Sunday, February 28, 2010


Chapter X of De eeuw van mijn vader.

The title of this chapter refers to the period in the Netherlands between the invasion in May 1940 and some protests that took place at the end of February 1941. This is the first time I have seen Nazi occupation referred to in such terms.

While the Holocaust got going, the German occupiers apparently kept daily life intact for the non-Jewish population. Kids went to school, and shops opened and closed. In reading this, I was reminded of some recently released color footage of occupied Paris. It was criticized because it showed people going about their business, instead of showing oppression. I have never lived under an occupation, but I suppose that while resistance is necessary, one must also work and eat and so on.

Geert Mak also takes a hard look at the Dutch Paradox, that is, why the tolerant Netherlands had a rate of extermination close to traditionally anti-Semetic places like Poland. The reasons are geographical and cultural. He points out that the Netherlands only has borders with Germany. Culturally, there is a lot of kinship among the Germanic peoples. Also, the Dutch have traditionally trusted their governments, unlike others, such as the Spanish, Russians and Italians. The Dutch culture lent itself to conforming with the modern efficient Nazi bureaucracy, one of the first.

Although Mak looks to other historians to explain what happened, he misses what I heard from Barry Spaanjard at his presentation. He said that the Nazis weren't the villains portrayed in the movies. They were extremely congenial. Spanjaard went on to explain that the Nazis were always smiling. They would say that the next camp would be really great. They would apologize for the bad train ride and offer showers. It was only after the showers turned on that people realized what was happening. In short, the Nazis went out of their way to hide their villainy. What made them so efficient at oppression was that they were often on their best behavior in public, especially early on.

Where the family is concerned, Big Mak concentrates on his sister, Anna. She was parked in the Netherlands with another family for her education. In 1940, her class picture shows the girls on the verge of becoming women, dressed in nice, neat dresses. By 1944, they are women, but they're dressed in rough men's clothing. During the war, she got engaged and worked with the resistance. Her fiance was caught and taken away, never to be heard from again.

What makes Big Mak a great writer is that he is able to separate things and look at them from different perspectives. Much of the resistance was carried out through the Dutch Reformed Church, which he describes as severe, but respectful of foreigners and minorities. Ministers always had a reason to be out, and they served to coordinate hiding Jews and getting them food. Earlier in the book, he shows his dislike for the Dutch Reformed Church, but he is clearly able to set aside his own sentiment to show them at their best. Most writers, especially American ones, would have tried to rationalize things to their point of view.

Big Mak is also unafraid of writing about the Dutch who fought for the Germans, many of whom went so far as to join the SS.

Finally, the pen is again turned over to Hans. He describes life in the camp in the colony. His older brother Gjalt is taken away, because any male over 10 must be in a men's camp. He writes about the women serving corn and calling out items such as veal, making up wild "Fantasy dinners." As time went on, they were more and more hungry. The children also killed flies and built up collections of over a thousand. He closes with a view of an Allied plane, saying that marked the beginning of the occupation's third phase.

No comments:

Post a Comment