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Review: t Hooge Nest by Roxane van Iperen

English title:  The Sisters of Auschwitz (translator Joni Zwart)

When we took over the library from the Fife Cultural Trust in 2017 we found the vast majority of books were by British and American writers and have since made a point of adding titles in translation – most of these are fiction but we welcome non-fiction as well. 

The Sisters of Auschwitz falls into that category, having appeared first in Dutch as ‘t Hooge Nest’ – The High Nest being the name of the house where two Jewish sisters, at enormous risk to themselves, hid people fleeing from the Nazis during the Occupation. The main focus of the book is their resistance work – only the last part relates to the time they spent in Auschwitz after they were captured.

In the days when I was still teaching Dutch, my students often asked me what kind of books Dutch authors wrote. My reply was that the topics were often about Indonesia, the former Dutch colony, and the Second World War because of its trauma of being an occupied nation. Of course Dutch authors write about other topics as well, but these are frequently returning themes. t Hooge Nest was published in 2018. It was on the Dutch bestsellers’ list for a year and has been translated into a number of languages. Roxane van Iperen is a former lawyer, who became a journalist and author. She spoke this year in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam on Dutch remembrance evening, the night before liberation day, which is celebrated each year on the 5th of May.

She and her family bought a house near Naarden, south-east of Amsterdam, and when they started to do some alterations to the house they discovered a number of secret hiding places. She began to do some research and found that these hiding places were constructed and used during the Second World War. She discovered that not only did people hide from the Germans in this house, but the inhabitants themselves, the sisters Janny and Lien Brilleslijper, were Jews and therefore at great risk of being arrested and deported to concentration camps.

The story gives an impression of how they and their families operated and stayed clear of the occupying forces. Eventually they were betrayed and they and the people they were hiding were transported to Westerbork and later on to Auschwitz. They met Anne Frank and her sister Margot and the book tells the story of how they tried to look after these two younger girls, who became ill and died just before the end of the war.

The story is gripping and in the third part harrowing as can be expected, but the author tries to be more factual than emotional, so that you do want to read what happens in the end, which is better than feared. I can’t judge how well the book has been translated, as I listened to the audio book in the original language.

I can really recommend the book, but emotionally it is not an easy read. The research has been thorough and a number of interesting facts are mentioned. One of them for instance is the protest speech given by Professor Rudolph Cleveringa at the University of Leiden when two of his colleagues were forbidden by the Germans to continue their work because they were Jewish. The result was uproar by colleagues and the students went on strike, after which the Germans closed the university. Cleveringa’s speech is still remembered every year on the 26th of November.

Review by Library Member