Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

The Holocaust in The Netherlands: Lesser-known Stories

For this edition of the Ambassador Newsletter, our Reviews Team share their thoughts on a selection of stories of the Holocaust in The Netherlands. With many of these accounts being less well-known and not often highlighted when first thinking of the topic, we felt it was all-the-more important to shed light on stories of such bravery, resilience and courage.

An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum

Cover image of the book 'An Interrupted Life: The Diaryies and Letters of Etty Hillesum'

‘An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum’ tells the story of the young Dutch woman who documented both her experience of religious awakening and the persecution of Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis in Amsterdam, during the German occupation. Before Etty was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and subsequently murdered, she produced an incredibly intelligent, thought-provoking and heartbreaking account of her inner-most thoughts.

Though her diaries also detail her perhaps complex relationship with her psychologist, the majority of the writing is devoted to her spiritual development and growing understanding of key literature including The Bible and the work of canonical writers such as St Augustine, Rilke and Dostoyevsky. In her relaying of the growing anti-Jewish sentiments in Amsterdam and her evident desire to conserve a record of the fate of her people, the sense that Etty’s potential as an intellectual was never fully realised is overwhelming.

“I have the feeling that my life is not yet finished, that it is not yet a rounded whole. A book, and what a book, in which I have got stuck halfway. I would so much like to read on.” – Etty Hillesum

Etty’s words serve as a poignant reminder of the power of the written word and the importance of preserving and protecting stories.

By Evie Robinson

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and WW2 by Robert Matzen

Cover image of the book 'Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and WW2' by Robert Matzen

Most notably known for her award-winning acting roles and timeless elegance, Audrey Hepburn became one the most iconic women in the Golden Age of Hollywood. However, she also became known for her work with UNICEF, which was influenced by her experiences during the second world war.

In early May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands where an 11 year old Audrey Hepburn was living. What she experienced before, during and after World War Two would shape her as a person. Robert Matzen’s book, ‘Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II’, explores Audrey’s past, that is so rarely spoken about. In the foreword given by Luca Dotti, Audrey’s son, he describes how she shared so little about her childhood with her children.

The book covers the complexity of her Frisian ancestry (a West Germanic ethnic group indigenous to the coastal regions of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany) and her mother’s avid support of the Nazis, with Audrey’s personal views in opposition of this. She spent time working for the Dutch Resistance, raising money and assisting allied pilots in escaping from Nazi occupied Europe.

Matzen’s book explores this largely unknown part of Audrey Hepburn life exceptionally well; weaving an intricate story of events that leave the reader in awe of her strength and resilience.

By Emily Farley

The Sisters of Auschwitz by Roxane van Iperen

Cover image of the book 'The Sisters of Auschwitz' by Roxane van Iperen

‘The Sisters of Auschwitz’ tells the extraordinary real-life story of two sisters, Janny and Lien Brilleslijper, and their role in a hidden pocket of the Dutch resistance. Van Iperen’s exploration of the sisters’ story delves into the gradual domination of the Nazis, weaving comprehensive details of the occupation with a prominent focus on the personal journey of the sisters.

What is especially compelling about the book is van Iperen’s presentation of both Janny and Lien as people. We, as readers, are given the opportunity to understand their family and independent history. This enhances our understanding of the later heroism and selflessness of the pair in risking their lives by hiding dozens of other Jews in a refuge called the “High Nest”, just outside of Amsterdam. However, the author does not hesitate to convey the feelings of terror and fear as these acts of fortitude and rebellion eventually lead the sisters to be deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The book is a powerful insight into Nazi occupation and the hostile atmosphere of the Netherlands during the war. But it is also a gripping celebration of the courage and valour of these women and their story of survival, awarding well-deserved credit to two previously undiscovered heroines of the Holocaust.

By Maddie John

BBC miniseries adaptation of 'The Diary of Anne Frank'


‘Neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the chattering’s’ of a thirteen-year-old girl’. These words narrated by Anne in this BBC adaptation may surprise viewers knowing how widely her diary has been read, touching more people than she ever could have imagined.

Ellie Kendrick’s depiction of Anne really brought her written personality to life as the headstrong schoolgirl in her many forms - loving, opinionated, scornful, and selfish. Throughout the entirety of the series, I found myself shaking my head at some of Anne’s seemingly thoughtless comments. This is only due to the apprehension I found myself feeling, knowing the family are going to be discovered at any moment. However, in the last few moments I was reminded that Anne could never have imagined the atrocity awaiting her, and the lump in my throat became ever harder to swallow.

This series explores the importance of remembering the victims of the Holocaust as individuals, as we discover who they were and their stories, and the sheer unimaginable cruelty humans inflicted on other humans.

By Charlotte Heard