War and Love: A family's testament of anguish, endurance and devotion in occupied Amsterdam by Melanie Martin
|War and Love: A family's testament of anguish, endurance and devotion in occupied Amsterdam by Melanie Martin|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A book which is truly a labour of love, as author Melanie Martin reconstructs what happened to her family in occupied Amsterdam in WWII. Martin combines the rigorous approach of a historian with the sensitivity of a family member and the combination makes for a compelling read. Highly recommended. Melanie Martin popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: March 2019|
Melanie Martin read about what happened to Dutch Jews in occupied Amsterdam during World War II and was entranced by what she discovered, particularly in The Diary of Ann Frank but then realised that her own family's stories were equally fascinating. A hundred and seven thousand Jews were deported from the city during the war years, but only five thousand survived and Martin could not understand how this could be allowed to happen in a country with liberal values who were resistant to German occupation. Most people believed that the occupation could never happen: even those who thought that the Germans might reach the city were convinced that they would soon be pushed back, that the Amsterdammers would never allow what happened to escalate in the way that it did, but initial protests melted away as the organisers became more circumspect. It's an atrocity on a vast scale, but made up of tens of thousands of individual tragedies.
Martin is the daughter of Tootje (pronounced 'Toe-cha') Granaat, later Martin. Tootje is the youngest daughter of Willem and Lily Granaat. Willem was born in Amsterdam in 1892 and Lily, who was English, in Hertfordshire in 1897. The story of what happened to the family is an interweaving of first-hand accounts from three of Willem's children of what happened in the city and at the concentration camps (Westerbork, Auschwitz and Sobibor) to which they were sent. I'm usually nervous of such first-hand accounts as what actually happened doesn't always survive the story-telling process intact, but Martin is careful to verify externally wherever this is possible and the individual stories which the family members tell also act as internal verification.
I bookmarked the list of family members: it was useful to refer back to in the first few chapters when I couldn't place someone and I particularly appreciated the accompanying guide to pronunciation. I didn't need the list for long though, as Martin is particularly good at putting people in recognisable context and allows their characters to flow through the story. Her Grandfather, Willem, for instance, was an ironmonger. He was a good buyer but a poor seller and when times were hard he found it all too easy to give credit. The person whose stories shone through for me was Harry Granaat. Initially he declined to help his niece with her research as he had only spoken to a few close friends about what happened in the war: memories like these were pushed down in your mind. Despite the reluctance Harry changed his mind and he blossomed as a storyteller.
It was Harry who told the story of Willem asking why there were so many Jewish violinists and not so many piano players. For the reason if you have to go away from where you are living, you can't take the piano but you can always take your violin. We learn about Harry too: he still wanted to have fun in the war, to live not to survive. War did not feel like the worst time of our lives, but he admitted that looking back it was the worst time and you developed characteristics which were not helpful in later life. He's frank too about the pragmatic decisions which had to be made about people who were liabilities to the resistance group of which he was a part.
Tootje tells of her shock when fellow shopkeepers and neighbours appeared in National Socialist Movement uniforms: there was no way for the Granaat family to hide that they were Jewish. Their shop closed on a Saturday. The family was immediately isolated. Martin's careful not to sensationalise what happened: she makes little of the fact that the Dutch equivalent of British Rail, Nederlandse Spoorwagen, earned millions during the war by transporting Dutch Jews to Nazi concentration camps. Afterwards the authorities sent a bill to the families for the cost of transporting the people who were killed. The Reichbahn charged them as normal passengers, but gave group discounts. Forty one members of the Granaat family were transported and charged for in this way.
It might sound as though I've been taking my pleasures too sadly but despite the content I found the book remarkably uplifting. The family members are all positive and there's a genuine lack of bitterness. This is a special book and I'd like to than the publisher for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
Martin deals with what has happened with sensitivity and meticulous research and her family obviously looked to the future. We have reviewed The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust by Heather Pringle but felt that the author was looking more to retribution than to rebuilding. Thomas Buergenthal has a more positive attitude in A Lucky Child. Maus by Art Spiegelman manages to look at the holocaust in graphic format without trivialising the subject. You might appreciate Ruta's Closet by Keith Morgan with Ruth Kron Sigal, set in Lithuania, but War and Love is decidedly the better book. For tweens we can recommend Then by Morris Gleitzman.
Melanie Martin was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
War and Love: A family's testament of anguish, endurance and devotion in occupied Amsterdam by Melanie Martin is in the Top Ten Self-Published Books 2019.
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