Non­fic­tion

The Occu­pied Gar­den: Recov­er­ing the Sto­ry of a Fam­i­ly in the War-Torn Netherlands

Kris­ten den Har­tog and Tracey Kasaboski
  • Review
By – January 9, 2012

The grand­chil­dren of Ger­rit and Cor den Har­tog have told the sto­ry of their grand­par­ents, who lived under Nazi rule in the occu­pied Nether­lands. Using both pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary sources, includ­ing Dutch archives, Kris­ten den Har­tog and Tracey Kasa­bos­ki have recre­at­ed what it was like for a sim­ple mar­ket gar­den­er and his wife to con­front the occu­pa­tion. The sis­ters have also pro­vid­ed the read­er with an account of how Queen Wil­helmi­na and the roy­al fam­i­ly, liv­ing in exile fol­low­ing the Nazi occu­pa­tion, used Radio Orna­je to ral­ly the Dutch pop­u­la­tion against their occupiers. 

With Hitler’s appoint­ment of Arthur Seyss-Inquart as his Reich com­mis­sion­er in the Nether­lands, he had hoped to bring the Dutch around to Nazi ideals. Unlike the Poles, the Nazis viewed the Dutch as shar­ing Ger­man­ic blood and thus recep­tive to Nazi racial the­o­ry. On the eve of the Ger­man inva­sion of the Nether­lands, there did exist a small pro-Nazi polit­i­cal par­ty, but most of the Dutch pop­u­la­tion was unsym­pa­thet­ic to Hitler and, fol­low­ing the occu­pa­tion, unre­spon­sive to Nazi anti-Semi­tism. In fact, as the authors inform us, many of the Dutch church­es spoke out against the Nazi treat­ment of Dutch Jew­ry. Nev­er­the­less, the Nazi régime was able to round up the country’s Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion and con­fine them to the West­er­bork tran­sit camp. The authors detail the man­ner in which Jew­ish depor­tees from West­er­bork set out on foot along the cen­tral road, the Boule­vard des Mis­ères, with their mea­ger belong­ings and were force – marched to Hooghalen, where they board­ed a train to Auschwitz, hav­ing no idea of their fate. 

Ger­rit and Cor den Har­tog were among the many Dutch cit­i­zens who tried to help Jews, but the real­i­ty was that despite the sym­pa­thy of most Dutch­men, of the 107,000 Jews deport­ed from the Nether­lands to camps like Auschwitz, only 5,000 returned. Exclud­ing Poland, the per­cent­age of Jews mur­dered was far greater than in any oth­er coun­try, an uncom­fort­able truth that the authors remind us, would haunt the coun­try for decades to come.”

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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