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Transcript of Buzzy Jackson Interview about To Die Beautiful
Buzzy Jackson tells us about her thriller based on the story of the anti-Nazi saboteur Hannie Schaft
Buzzy Jackson had to write the book she wanted to read. It happened because of a visit in 2016 to an Amsterdam museum about the Dutch Resistance during WWII. There, Jackson discovered a story about a young woman who sacrificed everything to save her country from Nazi rule.
Jackson saw a photograph of a girl dressed up in a fancy coat, standing next to a young woman disguised as a man. Next to the photo in the display, there was a pistol and a pair of old glasses that were part of the disguise.
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“And when I read just the very brief card describing who Hannie Schaft was, I was incredibly intrigued,” Jackson tells us. “You know, this young woman who became this notorious assassin.”
Hannie Schaft was a famous anti-fascist fighter in Amsterdam during World War II, a member of the Communist underground that carried out assassinations and sabotage against the Nazi occupiers.
She dreamed of being a civil rights lawyer. But when her two closest friends faced persecution as Jews, Schaft felt she had to do something to save them and others like them.
We don't yet face what Hannie Schaft did, but fascism is beginning to spread its odious threat over our country and the world once more. Buzzy Jackson's novel, To Die Beautiful, is a timely look at how fascism flourishes and what good people do to fight back. Meticulously researched, the novel tells Hannie Schaft's story with drama and unforgettable characters.
Buzzy Jackson is the award-winning author of three books of nonfiction. She's also a member of the National Book Critics Circle and writes for the Boston Globe and Book Forum.
Francesca: Buzzy Jackson, welcome to Writer's Voice.
Thank you so much. It's great to be here.
To Die Beautiful is the story of a famous young woman of the Dutch resistance during World War II, Hannie Schaft. You actually begin the book with her being imprisoned. And the title also makes no bones about what her ultimate fate was. Before we get into her story, tell us why you began with the ending [of her story]?
I do begin with her going into the prison. And you know, it's funny because as the book has just come out, not everybody knows the story yet. And I have heard from some readers that they don't know what happens at the end until they Google her and then immediately find out what happens to her.
So I felt like her getting imprisoned was not only an exciting way to start the book, to kind of draw a reader in with something very dramatic that's happening, but it also portends something, you know, very dangerous is going to happen to her, while not necessarily giving it all away at the very beginning. A lot of the people, most of the people in that prison walked out, you know, we're at the end of the war.
But I also felt that the way I wanted to frame Hannie's story was her journey from being a very everyday kind of ordinary schoolgirl, even a bit on the shy and timid side, and how much she changes over the course of the book into this very fierce warrior.
And so I thought that giving the reader a little slice at the beginning of who this woman is going to become, and then you go right back to her at age, you know, 19 when the book starts, if the beginning part seems like, oh, this young woman could never become a soldier, that little foreword gives you a little hint that actually maybe she can.
Yes, well, that's true. And of course, she walks into the prison to the acclaim of the other prisoners, because she was already of some fame even before the war was over. What led you to this story?
Well, you know, I'm not Dutch, and I don't have any Dutch background, nor do I speak Dutch.
But I do have a number of friends and sort of extended family who live in the Amsterdam area.
And I was visiting them in the winter of 2016 for Christmas.
And you know, as you may recall, the winter, the fall and winter of 2016 was a pretty tumultuous time in Western civilization. The Brexit vote had just happened in the UK.
And then here, of course, Donald Trump had just been elected president.
And there was just a lot in the air at that time about how suddenly things can change, you know, in our sort of historical moment, and also about scary things like the rise of fascism and the collapse of certain ideas that we had long held--for instance, the European Union, the idea that somebody would voluntarily leave the European Union, you know, which is essentially was created as a part of a peace plan for postwar Europe, was pretty shocking to myself, for sure.
So I was already in that mindset.
