Book

Jan Brokken

The Just

How six diplomats broke the rules to save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust

A story of courage and difficult decisions made in the nick of time

At the beginning of the Second World War, the Dutch consul in Lithuania found a way to save the lives of thousands of Jewish people who had fled Poland, by giving them visas for the Dutch island of Curaçao in the Caribbean. Visas in hand, the refugees were able to take the Trans-Siberian railway to Japan and then disperse to all four corners of the globe. The vast majority of them survived the war.

Jan Brokken has wrested from oblivion the heroic story of Rotterdammer Jan Zwartendijk (1896-1976), a director of Philips who suddenly found himself honorary consul in Kaunas. At the time this was the capital of Lithuania and it was on the point of being annexed by the Soviets. A cross between fellow businessman Oskar Schindler and the diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, Zwartendijk seized a precious window of just ten days to feverishly write out thousands of visas and thereby rescue as many Jews as he could from the Holocaust. Together with the Dutch Ambassador in Riga and the consul for Japan, an unlikely ally, he enabled these refugees to cross Soviet Russia to Vladivostok, to Japan, and then on to freedom.

Part rescue story, part moving portrait of a close-knit family under very difficult circumstances, The Just offers a vivid picture of Eastern Europe during the war and traces the life-stories of the rescued Jews, many of whom Brokken was able to find and speak with. In 1997, Zwartendijk was posthumously bestowed the Yad Vashem honorary title ‘Righteous Among Nations’ for his large-scale rescue mission. A monument was unveiled in Kaunas in the summer of 2018.

Jan Brokken has an impressive oeuvre to his name of well-documented, narrative non-fiction books, which read as novels. In all his works, he examines what makes some people behave in a cowardly fashion, while others demonstrate unexpected courage and determination.

In The Just, Brokken’s personal fascination for making the right choice at the right time is evident. He writes, ‘In a fraction of a second you have to decide. How do you react? I wouldn’t know, myself, and maybe that’s what made me burrow into this history like a mole.’ Once again, his book provides a lesson in courage.

History is rarely black or white; it is usually grey. And Brokken exposes this grey area in a masterful and very balanced way.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (on 'The Reprisal')

In Jan Brokken’s hands, the combination of research, imagination, observation and involvement always turns to gold. When it comes to narrative non-fiction, he is one of the best writers in the Dutch language.

De Scriptor (on 'The Reprisal')

Translations

Jan Brokken

Jan Brokken (b. 1949) has, in a literary career spanning thirty years, written books about a number of exotic and far-off places, including West Africa, the Dutch Caribbean, Indonesia and China, winning acclaim for his adventurous attitude and sensitive style. He gained international fame with The

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Details

De rechtvaardigen. Hoe een Nederlandse consul duizenden joden redde (2018). Non-fiction, 450 pages.

English sample available

Themes: WWII

Publisher

Atlas Contact

Prinsengracht 911-915
NL - 1017 KD Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 524 98 00
Fax: +31 20 627 68 51

E-mail:
hdeinum@atlascontact.nl
Website:
http://www.atlascontact.nl

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