Thursday, March 3, 2022

Roxane Van Iperan - The Sisters of Auschwitz

Eight months after Germany’s invasion of Poland, the Nazis roll into The Netherlands, expanding their reign of brutality to the Dutch. But by the Winter of 1943, resistance is growing. Among those fighting their brutal Nazi occupiers are two Jewish sisters, Janny and Lien Brilleslijper from Amsterdam. Risking arrest and death, the sisters help save others, sheltering them in a clandestine safehouse in the woods, they called “The High Nest.”
This secret refuge would become one of the most important Jewish safehouses in the country, serving as a hiding place and underground center for resistance partisans as well as artists condemned by Hitler. From The High Nest, an underground web of artists arises, giving hope and light to those living in terror in Holland as they begin to restore the dazzling pre-war life of Amsterdam and The Hague.
When the house and its occupants are eventually betrayed, the most terrifying time of the sisters' lives begins. As Allied troops close in, the Brilleslijper family are rushed onto the last train to Auschwitz, along with Anne Frank and her family. The journey will bring Janny and Lien close to Anne and her older sister Margot. The days ahead will test the sisters beyond human imagination as they are stripped of everything but their courage, their resilience, and their love for each other.
Based on meticulous research and unprecedented access to the Brilleslijpers’ personal archives of memoirs and photos, Sisters of Auschwitz is a long-overdue homage to two young women’s heroism and moral bravery—and a reminder of the power each of us has to change the world.

Comment: Another book I brought from the library the last time I went there. I had no reason to choose it except the fact I tend to like reading about WWII.

In this non fiction book, we have an extensive and detailed account of the lives of sisters Janny and Lien, two Dutch Jewish women who did all they possibly could for the Dutch Resistence until they were found and taken to Auschwitz. This is the work of reporter/author Roxane Van Iperan, as she got interested in a house she discovered was used to hide people while the Nazis were rounding up Jewish citizens to be taken to concentration camps. While all factual with just a little bit of fictional setting up to read as novel, this is one more example of what happened in those years, this time focusing on a part of the Dutch reality.

To be fair, I must not have paid attention while checking out this and other titles, because by the Portuguese cover and blurb, it felt this was another fictional tale based on real people but the plot would be centered on how the main characters met Anne Frank, one of the most famous individuals to have been killed in a concentration camp and an author whose diary is well known.

At first I was a little suspicious if this was only bait for a new reader to want to read this book and, now I've finished, I can't help think this was, indeed, a little bit like that. At least, the Portuguese cover includes this on the cove and that certainly makes it easier to assume what kind of story this would be but this book is divided into three parts: background and early life of the sisters and their family, the time they spent at the house which was the propelling factor for this book and the time they actually were at Auschwitz.

Just by saying this, one can see why I felt slightly disappointed with the plot choices, so to speak. The title infers the story would be about two sisters surviving Auschwitz and what kind of horrific experience they faced there, adding to the fact they did meet and interacted with Anne Frank, but the reality is that this is only one third of the novel. Most of the work the author included is focused on the time before the camp. I don't mean to say I would have preferred countless examples of human
degradation but perhaps the title might have been a bit more realistically chosen.

Portuguese cover
If one looks at this as an account of what these people lived through, there's no doubt of their heroics and the risks taken to help others and to try to fight a difficult battle. However, like other readers, I'm on the fence on whether I would have preferred this to be a straight non fiction, with only facts and no interpretation because the story is told as if this was fiction and this suggests the actions we see described might have been different if only. I think this made the overall effect to be one of too much "this happened, then that happened" style and what I believe this causes is a certain emotional detachment from what the people felt and saw. 

A detail I liked was how, at the end, the author included a sort of list of the main characters and what happened to them. Nothing detailed, often just a reference to date of birth and death and where someone died, and of those who didn't die, just a brief note on what they did after the war. At a time when, so sadly, war is again among us, this is even more special, because all these people were part of a family and even those who were on the other side (meaning, Nazi or simply German) also suffered losses and how obvious it is war benefits no one except those barely affected.

Anyway. I think it shows the author has done a lot of research and it took time to put all things together...her list of referenced work is quite big at the end of the book too, but the result was certainly well structured and the timeline mostly easy to follow. To me it's just too bad the kind of information we have on the characters' steps and actions before they were caught feels so much like a movie scene and not as much as a deeply ingrained need to do something right, even though the words are there. The writing is good, no doubt, but the style in which the story is told is not the one I'd say is best.

All in all, this certainly is of great value as another example of what life was like in occupied areas during the Nazi rule. If one thinks there is enough and nothing more can add fear and shock to it, more books come to remind us of that. While reading this I also kept thinking how easily people forget and repeat the same mistakes... to think some people join/agree with Nazi ideas today is mind blowing. Thankfully, books like these are proof of what happened.
Grade: 6/10

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