An Epistolary Glimpse Into Wartime Holland

Photo Essay

By Aaron Greenblatt

Published November 07, 2007, issue of November 09, 2007.

How does one understand the incomprehensible human tragedy of the Holocaust? The answer: One story at a time. In “Hidden Letters” (Star Bright Books), Deborah Slier and Ian Shine have edited a treasure trove of letters that Philip “Flip” Slier, a Dutch Jew, wrote during 1942 at the Dutch forced labor camp Molengoot. The translations are by Marion van Binsbergen-Pritchard.

Fifty years after the war, these letters lay hidden in a bathroom ceiling of an Amsterdam building. The foreman of a Dutch demolition company found them by chance and gave them to the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation. In 1999, they landed in the hands of Deborah Slier, Flip’s first cousin, whose father’s 1922 immigration to South Africa saved her from the horrors experienced by her family. The attempts to better understand her cousin and the calamity that befell him through his writings bore “Letters.”

The correspondence reveals an 18-year-old’s moods, his hardships in the work camp, his decision to go into hiding, and requests for clothing and provisions. Often addressed to his parents, the youth’s sensitive, matter-of-fact correspondences offer insights into his daily life. On September 13, he writes: “What is a person? What is all of life? Nothing. And still we don’t want to lose it, and that is why we have to be strong and have faith. Someday we will be liberated!!!”

Foreboding and chilling, these words accompany pictures of the handsome youth posing with friends during a break from work detail, or smiling outside a military barracks. Additional pictures, war documents and maps provide a context for readers to view Flip’s short life and to fully appreciate the legacy he left to the world.









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