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Hetty

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Hetty: A True Story

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Hetty
A True Story
By Hetty Verolme
Fremantle Press: 2010
ISBN: 978-1921361333

Please note that Hetty is an abridged version of The Children's House of Belsen, by Hetty Verolme.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - May 13, 2011

Hetty is a Holocaust memoir that chronicles the experiences of Hetty Verolme and her family during World War II. Born in Belgium in 1930, Hetty moved to the Netherlands with her family the next year. When the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940, the life of every Jew in the country became endangered, and Hetty's family was no exception. However, due to her father's job and a hefty bribe, the family, at least for a while, was spared being deported to the East. The East was a euphuism for the concentration camps scattered throughout Germany and Poland where Jews were subjected to outright murder, or where they were slowly worked to death while being used as slave labor.

Their luck ran out in 1943, and the entire family including Hetty, her parents, and her two younger brothers were rounded-up and sent to the Westerbork Concentration Camp, which was located in the Netherlands. This was a transit camp where Jews and other 'undesirables' were detained until they could be transferred to Nazi death camps such as Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Dachau. While not a pleasant experience, the time that Hetty and her family spent in Westerbork was tolerable. That all changed when the family was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. There the family suffered many horrors, and one by one Hetty's parents were sent off to other concentration camps. By this time, Hetty was fourteen and was no longer considered to be a child. So while her brothers were sent to the Bergen-Belsen Children's House (also known as the children's barrack), Hetty found herself in real danger facing either a quick death in the gas chambers or a slow one through forced labor combined with disease and starvation. Luckily for Hetty, she had made friends with Luba Tryszynska-Frederick, who had taken it upon herself to try to care for about forty, mostly Dutch children, who had been left to fend for themselves when their mothers had been transferred to another camp. Through the auspices of Luba, Hetty was given permission by Josef Kramer, the camp commandant, to stay in the Children's House and help out with the younger children.

Although it is not mentioned outright in the book, the children that lived in the Children's House became very special indeed, as the Nazis found it convenient to use the 'house' for its propaganda value. While Hetty and the other children in the house had a modicum of food, clothing, shelter, and adult supervision, other children in Bergen-Belsen, such as Anne Frank and her sister Margot, were left to fend for themselves. Both girls eventually died from a combination of starvation and disease - Anne just days before the camp was liberated. Hetty mentions in this book how the children's house was visited by the Red Cross and the extra attention that the children in the house received, including occasional visits by a doctor. However, once her group was moved from the regular barracks into what became their special compound, Hetty does not mention ever seeing any children outside of her group. Perhaps, being somewhat isolated from the rest of the camp, she never saw any.

Most of this book chronicles what life was like for the fifty or so children who lived in the Bergen-Belsen Children's House, the bravery of the women who cared for them, and the very real dangers that the children constantly faced. These dangers ranged from being beaten or killed by the guards to dying from starvation or disease. In fact, toward the end of the war, many of the children in the Children's House, including Hetty, came down with typhus. This book also chronicles many of the horrors that Hetty witnessed while in the concentration camp, including an ever growing pile of dead bodies that could be seen from the windows of the children's home, to seeing people so deprived of their dignity that they lost all sense of modesty and forgot about family ties in an effort to simply survive.

This book follows Hetty and her brothers through the war and the liberation of the camp, and their journey back to Holland to discover what, if anything awaited them there. This is a moving memoir. Hetty: A True Story is actually an abridgment of The Children's House of Belsen, which was published in the year 2000. While there is disturbing imagery in Hetty, there is nothing too graphic in the book, making it suitable for readers of all ages and it is a unique Holocause memoir in that it provides a window into what life was like for the children who resided in the Children's House in the Bergen-Belsen concetration camp.


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