My Name Is Sel­ma: The Remark­able Mem­oir of a Jew­ish Resis­tance Fight­er and Ravens­brück Survivor

  • Review
By – April 28, 2021

The out­stand­ing mem­oirs of Holo­caust sur­vivors, such as those by Ruth Kluger, Eva Schloss, Thomas Buer­gen­thal, and Elie Wiesel, have offered invalu­able accounts of per­il, resilience, and resis­tance. My Name is Sel­ma, the 2021 mem­oir of Sel­ma Van de Perre, a much-hon­ored Jew­ish resis­tance fight­er, con­tains sim­i­lar themes, but comes from a rare per­spec­tive in this lit­er­ary genre.

In 1942, as a 20-year-old under­ground couri­er, van de Perre iden­ti­fied her­self to fel­low pris­on­ers and ene­my per­se­cu­tors alike as a non-Jew in order to help stay unno­ticed. She dyed her hair blonde and relied on her gen­tile facial fea­tures, keep­ing up the ruse for almost three years in con­cen­tra­tion camps. Though she was suc­cess­ful in her decep­tion, she con­tin­u­ous­ly risked her phys­i­cal and men­tal health, com­ing close to death many times.

My Name is Sel­ma pro­vides a unique overview of what Euro­pean Jews expe­ri­enced between 1933 and 1946, from the per­spec­tive of a Jew in dis­guise, one whom, in 1983, received her country’s high­est civil­ian award, the Dutch Resis­tance Memo­r­i­al Cross. Some themes and obser­va­tions from van de Perre’s odyssey will be famil­iar to read­ers of this genre, while oth­ers are entire­ly new.

Famil­iar, for exam­ple, is her salute to the ways non-Jew­ish resis­tors in Vught, Ravens­brück, and Siemens camps joined togeth­er as Camp Sis­ters.” She writes, We sup­port­ed each oth­er. Com­mu­ni­ty played such an impor­tant part in our sur­vival. Our friends were our family.”

Van de Perre’s insights into the ways she resist­ed Ger­man inter­ro­ga­tion are unique. For exam­ple, when first inter­ro­gat­ed, she was asked if she under­stood Ger­man. “’No,’ [she] said. [She] could actu­al­ly speak it quite well, but deny­ing it was an act of resis­tance.” When required at Vught camp to make gas masks, the girl oppo­site [her] told [her] [she] wasn’t to tight­en the screw too much… In this way [they] sab­o­taged as many masks as [they] could. Thou­sands, prob­a­bly.” On arriv­ing from Vught into Ravens­brück, despite the fear and uncer­tain­ty, [she] walked toward the camp with as much dig­ni­ty as pos­si­ble. Keep­ing [her] head up was anoth­er act of defiance.”

There is much to learn from this mem­oir of Jew­ish resis­tance. Now nine­ty-eight years old, Sel­ma van de Perre humbly regards her­self as, just one of many peo­ple who fought against the inhu­man­i­ty, and did every­thing they could to save as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.” Her book mer­its wide read­er­ship and long employ in the annals of Holo­caust scholarship.

Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Soci­ol­o­gy, Pro­fes­sor Arthur B. Shostak is the author in 2017 of Stealth Altru­ism: For­bid­den Care as Jew­ish Resis­tance in the Holo­caust. Since his 2003 retire­ment from 43 years teach­ing soci­ol­o­gy he has spe­cial­ized in Holo­caust studies.

Discussion Questions