Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Nonfiction Review: The Sisters of Auschwitz

For Nonfiction November, I tried to read a variety of different types and genres of nonfiction, so I chose a historical book from my audio backlog, The Sisters of Auschwitz: The True Story of Two Sisters' Resistance in the Heart of Nazi Territory by Roxane van Iperen. I sometimes think that between novels and nonfiction, I have learned everything there is to know about World War II and the Holocaust ... but this book still surprised me and described a wholly unique experience.

Janny and Lien Brilleslijper were two Dutch Jewish sisters, who grew up in Amsterdam with their younger brother and parents. Their peaceful lives were interrupted suddenly when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands in 1940. By then, the sisters were both married (or almost married) to non-Jewish men, which gave them a little bit of flexibility at first, against the Nazi's ever-more-stringent restrictions against Jews. They began by going into hiding in Amsterdam, like many of their countrymen, but soon it became too dangerous for them to stay in their beloved city. They managed to find a huge house out in the forest in a rural area, with no other houses nearby; with the help of their husbands and fake documents, they rented the house from two elderly sisters. It was named the High Nest because it was up on a hill and was a safe haven. Besides housing their own families, the High Nest soon became a hiding place and underground center for the Dutch Resistance and a sort of artists' haven. The sisters did a lot of work to help others and resist the Nazis, but finally, they, too, were captured and sent to a series of camps leading eventually to Auschwitz. In fact, they were in the same camps at the same time as the Frank family and became close friends with Anne and Margot. Against all odds, they were luckier than the Frank sisters and managed to survive the war.

Wow. This story was so vivid and visceral that I was completely immersed in the book from beginning to end. It was particularly powerful on audio, read by narrator Susan Hoffman in a Dutch accent. I did struggle a bit at the beginning to understand the Dutch names, but once I caught on, the story propelled me forward. These unsung--virtually unknown--heroes of the Dutch resistance lived brave and principled lives that inspire awe, though they themselves just felt that they were doing their duty. This outstanding book had the power to convey some amazing--and horrifying--experiences. It taught me that there is always more to learn about the quiet heroes that saved lives and helped to win the war against evil.

320 pages, Harper

Harper Audio

For more about the Frank family's experiences--and another perspective on being a Jew in Amswterdam during the war--these two books were both excellent:

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - young Anne's famous memoir of life in hiding 

Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family by Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold - an outstanding memoir by one of the women (a close friend of the family) who helped hide the Franks, also excellent on audio.

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.


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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, from the start of the book about the family history, and/or download it from Audible.


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  1. This sounds like a powerful story and one that needed telling. Interesting that they were friends with Anne and Margot; it would be interesting to see if there were any insights that weren't known.

    1. Yes, very interesting! Just when you think you know all there is to know about WWII!