van Es, Bart. “The Cut Out Girl: A Story of War and Family, Lost and Found”, Penguin, 2018.
Finding Refuge, A True Story
Bart van Es’ “The Cut Out Girl: A Story of War and Family, Lost and Found” is the extraordinary true story of a young Jewish girl in Holland under Nazi occupation who finds refuge in the homes of an underground network of foster families, one of them the author’s grandparents
Many years ago, Bart van Es moved from Holland to England and moving with him was the story from his Dutch childhood of a young Jewish girl named Lientje had been taken in during the war by relatives and hidden from the Nazis having been handed over by her parents who understood the danger they faced as a Jewish family. Lientje had been raised by her foster family as one of their own, but then, after the war, there was a falling out, and they were no longer in touch. Van Es wondered what really happened during the war, and after to cause this to happen.
He began to investigate and as he did, he understood that was going to consume his life and change it as well. After some checking, he learned that Lientje was now in her 80s and living in Amsterdam. She reluctantly agreed to meet him and out of that meeting emerge something more than a friendship and van Es now shares that with us in “The Cut Out Girl” which is a powerful recreation of Lientje’s harrowing childhood story of Lientje’s as well as a present-day account of Bart’s efforts to piece that story together that also meant bringing some old ghosts back.
Like life itself, this is a story filled with contradictions. We see the bravery of Lientje’s parents, giving up their beloved daughter and of the Dutch families who faced great danger from the Nazi occupation for taking in Jewish children in. We read of the sacrifices that a family under brutal occupation had to provide for even the family they already have. Holland, herself, had to face the darker truth, of its cooperation in rounding up its Jews for the Nazis. Lientje’s time in hiding was made much more terrifying by the energetic efforts of the local Dutch authorities who were rabid accomplices in the mission of sending every Jew, man, woman and child to their extermination. Van Es learned that Lientje was not always particularly well treated, and sometimes, she was very badly treated indeed.
This is the powerful story of a young girl’s struggle for survival during war as well as a story about the powerful love of foster families, the powerful challenges, and the ways our most painful experiences define us. This is also a look at redefining and a story about van Es’ family. Van Es had always known that his grandparents sheltered Jewish children during World War II in the Netherlands, but he had never looked into what actually happened. Then in November 2014 when his eldest uncle died, he knew that if he did not pursue this, it would be lost forever. Thanks to his mother’s maintaining of an old connection, he was able to meet Lien, who was by that time over eighty and living in Amsterdam. The had never met before because of an argument in the 1980s that cut her off from the family. When they finally meet it was in December 2014 and it was that meeting that changed van Es’ life forever. He now had to re-examine his grandparents and his understanding of his own children changed in the process especially that relationship with Josie, his adopted daughter who he compared to Lien.
I do not want to give anymore of the story away but I must say that this is a book that appeals to the emotions and it is difficult to read with dry eyes. It is a beautifully written look at the consequences of war for both the rescued and the rescuer and it is also the story of love, survival and human decency.