I just read a truly amazing book about the Holocaust. The story is even more compelling because it is true. I know there have been many novels, movies and plays dealing with this horrible subject, but this one stands out, and I recommend it heartily. It is called “Dancing with the Enemy: My Family’s Holocaust Secret” by Paul Glaser.
Briefly, so as not to give away too much of the plot, it is about a Catholic man living in the Netherlands in the 1970s who, by happenstance, discovers his Jewish heritage. Along the way, he discovers a long-lost aunt named Rosie, who was imprisoned in various camps during WWII and is the heroine of the story. It is told as two simultaneous stories – Rosie and her desperate struggle to survive and Paul and his tale of discovery.
Rosie proves to be a remarkably resourceful person who does whatever is necessary to survive as she is thrust into one horrendous situation after another. She is betrayed to the Nazis, in turn, by her husband, brother-in-law, lover and friends. She survives by inventing ways to be useful to her captors. Since she speaks German fluently she becomes an interpreter, at times even befriending lonely German soldiers and prison guards who miss their families and loved ones. She has administrative skills, so she becomes an administrator. She has skills as a dancer and song writer, so she writes songs and poems, plays the piano, and dances for them (hence the title). And, yes, being attractive, she becomes a lover to a couple of them. Rightly or wrongly, she does whatever is necessary to survive.
This raises the moral question concerning Jewish prisoners and concentration camp victims who cooperated with the Nazis guards in order
to survive. It has been well documented that many prisoners did so and were hated by the other prisoners for it. It is easy to criticize their actions after the fact, but you have to ask yourself what you would do in their situation. Would you cling to your principles regardless of the consequences, or do whatever is necessary to survive? Not an easy dilemma to solve. Personally, I cannot condemn Rosie for what she did. It appears she was not an informant against other prisoners, which would have been a different story in my mind.
One of the surprising and disturbing subplots of the story is the considerable degree to which the non-Jewish Dutch cooperated with the Nazis. According to the author his research disclosed that the Dutch police and even ordinary citizens, rather than resisting the Nazis, were willing and sometimes enthusiastic participants in enforcing the anti-Jewish laws and practices. Frequently, they would turn Jews in for a reward. Some of them even stole property that had been entrusted to them. Others were indifferent to the plight of the Jews, particularly if their economic and personal situation was stable. For them, life under the Nazi occupation went on relatively normally; therefore, they didn’t really care about the plight of the Jews. Reading the story, I couldn’t help but contrast their actions and inactions with those of the Danes and Swedes, for example. Approximately, 72% of the Dutch Jews perished during the War. 72%!
As if the foregoing were not enough, after the War the Dutch government, in many cases, refused to return property and in some cases pursued the surviving Jews for “back taxes.” According to the author most of the non-Jewish Dutch didn’t seem to oppose these policies. Consequently, many Jews who had escaped to other countries, including Rosie, resisted returning. Many emigrated to Israel, or other more welcoming countries, such as the US or Canada. Others simply remained where they were. Rosie remained in Sweden even though the Dutch government tried to coerce her to return. She married and made a life for herself there.
This personalized account provides a perspective of life in the Netherlands under the Nazis of which I had not been aware. You will not be able to put the book down!