The Sisters of Auschwitz
The true story of two Jewish sisters’ resistance
in the heart of Nazi territory
Roxane van Iperen
Paperback 310pp RRP $32.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, January 2020
In 2012 the author moved into the secluded villa The High Nest just east of Amsterdam and commenced its restoration. The building revealed many concealed spaces and trapdoors. In the ensuing years van Iperen meticulously researched its history and that of its war-time occupants.
The German occupation of the Netherlands commenced on 10th May 1940. Sisters Janny and Lien Brilleslijper lived comfortably in Amsterdam, but as restrictions on the registration of Jews and their movements became ever more severe, they were forced to seek refuge in homes as far away as The Hague. Janny was highly active writing, publishing and distributing a Resistance newsletter, pamphlets and forged documents, whilst her artistic sister ensured that clandestine music, dance and theatre events continued to be conducted in order to maintain a degree of ‘normalcy’ in the lives of fellow Jews.
Continued evacuations saw the families lease The High Nest on the outskirts of Naarden in January 1943. It became a highly organised Resistance centre, with many individuals transiting through during its occupancy. Tipped off by an informer, The High Nest was raided in June 1944; the adults were sent to Westerbork concentration camp and the sisters’ three children placed in the care of a local Resistance doctor. The total Dutch Jewish deportations reached 78% with the last train from Amsterdam to Auschwitz on 3 September 1944 – aboard were the sisters, their parents and brother, and the Franks with their daughters Margot and Anne.
By doing everything in their power to maintain the appearance of being healthy enough to work, being sent to the gas chambers was averted, and in early November, they, with the Franks were moved to the Bergen-Belsen camp. It was not set up as an extermination camp, but with the tide of war heavily against the Germans, lack of food, conditions and no medical amenities saw many emaciated inmates succumb and die. The sisters met and encouraged the Frank sisters, but in February 1945 they found their beds empty, located their bodies outside, then carried them to an open mass grave. The British forces found 60 000 prisoners barely alive and 13 000 unburied corpses when they liberated Bergen-Belsen on 15 April 1945.
The War saw the Brilleslijper sisters lose their parents and their brother – their husbands and children survived. A short chapter provides a brief summary of the post-1945 lives of the key people featured in the narrative, and detailed references have been included.
This epic struggle for survival whilst helping those around them in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands and in prison camps leaves the reader amazed at human courage, resourcefulness, resilience and persistence.
The RUSI – Vic Library is most grateful to the publisher for providing this work for review.