BookHound
Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

HIDDEN LETTERS by Marion van Binsbergen-Pritchard, Deborah Slier, and Ian Shine

 

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When you read Hidden Letters, the book is going to leave a mark. It’s going to hurt down deep and leave you thinking about things long after you’ve finished the book. After receiving the book, I admit to approaching the book warily. The subject matter is brutal, and it’s devastating to anyone who’s a parent.

First, a little history on the book. The letters that comprise the human narrative within the pages were discovered in Amsterdam in 1997. They were written by an eighteen year old Dutch Jew named Philip “Flip” Slier. He was sent to a Dutch labor camp in 1942. When first sent there, Slier believed he was going to be treated humanely, though restricted. He didn’t know the horror that awaited him, or that he would soon be dead.

At the time Slier first went to the work camps, letters shipped regularly between the families and the restricted men. As I read the letters, I was stunned by the naïve manner that Slier exhibited. He honestly thought he was only going to be there for a short time, and that his experiences there would be nothing more than what he would endure during some summer camp.

As a father of five, I know how innocent kids can be. They think they know so much, but they’re blind to so many things. They often don’t know they’re in over their heads until it’s much too late.

And that’s what happened with Slier.

I felt somewhat guilty while reading his letters, almost voyeuristic into a world of pain and innocence. The letters are inane and even cheerful. At times Slier obviously felt he was on some grand adventure. At other times I could see that he was putting on a front for his parents, acting brave while he was scared to death, or at least mightily confused by what was going on around him.

That human element, and that innocence, is what is going to haunt me about the book. Slier also took a camera with him. He took several pictures and sent them back home to his parents and friends, and those people managed to hang onto them throughout the blackest days of World War II. I saw his face, and I saw how much of a kid he still was. He aged decades in months, and he finally got killed.

That’s one side of the story, but the authors added a tremendous amount of history materials to further the reader’s understanding of what was going on in this area at this time. More pictures and maps fill the book. On one hand, Hidden Letters is a short journal of tumultuous times in a young man’s life, but on the other hand the book is a great historical record. I love history, and I equate it with the story of people rather than names and dates. But Philip Slier’s story truly brings home the fact that history is made up of people more than dates or events.

Hidden Letters is going to satisfy the armchair historian’s perusal of the time period, and will give some sense of people and what was going on to genealogists that have discovered they’ve got family members that were in this camps at the same time. For either of those groups, I’m sure the book would be a beneficial addition.

The parents saved those letters all those years. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to pull them out every so often and read the last words of their lost son.

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