And my friend in Amsterdam suggested we go to the Verzet Museum, which is, of course, the Museum of the Resistance. I'd never been there or even heard of it. But we went in and there was a small display about a young woman named Hannie Schaft.
And it just showed a photograph of her kind of dressed up in a fancy coat, standing next to a young woman who was dressed in disguise as a man, and a beat-up pistol in the display and a pair of old glasses that were part of her disguise.
And when I read just the very brief card describing who Hannie Schaft was, I was incredibly intrigued, you know, this young woman who became this notorious assassin.
And you know, when we left the museum, I thought, well, great, I'm going to go buy the Hannie Schaft book and find out more about this amazing woman, and was really surprised to discover that there was really no book for me to buy as an English speaker, for sure. There were no books in English at that time, about her available. And even in Dutch, the books that had been written about her were from the 20th century. At this point, it was, you know, 2016.
Some of that has changed, I want to say. There have been some nice nonfiction books written about her since then, especially in Dutch. But at that point, I was sort of between writing projects myself. And I thought, hmm, maybe I could write essentially what I thought would just be a straightforward nonfiction biography of Hannie Schaft in English. That was my initial idea.
And why did you decide to write a novel instead?
I decided to write it as a novel because it frankly, it was the suggestion of my literary agent; this is about a year and a half into doing the research. And I was telling him about the problems I was having finding primary source materials for Hannie.
You know, a good sort of contrast to this is the most famous person involved in the Dutch Holocaust, of course, Anne Frank. And the reason we know Anne Frank's story so well is because she left behind that beautiful diary. That's an incredible primary source for us, a historian. And as we know, not every historical figure leaves something like that behind. And certainly Hannie Schaft did not. It would have been very dangerous for her to keep a diary while she was living underground in the resistance. And, you know, to be honest, I think she was just far too busy to do anything like that. There's a few letters that she's written and some stuff from her school days. That's about it.
And so I realized if I ever wanted to have any dialogue between these characters, I was going to have to basically invent almost all of it.
And so my agent thought, you know, well, why don't you see if you could write it as a novel?
I was nervous about that, partly because I had never published a novel before, partly because, you know, these were real people. And I felt from my background as a historian, I felt very committed to sticking to the facts, you know.
And then I had looked around a little bit for some models of how this had been done by other writers. And I came across the very well-known book, Schindler's List, which I had not really thought about too much up to this point in the course of writing the book, except it suddenly occurred to me that Schindler's List is, in fact, a novel.
It's not a nonfiction book, even though I think many of us kind of think of it as a nonfiction account of Oscar Schindler and everything that happened with him and the Jewish people he helped.
And in that book, Thomas Kennelly, the author, wrote a really beautiful sort of author's note in the beginning of Schindler's List about how he came to the story and why he chose to write it as a novel. And I found that every single thing he said was sort of the stuff that I was thinking too, mostly just that this was an incredible story.
We know that it's a factual story that has historical facts that can be verified. But in order to bring it to life, you probably need to tell it slightly fictionalized, just so people get the sense of who these actual individuals were. And doing all this with the intent of not straying too far from the actual data that we have.
And honestly, I think just reading that forward and knowing how powerful Schindler's List has been for so many people, including myself, it gave me permission to try it this way.
And so I did. And once I started, got over the fear of doing it, I could tell that it was a much better way to write the book. Just in terms of anybody ever reading it.
You really do an incredible job with it.
Oh, thank you.
As my listeners know, I know a lot about this history. I've written a book about my father's story in the Dutch Resistance. You have incredible verisimilitude. And I agree with you, the medium of fiction allows you to bring the sense of what it was like to live at that time, really to life.
Thank you very much. I really appreciate it. I should say I got a lot of help from friends and colleagues in the Netherlands who are Dutch people, who speak Dutch and live there, who helped me by reading the final manuscript and just making sure that nothing stood out that was too egregiously dumb. So I credit them in the acknowledgments, but I just want to give them a shout out here as well.
