NAARDEN, the Netherlands — Midway through “The Sisters of Auschwitz,” Roxane van Iperen’s book on two Dutch Jewish sisters who aided dozens of people during World War II, there is a moment of merriment that one doesn’t usually expect from a Holocaust narrative.
In a neighborhood “crawling with fascists,” she writes, the sisters, Janny and Lien Brilleslijper, organized a celebration of Yiddish culture at their countryside estate in Naarden, about 30 minutes from Amsterdam.
“There is dance, music, song and recitation,” van Iperen writes. “Simon drums, Puck plays the violin and Jaap builds Kathinka a little piano. Lien uses the death mask for a Yiddish story.” The attendees “quietly dissolve into the night — without a single Nazi, German soldier or overzealous neighbor even noticing they were there.”
How did this take place in 1943, during the most lethal phase of Jewish deportations from the Netherlands to extermination camps? “Luck, I guess. A lot of luck,” van Iperen said in an interview. “For a short while, nothing was very public, and after a while, people knew, the milkman and the baker knew, but for one reason or another they chose to keep silent.”