Title: The Sisters of Auschwitz
Author: Roxane van Iperen
Genre: History, Biography
Publisher: Hachette/Seven Dials
Published: 12th November 2019
Synopsis: The life-affirming story of female bravery, Jewish Nazi resistance and surviving the horrors of Auschwitz
WINNER of the Opzij Literature Prize 2019!
During the Second World War two Jewish sisters – Janny and Lien Brilleslijper – run one of the largest hideaways in The Netherlands: The High Nest, a villa in The Gooi area. While the last remaining Jews are being hunted in The Netherlands, the lives of dozens of hideaways kept going for better or for worse, right under the noses of their National Socialist neighbours. Eventually, the nest is exposed and the Brilleslijper family put on one of the last transports to Auschwitz, along with the (Anne) Frank family.
Roxane’s novelistic eye combined with her rigorous research result in a hugely compelling portrayal of courage, treason and human resilience. THE HIGH NEST is a truly unforgettable book.
After Roxane and her family moved into The High Nest in 2012 she spent six years writing and piecing together its story. Fundamental elements of Roxane’s research into The High Nest are the personal, unpublished memoirs Janny Brilleslijper wrote for their close friends and family members. Roxane gained access to historic interviews with Janny, Lien, Eberhard and others, as well as many personal conversations with Janny and Lien’s children. The book will contain many photographs from the Brilleslijper family archive.
It is 1940 and the Final Solution is about to begin. The Nazis have occupied the Netherlands, but resistance is growing and two Jewish sisters – Janny and Lien Brilleslijper – are risking their lives to save those being hunted, through their clandestine safe house ‘The High Nest’. It becomes one of the most important safehouses in the country, but when The High Nest and its occupants are betrayed, the most terrifying time of the sisters’ lives begins. This is the beginning of the end.
With German defeat in sight, Janny and Lien are put on the last train to Auschwitz, along with Anne Frank and her family. What comes next challenges the sisters beyond human imagination as they are stripped of everything but their courage, resilience and love for each other.
There are many stories around about the Holocaust that explore as many facets as possible, but usually through the stories that have been allowed to be told in non-fiction, such as this one, or in historical fiction. As the description says, Roxane had permission and access to the archives of the Brillespijer family to tell the story. In the back of the book, she provides a list of the sources she accessed. This book has been translated from Dutch, so most of the sources are presumably, in Dutch. It is important that Roxane received permission to write this story and did it so carefully, as it is such a horrific part of history and needs to be dealt with sensitively.
In this powerful story of Janny and Lien starts just as the Nazi’s are encroaching on The Netherlands, and grabbing land for their use, so Janny and Lien find a way to get their families to safety and help as many Jews as possible. Yet there is still uncertainty prowling around, and though they spend four years helping as many Jews as possible escape the transports to concentration camps, a betrayal brings it to an end, and they find themselves on the way to Westeros and Auschwitz, and finally, Bergen-Belsen with the Frank family – at first, all of them. At the end, they are alone at Bergen-Belsen when they find out Anne and Margot are there. Janny and Lien are amongst the last to see Anne and Margot alive.
Roxane’s biography is filled with horror and uncertainty – as it should. Reading and learning about things like the Holocaust shouldn’t be sugarcoated or comfortable – it was awful. The story of Lien and Janny doesn’t shy away from the fear and the horror felt over the years of Nazism and war. It shows the steps taken as Hitler and the Nazis marched across Europe, taking land and segregating sections of society to ensure land for what Hitler hoped would be an Aryan world. As Janny and Lien do what they can to protect their family from harm, and keep each other going, their story is one of the powerful stories of the Holocaust, and shows what people went through without shying away from the gritty reality that people faced during the war.