The Cut Out Girl by Bart Van Es
Of the 18000 Jews in the Hague in 1940, only 2000 survived the Second World War. A good proportion of those survivors owe their lives to selfless acts of bravery by ordinary Dutch men and women. Lien, is one of the survivors and her story is told here. She is seven years old when the book begins, a child of a non-observant Jewish family. The author says “It is really Hitler who makes Lien Jewish”. But, even as a young child she notices the changes start to happen, almost imperceptably at first – she is made to go to a Jewish school, she sees signs in parks and on libraries saying “Forbidden for Jews”, then one day she comes home from school to find her mother cutting out stars from a piece of yellow felt.
Soon, her mother sits on her bed one night and tells the little girl that she is going to stay somewhere else for a while. A couple of mornings later a lady arrives at the front door to take her to another family. She has no understanding of the fact that she will never see her parents again.
After the war, when Lien is an old woman, she is visited by the author who is a relative of one of the families who took her in and together they tell her story.
It is a deeply moving and sad story. Despite the bravery of those who sheltered her, danger was never far away and she has to move on to another family as the Nazis close in. Not everyone who gives her shelter is a hero and she has to grow up quickly. Also, again despite the bravery of those who fight to shelter her, the experience leaves her deeply scarred. Life after the war is hard – not so much because of her life circumstances but because of the mental and emotional damage she has suffered.
This is an amazing book. It’s not hard going; despite the subject matter. Her story is so beautifully told, I felt so strongly for her. There are little, amazing stories of heroism and tiny shocking moments of anti-semitism and abhorrent behaviour. With all the background noise we have these days around racism and anti-semitism it does us good to see where these things can lead if they are unchecked. But the main thing this left me with was a sense of a human being; the torments she suffered and her path to peace.