Bro­ken on the Inside: The War Nev­er Ended

Simon Ham­mel­burg
  • Review
By – September 8, 2015

The 1940 Ger­man inva­sion and occu­pa­tion of the Nether­lands suc­ceed­ed in trap­ping 140,000 Dutch Jews (1.6% of the total pop­u­la­tion), includ­ing 34,000 Jew­ish refugees from Ger­many, Aus­tria, and the for­mer Czecho­slo­va­kia who had entered the Nether­lands between Novem­ber 1938 and May 1940. The absence of geo­graph­ic hid­ing places cou­pled with the effi­cien­cy and coop­er­a­tion of the Jew­ish Coun­cil, the Dutch state bureau­cra­cy, the Dutch Police, and the Dutch Mil­i­tary Police made the Nazi effort to cleanse Hol­land of Jews easy.

The 5200 Jew­ish depor­tees to Auschwitz-Birke­nau and Sobi­bor who sur­vived often mar­ried or remar­ried soon after Lib­er­a­tion, but many of these unions soon proved to be dis­as­ters. Psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal wounds from the camps could not heal. Home life was marked by great sad­ness, extreme feel­ings of guilt, and often strin­gent rules of behavior.

For Simon Ham­mel­burg, a well know Dutch jour­nal­ist, minor diplo­mat, and son of Holo­caust sur­vivors, Bro­ken on the Inside is a nov­el about Dutch Jew­ish sur­vivors and their chil­dren. Based on his own life as well as inter­views with 1200 oth­er sur­vivors and their chil­dren, Ham­mel­burg describes in poignant terms how he and twelve oth­er chil­dren of sur­vivors escaped their tor­ment­ed home life by join­ing Habon­im-Dror, the Social­ist Zion­ist youth move­ment. Though only one of the young peo­ple in the nov­el suc­ceeds in mak­ing aliyah, the rest remain loy­al to Israel and the mem­o­ries of their grand­par­ents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Ham­mel­burg uses his nov­el to focus on anoth­er aspect of World War II, name­ly the bru­tal treat­ment that Dutch women and chil­dren suf­fered fol­low­ing the Japan­ese cap­ture of the Dutch East Indies (mod­ern-day Indone­sia) in March 1942. Most of the 29,000 Dutch women and 33,000 Dutch chil­dren were sep­a­rat­ed from their fathers and hus­bands in wretched intern­ment camps. Ham­mel­burg por­trays one char­ac­ter, Esther, under these con­di­tions: starved and beat­en, Esther wit­ness­es the rape of her fel­low inmates by Japan­eses guards and sev­er­al occa­sions is forced to whip her own moth­er. Repa­tri­at­ed to Hol­land at the end of the War, she joins Habon­im-Dror in an effort to escape her mother’s ter­ri­ble mem­o­ries her father, phys­i­cal­ly and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly crip­pled by his forced labor on the Bur­ma-Thai­land rail­road. Esther and the oth­er eleven char­ac­ters of Bro­ken on the Inside present Hammelburg’s chal­lenge to the Dutch gov­ern­ment and cit­i­zen­ry to rec­og­nize the ter­ri­ble loss­es suf­fered by Holland’s Jews through­out the mid-twen­ti­eth century.

Relat­ed Content:

Carl J. Rheins was the exec­u­tive direc­tor emer­i­tus of the YIVO Insti­tute for Jew­ish Research. He received his Ph.D. in Mod­ern Euro­pean His­to­ry from the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York at Stony Brook and taught cours­es on the Holo­caust at sev­er­al major universities.

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