Title: A Family Secret
Author: Eric Heuvel
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Year: 2009 (paperback)
Concepts: economics of conflict, jobs, discrimination, scarcity, hunger
Review: Jeroen wanted to find some unusual items to sell at the Dutch Queen’s Day flea market, and his grandmother’s attic seemed like the perfect place to look. It did not take long before he found a scrapbook and other memorabilia that his grandmother Helena had saved from World War II. The discovery prompted Helena to tell Jeroen a long story about her best friend Esther, a Jewish girl who fled to the Netherlands with her parents after facing persecution by the Nazis in their German home town. Helena’s story became increasingly more complicated and alarming as it reflected the progression of the war and the Nazi occupation.
Similar to the deep rifts that grew across the Dutch population, Helena’s family became divided in their loyalties as one of her brothers joined the Nazi forces, her other brother joined the Dutch Resistance, and her father cooperated with the Germans in order to save his job. Helena and her mother sided with the Dutch Resistance, but they despaired over the constant arguments within their family and the growing violence, destruction, and shortages of food and fuel all around them. Ultimately Helena even lost her friend Esther in the events surrounding another round-up of Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators, including Helena’s father. Helena never knew what became of her friend or what role her father played in Esther’s disappearance.
This graphic novel, published in agreement with the Anne Frank House and in cooperation with the Resistance Museum of Friesland, does a remarkable job in communicating to middle grade readers some of the most perplexing and disturbing events in Dutch history. Award-winning Eric Heuvel’s contribution will make a valuable addition to curricular materials not only about the Holocaust, but also about the lesser-known events associated with the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and the Dutch Resistance.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children