It’s really weird to read a book that tightly references the area you live in, and “The Cut Out Girl” begins with a walk around my new neighbourhood. This is where Lien, the author’s Aunt, lived before she was smuggled away to safety in Dordrecht. Lien is Jewish, and under the Nazi occupation her life was in danger, so her parents sent her into safety where she posed as a cousin from bombed-out Rotterdam. She never saw her parents again.
There are a lot of books about Jewish people in hiding, most famously of course Anne Frank, but there’s an important aspect to this book. Lien’s story is told simply and documented with photos, personal letters and trips to the nation’s archives. What makes it different as that Van Es, Lien’s nephew, looks at the dark side of the occupation. There were Dutch collaborators working with the occupiers to find Jewish people to deport, and there was a bounty for citizens to inform on Jews in hiding – remember that the winter of 1944-45 was the Hunger Winter, a real famine with a massive shortage of food so hiding extra people got harder, and there must have been more than one starving family who betrayed their Jewish neighbours for that bounty.
There were thousands of Dutch people who took part in measures to rescue Jewish people – from replacing the civil registers so that Jewish people were not identified (before WWII the civil register included religion), to hiding children, and moving Jews to safety. All of that is true and gets celebrated. But this darker side is ignored. Van Es has researched and
I walked around the area where Lien lived with her parents as a child, ending on Rabbijn Maarsenplein. This square is tucked in behind the Nieuwe Kerk and surrounded by various Asian restaurants. But when Lien left The Hague this is where the only school for Jewish children was. There are two monuments on the square that point to its history, the Jewish memorial in the background of the photo above, and the Jewish Children monument (Joods Kindermonument ). The children’s names on the bars commemorate 400 children who attended the school on this square during the German occupation and did not survive. From the Hague 16,000 of the city’s 18,000 Jews were killed during the second world war including Rabbi Isaac Maarsen for whom this square was named, his wife and three daughters.
It’s an interesting book and a worthwhile read because of this honest perspective.