Edith's Story: The True Story of How One Young Girl Survived World War II

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9780983550563: Edith's Story: The True Story of How One Young Girl Survived World War II
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The Pear Tree

My grandmother, Mina Weil Wertheimer -- Omi -- came to live with us in 1938. She came from Sinsheim, a village near Heidelberg in Germany. Having lost one baby in childbirth and another to childhood illness, she had the misfortune of losing her husband -- my grandfather, Gustav Adolf Weil -- when her two surviving children were very young. The biggest tragedy of her life, however, was the death of Julius, her only son, who was drafted into the Kaiser's Imperial Army in 1914 at the start of the First World War. I remember the photograph on Omi's desk showing a handsome, proud Prussian officer with a thick moustache and a spiked helmet. Next to the photograph was displayed a small iron cross, with '1914-1918' emblazoned in the centre. This was the Ehrenkreuz (Cross of Honor), awarded to all 'heroic mothers' who had sacrificed their sons for the Vaterland.

My mother, Adelheid Hilde, was the only child left, and Mina's only consolation: a dutiful and loving daughter. She had just graduated from school when the First World War broke out, and she spent the war nursing wounded soldiers returning from the front. It wasn't long before the end of that war that she fell in love with David van Hessen, a visiting Dutch businessman thirteen years her senior. In 1918, when Germany had been vanquished, Father brought Mother home to Amsterdam.

I have only vague memories of my grandmother's house in Sinsheim. Behind the main house there was a separate building housing the laundry. This must have made quite an impression on me, because what I remember most vividly are the strong, red, bulging arms of the plump, motherly maid who boiled bedlinens in a large pan while scrubbing pillowcases and featherbed-covers on a metal washboard. I also remember the fragrant smell of apples lined up on slatted open shelving stacked high in the laundry attic. And I remember helping Omi pick redcurrants in the garden and then licking out the pan in which the jam had been made.

By 1938, the year my parents finally managed to persuade Omi to leave Sinsheim, she had been stripped of her German citizenship. She was Jewish; in other words, no longer acceptable. Her neighbors in Sinsheim avoided her, and even good friends regarded it as too risky to acknowledge her. Even so, she found it hard to tear herself away. My parents talked her into leaving her home by assuring her that nothing like this would ever happen in Holland.

Mother went to help Omi pack her belongings and 'sell' the parental home, although for all intents and purposes the house was confiscated. Someone had offered Omi a pittance for it, and Mother had been told it would be dangerous to refuse, or to haggle over the price. Mother reported that one or two 'Aryan' neighbours had sneaked in under cover of night to say goodbye. They told Omi they were sorry they couldn't visit her openly or even nod to her in the street. After all, fraternizing with Jews was now forbidden.

Omi was the first of a stream of refugees, many of them relatives on my mother's side, who found a warm welcome in our home, and often financial support as well, before going on to England, the United States or South America. Some of them even considered remaining in Holland. Naturally I thought this the best decision. Surely no other country in the world was a better place to live in than ours. After all, Father had told me that during the war of 1914-18 many refugees had found a safe haven right here in the Netherlands. When I was much younger, if I didn't finish the food on my plate, Mother would tell stories about the war years in Germany, when they had had little or nothing to eat. She was always talking about her 'entrance into Paradise' when she came to Holland as a bride and could suddenly get anything she wanted, even chocolate and oranges.

Well! That settled it, for me. It proved that our country was preferable to any other country on earth. Imagine living in a place where they didn't have any chocolate! Holland was a neutral country, that's why we had not participated in the Great War of 1914-18, even when some of the most deadly battles had been fought just across the border, in Flanders. If, as Father thought, Hitler tried to start something, we'd surely be safe here.

The German relatives caressed me, they pinched my cheeks and debated heatedly whom I resembled most. Their sentimentality was alien to me. In Father's family everyone was very sober, undemonstrative and down to earth. The van Hessens came from Groningen, in the north of Holland, where they had lived, first as cattle merchants, then as respected shopkeepers and businessmen, for generations. I felt slightly superior to these poor, deferential refugees who had lost everything and were facing an unknown future. I was secure in my happy, comfortable life in The Hague. I was proud to be a student at the Netherlands Lyceum, a prestigious private school.

