Wednesday, April 15, 2015

WW2 | The Dutch Resistance

Jan Boissevain with Mia, Walrave, Nella and Thijs, Heleen, Charles, Danil,
Walrave, Li, Aat van Hall, Wil de Vos, Sissy Blijdenstein, and Gi den Tex.
I am writing a book about the Dutch Resistance to Hitler, specifically the contribution of the Boissevain and the van Hall families.

The subject was suggested to me in 2014 by Ben Boissevain. I immediately received great cooperation from Charles Boissevain and Hester Boissevain Grinberg.

In February I visited many relatives in Holland and yesterday had a return visit from a van Hall relative and her daughter.

The Boissevain and van Hall families date back to two brothers, Jan and Charles Boissevain, each of whom had a daughter who married one of two van Hall brothers.

Writing about all this comes naturally to me because I was brought up on the stories my grandmother (Olga Boissevain) and mother (Hilda van Stockum) told me about their family and World War II. My mother wrote two books about the war in Holland:

  • The Winged Watchman (1962), told from the perspective of two Dutch boys (aged 10 and 14) living in a rural windmill. 
  • The Borrowed House (1975), told from the perspective of a German girl living in a "borrowed" house in Amsterdam with her parents, who were performers sent to entertain the German troops and SS; a Dutch translation was published in 2013, retitled Het Gestolen Huis (The Stolen House).
These two books are both among the 20 top-ranked (by Goodreads) books for children on World War II, out of 177 nominees. They have been optioned for a television miniseries.

These books have led the people interested in doing a miniseries, and a cousin, to ask me if I could document what my mother's relatives did during the Dutch Occupation. I have been building a database from:
  • Stories I remember hearing from my mother, my siblings, and other relatives.
  • Albums and boxes of letters and clippings, in English and Dutch - from wartime and post-war Holland, Ireland and England - entrusted to me as my mother's executor. 
  • I have been transcribing, translating (with the help of Dutch speakers) and posting letters, many at and My son Jay has helped type some of these letters and my wife Alice has read many of them with interest.
  • Continuing contact with Dutch relatives - some who were were young children during the war - and other sources of information through letters, posts, emails and phone calls to fill in gaps in information and make the record as complete and useful as it can be.
  • Cooperation from some of the people who were helped by my relatives during the war, and from their children. 
It's been an engrossing journey of discovery, with much left for me to learn (just found out about Audrey Hepburn's work for the Dutch Resistance).

The outline of the book with links to chapters is here.

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