________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 11 . . . . January 23, 2009

cover A Boy In War.

Jan de Groot.
Winlaw, BC: Sono Nis Press, 2008.
191 pp., pbk., $13.95.
ISBN 978-1-55039-167-1.

Subject Headings:
De Groot, Jan, 1932- - Childhood and youth.
World War, 1939-1945-Children-Netherlands-Biography.
World War, 1939-1945-Jews-Rescue-Netherlands.
Netherlands-History-German occupation, 1940-45.
World War, 1939-1945-Personal narratives, Dutch.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

**** /4


Things got tougher and tougher, and not only because of the lack of food, electricity, clothing, and firewood. The biggest problem was paranoia. The Nazi regime was very clever in their way of keeping control over a large, starving population: spies were paid with extra ration tickets. People would turn in their friends for a loaf of bread. You could not trust anyone: not neighbours, not friends, and not even, in some cases, family. Spies were everywhere, and arrests were made regularly in the most unlikely places. People were pulled from lineups at grocery stores. Houses were raided at any time of day or night, the Gestapo tipped off by a neighbour. Once I heard my brother say, "If I am ever told to make a choice and either fight in the front lines or live as a civilian in territory occupied by the Nazis, I'll choose the front lines. At least there I will be able to tell the difference between friend and enemy."

The Netherlands remained neutral during World War I and expected to do so during World War II. It was not prepared for the sudden invasion by the Nazis in May of 1940. The country soon fell to the occupiers. At the time, Jan de Groot was a boy of seven, and he lived in The Hague with his parents and older (by twelve years) brother, Folkert. Jan's childhood world began to change quite soon, notably when he was sworn to secrecy as his parents turned their home into a safe house, built a secret room, and entrusted Jan as an occasional messenger. His brother was removed to a work camp in Germany, but he used his graphic arts skills to forge documents and escape back to The Hague.

     As the war continued, the situation became more grim as food became scarce, especially in the urban centres. Jan's father was imprisoned for treason after a problematic "house guest" that the family had sheltered revealed details about safe houses in an effort to free her detained husband. With potatoes and beets the staple of their diet, electricity and water in short supply, Jan and his mother set off in November 1944 to join relatives in the northern provinces where food was more abundant. The journey there was filled with adventures. After the war ended, Jan and his mother returned home and were reunited with Folkert and his fiancÚ. Eventually, they learn that Jan's pa perished shortly after being freed from a concentration camp.

     This memoir is filled with delightful accounts of boyhood activities like playing marbles, stealing food from a nearby farm accessed by canoe, and attending school with colourful classmates. It also depicts the changing world as a young boy comes of age in an occupied land. He learns that people can be very cruel or kind and generous, and also that soldiers can be reluctant warriors who are keen to show kindness to a child and his mother. Several black and white photographs and a map add appropriate visual material. Letters sent from prison by Jan's father are reprinted in translation. Throughout the book, de Groot makes use of some traditional Dutch names and terms, and provides guides to pronunciation.

     The words of the publisher on the cover sum up the work nicely: "An exciting, touching, true story of the Second World War, told by the Dutch Canadian who lived it."

Highly Recommended.

Val Ken Lem is the Collections Evaluation Librarian and Liaison for History, English and Caribbean Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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