Significantly different from the book of Loek Caspers is the one written by my aunt Susan, even though both cover the lives and actions of members of the Dutch resistance. As Susan said in her book, “I am not focused so much on the war itself, but rather the experiences, the emotions and feelings amongst members of my family…” This she does quite well, allowing us to feel the dangers, to undergo the surprises (both nasty and pleasant), and above all to reflect and ponder what motivated the family to involve themselves knowingly in life-or-death situations.
The book is called Memoirs of the war years: The Netherlands, 1940-1945 — a Christian perspective. From the subtitle we realize we are in for some evangelization, and in reading the book we are not disappointed on that score. Of her parents’ work in the Underground, Susan says plainly, “As Christians, we are obligated to reach out to those in trouble and danger,” and she expands ably on that point every now and then. There is no politics in her book, nothing about supporting a State of Israel or a conservative election agenda. At the risk of their own lives, this family helped save the lives of Jews and others, simply from an ethical call of duty and a spiritual desire to “set an example in Christian living.” They did not try to convert the people they were hiding from the Nazis, notably not even the Jewish orphan boy, though he did attend church with them, pretending to be a relative. The congregation must have known better, but no one said anything to betray them.
Another thing I appreciate a great deal about my aunt’s book is its utter lack of vague mysticism or sentimentality. The family knew there could be fatal consequences to their beliefs and actions, and therefore they planned and thought carefully about their steps. As I was reading, I felt the fear my aunt had felt, shared the pangs of hate as she described the Gestapo, knew twinges of conscience as she pondered the need to use fire-arms on people, and grew disgusted with certain farmers from her own church who would not share their food with the needy unless they were paid black market prices. These farmers justified their greed by mentioning the risks they were taking. However, Susan writes, “My parents never once asked for money for housing and feeding their ‘house guests,’ and as a result they lost everything they had.”
Among the several frank and realistic descriptions she offers, is a story about a woman who came to them for help but whose behavior seemed a bit strange and suspicious. Susan’s father decided to ask a trusted police officer about her, and was informed that the woman was a cocaine dealer who often traveled to Mexico for drugs and sold them to both German and Dutch officers. Says Susan, “…for some reason she was in trouble with the Gestapo, (so) here was a woman who could put us in real danger.” It was not the danger itself that worried her, for the family had already put themselves at great risk, but if the Gestapo interrogated the drug dealer, she could jeopardize everyone in the local resistance movement, along with all the people they were hiding. The matter was discussed and the “decision was made not to help her and that she ‘had to go.’” Certain trained men came, took the woman to an outlying farm and killed her. Later, the woman’s parents sorrowfully agreed that their daughter could not have been trusted.
“Needless to say,” Susan adds, “such decisions were extremely difficult and morally at odds with our beliefs, and consequently resulted in many sleepless nights.” It was a time of war, a time when nothing in life was “normal.” The fact that she includes some stories of this type, even though the book was written foremost with her own children and grandchildren in mind, gives her writing a sense of genuineness and authenticity. On my part it also evokes a deep respect for those otherwise ordinary people who found a strength to meet the great needs of an especially dangerous era.
PHOTO ABOVE TAKEN IN 2011: Left to right – me, my aunt Susan, and her husband Burt whom she met in the war while he was in hiding. His entire family, except for himself and a sister, died at the Auschwitz concentration camp. His story is not in book form but was recorded for posterity by film-maker Steven Spielberg.