, busy street was named for them: the Jews’ Broad Street […].’’ From here on in, said innocence makes way for a more loaded sentiment of justified anger, as the authoress continues: ‘’It was to the Jews’ Broad Street that the Germans were transporting all the Jews of Holland. They did it gradually, so as not to cause a disturbance. It seemed as if they planned to make the street into a ghetto, as had been the case in Germany. But it was worse than that. Soon the houses in that street were overfilled with Jewish families and then the Germans began to move them out again to the railway station and on long, tightly packed trains to Germany, to Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, Mauthausen and other concentration camps, where they were killed in the most beastly manner.’’
From justified anger, Fuykschot’s writing finally, perhaps inadvertently, evolves unto a stinging rebuke: ‘’The Germans called this: ‘’solving the Jewish problem.’’ There was no such problem, except in the sick German mind.’’
In reading such Dutch sentiment, especially when written by someone of my mother’s generation, is, to say the least, something of a clarification. Reason being, one of the prime factors that contributed to the aforementioned ghastly statistic(s), was the disgraceful, yet substantial amount of overt collaboration between the Dutch Government, the Nazis and the populace at large. Treacherously deported from Amsterdam’s Westerbork Station to an assortment of concentration camps as those mentioned by Fuykschot, Jews were sickeningly rounded up with the assistance of literally thousands of ethnic Dutch. Among them: The Amsterdam City Administration, The Dutch Municipal Police and the Railway Workers.
As a direct and immediate result, more than seventy-five per cent of Dutch Jews perished – a shameful, heartbreaking percentage, to which the majority of the country’s population continue to hold a fairly indifferent view. A facet of Dutch history, which to this very day (rightfully) remains a tempestuous thorn in the side of the country’s renowned, albeit highly questionable, liberality.
Hunger in Holland is written from the perspective of a young girl, whose prime, pristine and perplexing objective – just like that of my mother’s – was survival. And literally, uncannily, just like my mother used to do, Cornelia Fuykschot tells it how it really (and unfortunately) must have been.