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Monday, May 29, 2023

REVIEW: The Last Secret of the Secret Annex, by Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl and Jeroen De Bruyn

Anne Frank’s life has been studied by many scholars, but the story of Bep Voskuijl has remained untold, until now. As the youngest of the five Dutch people who hid the Frank family, Bep was Anne’s closest confidante during the 761 excruciating days she spent hidden in the Secret Annex. Bep, who was just twenty-three when the Franks went into hiding, risked her life to protect them, plunging into Amsterdam’s black market to source food and medicine for people who officially didn’t exist under the noses of German soldiers and Dutch spies. In those cramped quarters, Bep and Anne’s friendship bloomed through deep conversations, shared meals, and a youthful understanding.

Told by her own son, The Last Secret of the Secret Annex intertwines the story of Bep and her sister Nelly with Anne’s iconic narrative. Nelly’s name may have been scrubbed from Anne’s published diary, but Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl and Jeroen De Bruyn expose details about her collaboration with the Nazis, a deeply held family secret. After the war, Bep tried to bury her memories just as the Secret Annex was becoming world famous as a symbol of resistance to the Nazi horrors. She never got over losing Anne nor could Bep put to rest the horrifying suspicion that those in the Annex had been betrayed by her own flesh and blood.

This is a story about those caught in between the Jewish victims and Nazi persecutors, and the moral ambiguities and hard choices faced by ordinary families like the Voskuijls, in which collaborators and resisters often lived under the same roof.

The Diary of Anne Frank is a book I go back to again and again. I'm simultaneously fascinated with her story, through her eyes, and horrified that humans could treat others that way.

This story isn't Anne's. It's the story of Bep, one of her father's employees and Anne's good friend, who helped hide and care for the family when they went into the annex. We learn how it affected her daily life at the time, and after the war. How it ultimately changed the trajectory of her entire family, and even affected her children. For me, it deepened my understanding of the fear and stresses the war and the Holocaust itself took on those who lived under German occupation. 

This book would make a good companion read when studying The Diary of Anne Frank. It widens the perspective and brings to light the generational affects of what the helpers survived.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Simon & Schuster through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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