Bad women, heroines and Hitler for the coffee table

1. Erik Somers and René Kok: Adolf Hitler. The visual biography.

It is a coffee table book that not everyone will dare to put on their coffee table: Adolf Hitler. The visual biography by Erik Somers and René Kok. Four hundred pages of large format photos. The description ‘visual biography’ is somewhat misleading, because there is also a lot to read. Of course, that’s what it has to be: whoever says ‘photography’ and ‘Hitler’ also says ‘propaganda’. That is why Somers and Kok provide a lot of context, in the form of extensive captions and introductions to each chapter. The range they could choose from was enormous. The archive of Hitler’s ‘court photographer’ Heinrich Hoffmann in Washington alone contains 280,000 images. The private albums of Hitler’s beloved Eva Braun also ended up there. ‘Hitler’s rise coincided with the stormy development of photography,’ the authors write in their introduction. Compact, high-quality 35mm cameras also enabled amateurs to record Hitler’s ‘triumphal procession’. Of course there are many photos of the Führer with children and with cheering crowds. The persecution of the Jews is not visible in any photo.

Erik Somers and René Kok: Adolf Hitler. The visual biography. Hollands Diep, 403 pages. € 49.99

2. Justine Picardie: Miss Dior

British writer Justine Picardie actually wanted to write a book about fashion designer Christian Dior. But during her research she became increasingly curious about the sister of the famous Frenchman, Catherine. That’s how it came about Miss Dior. Catherine Dior broke with the principles of her Catholic upbringing by falling in love with a married man. Through Hervé de Charbonneries, manager of a radio shop in Cannes, she became involved in the resistance. “Her job was to collect and transmit information on the movements of German troops and warships, and for this she regularly took bicycle trips to keep in touch with other F2 agents,” Picardie writes. F2 was the resistance network of which Hervé was a member. When the Germans rolled up the network, Catherine was also arrested and tortured. She ended up in various camps, including Ravensbrück, but survived the war. After her return, she is said to have inspired her brother to create his famous perfume Miss Dior.

Justine Picardie: Miss Dior. She was part of the resistance, survived Ravensbrück and became the muse of the iconic fashion house. Nieuw Amsterdam, 378 pages. € 29.99

3. Martin Klepke: The sound of the track

Martin Klepke has a special perspective on the war in the Netherlands. His father left Leiden for Sweden in 1939, where Klepke, editor of the Swedish trade union magazine Worker, grew up. Whenever he and his father visited family in the Netherlands as a child, he noticed that the war was experienced very differently – more intensely – than in Sweden. His father’s family, socialists and communists from the working-class district of De Kooi in Leiden, were in the resistance. His father had left the country on time, but in his own way he also suffered from the past: guilt. After Martin Klepke clashes with a bunch of neo-Nazis at work, he decides to write down the history of his Dutch resistance family. It is mainly about Aunt Co, who panics when she is ‘locked’ in a ship’s cage on a ferry to Sweden after the war. Aunt Co, a member of a resistance group that did not shy away from violence, survived several camps. Then Martin Klepke understands why she had the doors in her house in Leiden removed.

Martin Klepke: The sound of the track. A working-class family in resistance. Alphabet, 256 pages. €21.99

4. Paul van de Water: Wrong women

What does NSB leader Mussert think about the SS? That is the gist of a letter that arrived at the NSB headquarters in August 1944. The writer gets a neat answer. ‘We are increasingly convinced that it will only be the SS that can rid us of the many undesirable elements.’ It was signed, not Anton Mussert, but Christina van Bilderbeek, his secretary. She is one of the Flemish and Dutch women that Paul van de Water portrays in Wrong women. The historian has been studying collaborators for several years. He previously wrote books about violent collaborators and about ‘bad athletes’. He found no women who systematically indulged in extremely violent acts such as torture, manslaughter and murder. But even then there remained plenty of forms of collaboration, such as betraying people in hiding, sexual services, and medical support on the Eastern Front. Some women are highly educated, others are not. The female collaborator appears not to exist.

Paul van de Water: Wrong women. Nazi accomplices in the Netherlands and Flanders. Omnibook, 352 pages. € 25,-

5. Thomas Sijtsma: Lost war child

‘Someone is missing,’ said Thomas Sijtsma’s great-grandmother years ago on her birthday. All children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were there. Only Harry was missing. Everyone knew that, but it wasn’t talked about. It was too painful. Years later, Thomas Sijtsma unraveled the moving story of Harry Davids, the Jewish child in hiding, whose life his great-grandparents saved. He wrote a book about it, Lost war child. Halfway through the war, when the position of Jews in the Netherlands became increasingly precarious, Harry’s parents made a heartbreaking decision. They gave up their three-month-old baby to someone from the Amsterdam student resistance. This way he would have a better chance of surviving. Harry’s parents were gassed in Sobibor. Harry himself ended up with Sijtsma’s great-grandparents in Friesland through some detours. They adopted him into their family as their own child. There were also dilemmas after the war: should Harry stay with his new parents? After a legal battle, he went to an uncle and aunt in South Africa.

Thomas Sijtsma: Lost war child. A heartbreaking search for a child in hiding in a Frisian resistance family and the wounds of an inevitable break. Prometheus, 288 pages. € 22.50

6. Jessica van Geel: Truus van Lier

On September 3, 1943, Truus van Lier shot dead Utrecht police commissioner Gerard Kerlen. Kerlen enthusiastically led the hunt for Jews in hiding. Jessica van Geel wrote a book about the short life of Truus van Lier, who was shot in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp at the age of 22. An achievement, because the author did not have much source material. Van Geel therefore allowed himself some freedom: ‘I base myself on scientific research, but allow myself to attribute dialogues and thoughts to Truus and others.’ It produces an easy to read, exciting story. Truus van Lier became involved in the resistance through fellow students – she studied law – in Utrecht. Her father was Jewish, her mother Reformed, but religion played no role in the family. Van Lier’s resistance started small, with delivering messages and defacing German posters. According to Van Geel, when the question was asked during a resistance meeting in the autumn of 1942 who was prepared to go to extremes, she raised her hand without hesitation.

Jessica van Geel: Truus van Lier. The life of a resistance woman. Thomas Rap, 338 pages. €23.99




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