Monday, December 19, 2016

A Review of 'We All Wore Stars' by Theo Coster

"In 1941, Theo Coster was a student at the Amsterdam Jewish Lyceum, one in a class of 28 Jewish children that the Nazia had segregated from the rest of the Dutch population.  Among Theo's fellow students was a young Anne Frank, whose diary would later become one of the most important documents of the Holocaust.  In this remarkable group portrait, Coster and five of his fellow classmates gather their personal stories and memories of Anne.  The accounts collected here do not just help us rediscover Anne Frank.  They also stand on their own as remarkable stories of ingenuity and survival during the Holocaust-- from Albert Gomes de Mesquita, who hid in ten different towns across Europe-- to Hannah Goslar, who experienced the horrors of Bergen-Belsen but also made a miraculous reconnection with Anne days before her death."

When I picked up this book, I didn't expect to be reading the words of the person who invented the game "Guess Who."  That's a fun fact for you.

Having lived in the Netherlands, my interest in Anne Frank has only intensified.  I have found it interesting to hear what other people thought about her and what they remember about her.  This is a very special account indeed because the author and those he spoke with were all classmates of Anne's.  They were all moved to a Jewish school in Amsterdam when Jews were being separated from the rest of society.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more information about Anne from the perspective of other people who knew her, but this book was redeemed by the stories of her classmates and how they got on during the war.  In terms of fatalities, the Netherlands had the highest percentage of Jewish citizens killed during this time.  This is largely because the Netherlands was relying on the fact that they would once again be neutral during this war, as they had been in the first World War.  But Germany had other ideas... they burst through the borders and just decimated the place.  From then on, life for Dutch Jews was essentially doomed.  Only 27% of Dutch Jews survived the occupation.  This is compared with a 60% survival rate in neighboring Belgium and 75% survival rate of Jews in France just a couple countries south.  It's absolutely astonishing.  That's partially what makes this book such a blessing to have.  They could have easily been the other 73% of the Jewish population who would never make it home.

The variety of experiences depicted in this book was incredible.  Theo Coster's experience was rather tame-- he did move from home to home with people who would take him away and disguise him as a Christian nephew and grandson.  He was able to go outside and go to school and enjoy a more or less normal life (normal for what was going on during the time).  But then he speaks to others and they went into hiding like Anne did or they were on the run, constantly looking for safety and stability until the end of the war.  There is no one experience when it comes to surviving World War II.

Whether you're interested in Coster's connection with Anne Frank or not, this is well worth the read.  I like it because it brings more humanity to those directly affected by the Nazi regime in World War II.  Anne might be the poster child for victims of the Holocaust, but she is certainly not the only one who fell victim.  These other stories drive home just how big this series of historical events was.

I give 'We All Wore Stars':
Thanks for Reading!


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