Mirjam Bolle, 'Ik zal je beschrijven hoe een dag er hier uitziet'

In 1938, Mirjam Levie’s fiancé, Leo Bolle, left for Palestine to prepare for the young couple’s new life in the Promised Land. Mirjam remained behind in Amsterdam, where she found a job as secretary to the Committee for Jewish Refugees. After May 1940, when the Germans occupied the Netherlands, that organization was incorporated into the Netherlands Jewish Council, set up by the Nazis to intermediate between the Jewish community and their own authorities.

Original title
Ik zal je beschrijven hoe een dag er hier uitziet
Mirjam Bolle

In 1940, at the age of 23, Mirjam began reporting in her letters to Leo on what was happening to the Jews. Her position on the Jewish Council not only allowed her a good view of events as they happened, but also made it possible for her to protect her family. Her letters, therefore, provide us with a unique picture of the dilemmas of the Jewish elite. At first, that elite had hoped to circumvent the threat of chaos and violence by working with the Nazis. In the course of time, however, it became clear that the most anyone could do was attempt to keep their family, friends and acquaintances off the deportation lists for as long as possible.

In her letters, Mirjam describes the terrible days and nights during which the lists were drawn up, the panic, despair and arguments among members of the Council’s staff, the poignant cases of human suffering that underscored the impossibility of their task. Yet those same letters also make clear precisely how natural the urge to survive really was. Throughout it all, her love for Leo in Palestine provided Mirjam with hope for the future, and the determination to save those she loved.

Finally, in 1943, the last members of the Jewish Council’s own staff were deported. Mirjam focused all her hope on being added to the Palestine List of Jews eligible for a possible exchange of prisoners. In June 1944 she was actually allowed to leave Bergen-Belsen, as part of the only such exchange ever held with Palestine.

Day by day, Mirjam describes a nerve-wracking world, in which the Jews did everything they could to survive. She makes the reader immediate party to the sense of growing danger, the hope, and the issues which divided and subdued the Jewish community. These moving letters are of great historical importance.

The appearance of a book that sheds such original light on the persecution of the Jews almost sixty years after the end of the Second World War is nothing short of a miracle. Here we have a chronicler of great acuity, one with extraordinary empathy with the fates of those around her, and with a movingly realistic view of herself and of the possibilities and impossibilities created by the complexities of the war. Mirjam’s letters are phenomenal.

Mirjam Bolle
Mirjam Bolle was born in Amsterdam in 1917, and from 1947 has lived in Jerusalem, where she worked for successive Dutch ambassadors. In 1943, a friend hid her unsent letters to Leo; she herself took the letters written in Bergen-Belsen to Palestine. Until recently, their existence was known only to Mirjam Bolle’s closest friends and family.
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