Broken on the Inside: The War Never Ended – by Simon Hammelburg

HammelburgBroken on the inside – The War Never Ended by Dutch author and journalist Simon Hammelburg is based on 1200 interviews with Holocaust survivors and their children. The book reads like a novel but is based on facts, some of which have never been revealed before, disclosing insights of the psychological aftermath of survivors as well as the post-war generations and the traumas that are passed on for over six generations.

There was little understanding for the few survivors coming home in a world that was too busy, didn’t care, wasn’t interested or even had stolen from the deported. Societies where people once grew up had been confiscated or vanished completely. As an Amsterdam railroad worker said to a lady returning from a concentration camp: ‘No one invited you’.

The children lived in a world of anxieties and sadness over lost family members they had never even known. An empty past. Somehow they managed to comfort each other. Hammelburg describes their thoughts and loneliness, often humoristic dialogues, in a respectful, understanding and caring manner. He also writes about those who suffered under the Japanese occupation of the former Dutch Indies, the slave laborers on the feared Burma railroad where so many died.

To many readers this book is a real eye-opener on what happened right next to them. To the victims and their offspring it is regarded as a relieve that finally ‘someone understands’. The last line in the book reads: ‘We were not alone’ but emotionally for too many people the War never really ended…

Once you’ll start reading this poignant novel, you won’t be able to put it down until you have read the staggering and moving last pages. This unique novel provides a candid look into the minds of people now and in the past that few others have captured before. The Dutch and English versions are currently receiving five star reviews from around the globe.
     ~ Review by Hans J.A. Dekkers, PTSD specialist focusing on the Holocaust

The 1940 German invasion and occupation of the Netherlands succeeded in trapping 140,000 Dutch Jews (1.6% of the total population), including 34,000 Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria, and the former Czechoslovakia who had entered the Netherlands between November 1938 and May 1940. The absence of geographic hiding places coupled with the efficiency and cooperation of the Jewish Council, the Dutch state bureaucracy, the Dutch Police, and the Dutch Military Police made the Nazi effort to cleanse Holland of Jews easy.

The 5200 Jewish deportees to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor who survived often married or remarried soon after Liberation, but many of these unions soon proved to be disasters. Psychological and physical wounds from the camps could not heal. Home life was marked by great sadness, extreme feelings of guilt, and often stringent rules of behavior.

For Simon Hammelburg, a well know Dutch journalist, diplomat, and son of Holocaust survivors, Broken on the Inside is a novel about Dutch Jewish survivors and their children. Based on his own life as well as interviews with 1200 other survivors and their children, Hammelburg describes in poignant terms how he and other children of survivors escaped their tormented home life by joining Habonim-Dror, the Socialist Zionist youth movement. Though only one of the young people in the novel succeeds in making aliyah, the rest remain loyal to Israel and the memories of their perished grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Hammelburg uses his novel to focus on another aspect of World War II, namely the brutal treatment that Dutch women and children suffered following the Japanese capture of the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia) in March 1942. Most of the 29,000 Dutch women and 33,000 Dutch children were separated from their fathers and husbands in wretched internment camps. Hammelburg portrays one character, Esther, under these conditions: starved and beaten, Esther witnesses the rape of her fellow inmates by Japanese guards and several occasions is forced to whip her own mother. Repatriated to Holland at the end of the War, she joins Habonim-Dror in an effort to escape her mother’s terrible memories her father, physically and psychologically crippled by his forced labor on the Burma-Thailand railroad. Esther and the other eleven characters of Broken on the Inside present Hammelburg’s challenge to the Dutch government and citizenry to recognize the terrible losses suffered by Holland’s Jews throughout the mid-twentieth century.
     ~ Review by Carl J. Rheins, executive director emeritus of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

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