Omi cried often, and I sensed that suffering meant a lot to her. Her departed ones were very much a presence in her life. She often stayed in bed with cold compresses on her head, for she had recurring headaches. I felt she used the headaches to manipulate my parents whenever she thought she was not getting enough attention. Mother spent a great deal of time tending to her; consequently, I grew resentful that I always had to share my mother with Omi. It also bothered me that since Omi's arrival, German was heard so often in our Dutch home. I hated that language, and like most people I knew, I disliked Germans. Even though I excluded Mother's relatives from my prejudice, I absolutely refused to identify with them in any way. I was Dutch and so was Mother. I wanted her to speak Dutch all the time -- she spoke it flawlessly, without an accent.

I must confess that I often wished that my mother was different. I wanted her to be more ordinary, more unobtrusive and more like the mothers of my friends. I cringed when Mother came to the Lyceum in high heels, sporting the latest hat from Paris, a fashionable fur coat flung over her shoulders. I wished I had a mother who arrived on her bicycle, wearing sensible flat shoes and an Egyptian cotton raincoat belted at the waist.

Revue de presse :

"I never realized that there could be such suffering in the world, and that anyone could live through it."
-- Excerpt from Edith's diary, July 1, 1945

"Truly moving...leaving one with great hope in humanity."
-- The Times (London)

" Edith's Story, the memoir of an Anne Frank who lived, reminds us of the old horror all the more effectively by not being a horror story. Evil and grief, without being scanted, are outshone by sweetness, freshness, and pluck."
-- Roy Blount Jr.

International praise for Edith's Story:

"The most vivid evocation of the experience of Nazi Occupation I have ever read."
-- The Independent (London)

"It's impossible to get through this inspiring and great-hearted volume dry-eyed, or without admiration for people who so bravely persevere through unimaginable hardship and privation."
-- The Washington Post

"Velmans' candid portrayal of herself as a feisty, loving, sometimes self-absorbed teenager is thoroughly engaging and her story throws a new light on the plight of Jews who survived the war hidden in plain sight."
-- Publishers Weekly

" Edith's Story gives all the pain and pleasure of reading Anne Frank for the first time."
-- Esther Freud

"A significant Holocaust memoir... A valuable opportunity to see the situation just outside Anne's attic."
-- Kirkus Reviews

"A quiet, gripping narrative with the writer's hindsight and restrained commentary."
-- ALA Booklist (starred review)

"One of the best and most moving memoirs I have ever read."
-- Ruth Rendell

"The miracle of this story is not that Edith survived, but that she survived with her love of life intact."
-- The Roanoke Times

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Edith Velmans
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ISBN 10 : 0983550565 ISBN 13 : 9780983550563
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Description du livre Van Horton Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. État : New. 4th. 202 x 128 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.When Hitler invaded Holland in 1939, Edith van Hessen was a popular Dutch high school student. She also happened to be Jewish. In the same month that Anne Frank s family went into hiding, Edith was sent to live with a courageous Protestant family, took a new name, and survived by posing as a gentile. Ultimately one-third of the hidden Dutch Jews were discovered and murdered; most of Edith s family perished. Velmans s memoir is based on her teenage diaries, wartime letters, and reflections as an adult survivor. In recounting wartime events and the details of her feelings as the war runs its course, Edith s Story ultimately affirms life, love, and extraordinary courage. The most vivid evocation of the experience of Nazi Occupation that I have ever read. - The Independent (London). N° de réf. du libraire AAV9780983550563

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Edith Velmans
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Description du livre Van Horton Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. État : New. 4th. 202 x 128 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. When Hitler invaded Holland in 1939, Edith van Hessen was a popular Dutch high school student. She also happened to be Jewish. In the same month that Anne Frank s family went into hiding, Edith was sent to live with a courageous Protestant family, took a new name, and survived by posing as a gentile. Ultimately one-third of the hidden Dutch Jews were discovered and murdered; most of Edith s family perished. Velmans s memoir is based on her teenage diaries, wartime letters, and reflections as an adult survivor. In recounting wartime events and the details of her feelings as the war runs its course, Edith s Story ultimately affirms life, love, and extraordinary courage. The most vivid evocation of the experience of Nazi Occupation that I have ever read. - The Independent (London). N° de réf. du libraire AAV9780983550563

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