Last month I was at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Springfield, IL and stopped in Prairie Archives, a used bookstore. There I found a few World War II books I had not read, including one called, Things We Couldn’t Say, which is set in the Netherlands during World War II. I started reading the book and brought it with me to the Netherlands, where I’ve been the last two weeks.
This book really grabbed my attention not only because I spend a great deal of time in the Netherlands, my second home, but because I don’t know a lot about the Resistance movement here during the war. Also, I’m a spiritual person and the more I got to know Diet through the book, the more I felt a connection to her. Interestingly enough, last week I met a woman whose great grandfather was active in the Resistance and her family’s story is incredible. Makes me wonder how many other Dutch families have similar stories but are not talking about them.
During the war, many individuals took it upon themselves to do something, anything, to fight the Germans and what they were doing to people in occupied countries. Diet and Hein, a Dutch couple, chose to join the Resistance and help hide Jews, deliver ration cards and fake identification cards, bike or walk miles every day across the country while often in great danger, to deliver items or transport Jews to hiding places.
I won’t give away the story or the ending, but having traveled across the Netherlands quite a bit the last two years, I’m amazed at what Diet and Hein did – on foot or by bike – to help the movement. The distances they traveled often take at least an hour or more by car today. Imagine going those distances by foot or bike with worn out shoes, light clothing because things were rationed and worn out, or always in fear the Germans would take your bike or worse – kill you. Then imagine it is the Hunger Winter of 1945 in the northern part of the Netherlands where food is scarce and people are dying by the hundreds every week.
Both Diet and Hein were arrested during the war and Diet described their confinement through the letters they wrote and her diary. Several other members of their Resistance group were arrested and killed. In some instances during the war, it becomes a case of “What Would You Do?” Continue to fight in any way you can or give up?
I encourage everyone to read this book and consider what life was like for those involved in the Resistance during the war. Consider how the work they did, trials they endured, and suffering, changed them over time and for the rest of their lives. This book will also give you a deeper look into Dutch history during the war, the countryside, what life was like for rural and urban families, and a glimpse into the strong faith of those involved.
My challenge to you: Dig into your family history and see what stories you have from World War II that have gone untold and bring them out into the light.
Have you read any good books about the Dutch during World War II? Please share in the comments.
© 2016 World War II Research and Writing Center