Things We Couldn’t Say by Diet Eman/James Schaap. W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 390 pgs., hardcover.
Not enough stories have been told. Not enough trees have been planted outside Yad Vashem. Not enough accounts have been written of the heroic deeds of those righteous Gentiles” who risked everything to save Jews during the second World War. So it is with deep appreciation that I recommend the story of Diet Eman who, during the Nazi occupation of Holland, risked her life and lost the love of her life to save Jewish people.
This is a gripping, first-person account of a woman in her early twenties who became a central figure in the Dutch resistance and found shelter for hundreds of Jews whom she continued to look after while they were in hiding. Eventually captured, Diet Eman was imprisoned in the Vught Concentration Camp, the same camp that interned the better-known Corrie Ten Boom. Barely holding on to life, she was eventually, miraculously released, only to discover that her fiance had perished in a different Nazi death camp.
This is a book that stands shoulder to shoulder with The Hiding Place and The Diary of Anne Frank. Yet this story is unique inasmuch as it comes from one who was an active participant in the underground. As such, Eman’s story provides an insider’s view of how the Dutch underground operated. We pick up how the network of safe houses was established and maintained. We get a glimpse into the scope of the cooperation and conflict that took place between various groups participating in the Nazi resistance. We discover that this resistance was not orchestrated by some professionally trained and operated espionage network, but was a result of the dedication and bravery of ordinary people.
Diet Eman’s story is both a love story and a chronicle of suffering and loss. Interspersed throughout the clear and compact narrative are excerpts from the diary of Diet Eman as well as letters from her fiance, Hein Sietsma. Through these excerpts we are allowed to eavesdrop on their flowering romance and to feel the anguish and rage they share over being torn from each other. It is a profoundly human account. There is no sanitizing on Eman’s part, no attempt to make herself out to be a hero. And in her brutal honesty, we somehow come closer to understanding how a very normal, decent person was able to act heroically under horrible circumstances.
Yet what is inescapable is the central role of Diet Eman’s faith in God. It is her religious conviction, her deep and abiding commitment to the Bible that both led Diet Eman to do what she did and kept and sustained her through it all. This is not a woman who knew much about Jewish people prior to these events. She had a few Jewish friends to be sure, but it was her commitment to the God of Israel that moved her to action. In one section of her diary she rails against what she sees and cries out in prayer to her God:
O God, don’t you see that they are touching the apple of your eye? Please teach us Christians now to be true Christians and to put into practice what we confess, especially to these Jews.
There can be no doubt that God answered Diet Eman’s prayer. The proof is found in the pages of this most powerful story.