Preserves Rescuers' Stories for Us and Future Generations by BlueValleySchool []
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The heart has reasons : Dutch rescuers of Jewish children during the Holocaust

by Mark Klempner

  Print book : Biography  |  Updated ed

Preserves Rescuers' Stories for Us and Future Generations   (2015-08-28)


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by BlueValleySchool

The Holocaust left an indelible imprint on Mark Klempner’s family, and has always maintained a presence in his own life. His maternal grandfather left Hungary in 1936, only to later have his parents and 10 brothers murdered by the Nazis. His father escaped Poland at the age of 11 on the last boat to leave the country in 1939. And as a boy, Klempner himself can recall looking through timeworn photo albums with his father’s mother. He describes one such incident in the introduction to The Heart Has Reasons: “[She] once sat me on her lap and, turning the pages of photo albums from the old country, showed me wedding pictures, sepia-toned young couples, smiling women, and plump children in their little white shoes. ‘Hitler took them all,’ she said” (v).

Even so, the Holocaust was never spoken of in Klempner’s home. This silence lent it a distinct presence (like the proverbial elephant in the room), but also kept it frustratingly just beyond his reach. It was only natural, then, that Klempner would try to find some way to personally connect with the Holocaust. His opportunity came when he received a grant in college from the Cornell Institute for European Studies. For his project he chose to interview Dutch men and women who risked their lives to save Jewish children during the Holocaust. This research grew into The Heart Has Reasons, and the book itself is a treasure. It captures and preserves rich stories of heroism that would otherwise be lost to the march of time, and at the same time provides readers with a powerful source of inspiration by demonstrating that goodness can thrive even amidst the most evil circumstances.

The Heart Has Reasons profiles 10 rescuers with whom Klempner met, and the book’s greatest strength is that—in true folk spirit—it allows each rescuer to tell his or her own story. Klempner doesn’t filter or paraphrase anyone, and there’s no reason he should want to. After all, these are feisty, colorful individuals who defied Nazi brutality to save the lives of Jewish children. They possess unique voices, full of humor and anger and life; being able to hear each one is a privilege, and this makes the book an engrossing and enjoyable read. Take, for example, the priceless way rescuer Clara Dijkstra describes a confrontation she had with Nazi thugs who objected to her wearing a pin adorned with an image of the Queen: “He took me by the arm, and dragged me into a building full of Nazis. They all screamed at me, and I screamed back at them. After about twenty minutes, they kicked me in the butt and threw me out the door. I was back on the street, but they’d ripped off my pin, and I had a sore butt” (83). This isn’t the dry history of so many textbooks, but is rather history as a series of stories told by the people who were actually there. As such, it positively sparkles with life and humanity.

Other anecdotes in Klempner’s book are obviously far less amusing than Ms. Dijkstra’s. There are stories of parents and children being separated, often never to see one other again; of brave people being betrayed to death; and of the zeal with which the Nazis went about their atrocities. Ultimately, though, these dark deeds are overshadowed by the selflessness and bravery of the 10 rescuers profiled by Klempner—men and women who risked their lives to defy the seemingly invincible German war machine and rescue Jewish children. This is their book, and it serves as a shining testament to the fact that there was more to the Holocaust than the savagery of Hitler and the cheering masses who supported him. There were also goodness and valor and grace from ordinary people like Hetty Voute, who describes the simple philosophy that she and many other rescuers shared: “Sometimes people would tell me, ‘The Germans are unstoppable. Whatever you do won’t matter.’ I answered, ‘It will matter to the children we save’” (22). We should be thankful that people like her existed during the darkest days of the Holocaust, and thankful as well that Mark Klempner has preserved their stories for us and for future generations.

—Kevin Rogan
Reference Librarian,

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