Children’s Chronicle, 1940-45
Letters, testimony and diaries from the Shoah
Children’s lives during the Second World War often seem to be represented by just one life, that of Anne Frank. Anne was gifted, loveable, rebellious and hopeful at a time when Jewish life was being sucked out of the cities of Europe. Her personal story stands for that entire almost incomprehensible period, while the sheer extent of the deportations is gradually being lost to our collective memory. Anne Frank represents a vast number who are now out of reach, no longer visible, their very existence in many cases forgotten.
Historian Guus Luijters wants to give them back their identity. They lived, they had names, they were once cherished. Eighteen thousand children like Anne disappeared from the Netherlands, having been categorized as Jews, Roma or Sinti. Children’s Chronicle 1940-45 brings together descriptions of all kinds – witness statements, diaries, post cards and much more – of the lives of those lost children. The reader is introduced to everyday life in a time of absurdity, to the cities where children disappeared from their school classes and to camps in which ‘the babies melted like snow’. Luijters gives us a sense of how it must have felt as a catastrophe approached that was too bewildering to be recognized as such.
Luijters introduces all the children he could find. John, for example, who escaped deportation by simply walking out of the line. He ‘kicked a stone down the road like an ordinary Amsterdammer’, hands in his pockets, until, rounding a corner, he was able to break into a run. His father had just said to him, ‘Remember, you must never be afraid in life.’ Then there was the toddler who wanted to board the train on which grandma was leaving, because trains were so marvellous, and tiny Michiel, born prematurely, laid in an incubator and given drops of cognac by the camp commandant, who grew stronger and ‘when he weighed six pounds was sent off on the forced-labour train’, and Berthe, who, along with the other children in Bergen-Belsen, ‘played with human bones, because there were no toys’.
Luijters has done his best to find out where and when each child died. To a small but important extent, Children’s Chronicle restores their dignity simply by remembering them.
- History pays little attention to the fate of children, the greatest victimsof any war. This book goes a longway towards filling that gap.
- Succeeds in placing personal experiences and the virtually abstract multitude side by side.
- Offers a vivid picture of everyday wartime reality seen through the eyes of children.