Focus on Survival: A Young Family's Struggle to Survive World War II
by Julie Bayl
Xlibris AU

"Those last few months of 1943 were precarious indeed, and Ben and Em had to summon all their strength and mental ability…to survive."

They were a loving couple whose relationship had a rocky start. Ben, a professional photographer, courted Em, a certified midwife, over the objections of Em’s domineering father. Shortly after their marriage, their beloved Netherlands fell under the Nazi occupation. Ben vowed to protect Em and their children, two of whom had hemophilia. Because the occupiers did not confiscate midwives’ bicycles, Ben “became” a midwife. His disguise was so successful that no one recognized “Sister Bernadina,” allowing him to travel and find food. Ben secretly provided Jews with false passport photos and was once held for days, questioned, and brutally beaten. Em told authorities that her husband had abandoned her. They made a tiny attic space for hiding during periodic Nazi searches. Em also took bike trips, even when pregnant and dodging the bullets of warfare, to ask better-off relatives in the countryside for precious eggs and vegetables for the children.

The author is the wife of the couple’s son Charles. Em recounted to her their harrowing, wartime stories, (which are infused with humor and romance), since Ben always displayed only offhanded bravado about his deeds and adoration for his wife. Much of the story is comprised of the couple’s lively conversations and old family letters. The narrative is interspersed with Ben’s photos of the family taken at crucial points in the story. Bayl's book brings to mind The Diary of Anne Frank, because the family she portrays was involved in trying to help Jewish families, and because their collective spirit comes across so clearly. Ben and Em, Bayl emphasizes, absolutely would not cooperate with hateful tyrants. This book is a confidently composed historical account of day-by-day deprivation, starvation, and fear that stirringly conveys the indomitable courage of two typical Dutch citizens in wartime.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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