That's great. Now the Germans invaded Holland in May of 1940. Hannie was a student in Amsterdam at that time. Tell us a little bit about her then, both as a character--you mentioned earlier that you talked about her being kind of an innocent--but what was she doing in Amsterdam?
Yeah, she grew up in the town of, city of Haarlem, which is about 20 minutes away from Amsterdam. And then she, as you said, she enrolled in law school at the University of Amsterdam, which had always been her lifelong dream was to become a lawyer for the League of Nations. What we would now think of as sort of a human rights lawyer, that was always her interest. Sadly for her, the League of Nations collapsed on the eve of World War II and her dream disappeared, but she still planned on doing something in the law, so she persevered.
And at that time, she had just devoted her entire young life, she was 19, to getting into college, becoming a lawyer, just trying to help people through being a lawyer. And she was described by all of her friends, people who knew her growing up as a very quiet, sort of a bookworm. She sat in the back of class and was very shy.
Also her older sister had died of diphtheria when Hannie was just a child. And so her parents, it is said that her parents were very protective of her after that, because of course, the trauma of losing one child. They would do things like make Hannie wear a sweater during the summer in case she caught cold, or, you know, hold her hand while they crossed the street at a fairly old age, just because they were so worried about her.
Which is ironic when you read the book and realize how much danger she put herself in later.
But yeah, as the book begins, she's still kind of that shy, timid young woman trying to sort of find out who she is in the college setting. And she makes two friends there, two Jewish friends who she kind of looks up to, she feels that they're much more worldly and glamorous than she is: Sonia Frank and Philine Polak.
Tell us about them.
Yeah, these were two real women. Those are their real names. And you know, like many Jewish people in the Netherlands at that time, their Jewish families had lived in the country for generations.
It's important, I think, to understand that the Netherlands had been by this time for hundreds of years considered one of the safest places in Europe for Jews to live. It was a very religiously tolerant place as it still is. So most Jews, including Sonia and Philine, they were Jewish, but it wasn't the biggest part of their identity by any means. I think they just considered themselves Dutch girls, just like Hannie.
And in fact, Philine later said that she didn't know she was Jewish until Adolf Hitler told her she was. Which is not to say that she was trying to deny her Jewish heritage at all, but it just, she was a fairly secular person and so was her family, you know, so it just wasn't a big part of her life.
For Hannie, I think when she met them, the thing that was most striking to her about Sonia and Philine was they just were more confident, more outgoing, and sort of more at ease with themselves as people than she was. And I think she really was attracted to that because those were the qualities she wanted to have in herself.
But, you know, shortly after she started school and the Germans invaded, the fact of their Jewishness became a very big deal to all three of them. That was a pretty sudden thing.
Sudden, but one of the features, in fact, of this time was how the screws were slowly tightened.
The screws of the occupation. I mean, at first the Germans thought that they would be welcomed by their Dutch “brothers,” you know, their Aryan “brothers.” And there was a very strong Dutch Nazi party, over 300,000 members at that time. But the Dutch in general did not look upon the Germans with quite the kind of joy that the Germans had expected.
In fact, you have a wonderful, I'm going to quote from something you've written because it also gives a sense of how beautifully this book is written. So there was like this tightening noose.
And this is from chapter 5 on page 44.
“How does evil spread, like a disease, from one human to another? Or the way the new anti-Jewish measures sifted down into the private lives of Dutchmen, like dust in a closed room, mote by invisible mote, until one day we turned the key in the lock and found ourselves trapped, then looked back at our little room and discovered it so entombed in filth it was not fit to live in anymore.”
And she says, “Now when I walk through the city, yellow stars screamed at me from street corners, ‘do something!’”
So talk about this awakening of awareness of Hannie Schaft's.
Yeah, you know, that aspect of her story and of all of their story was so important to me.
And by that, I mean, you know, it's something that we look back on 80 years later and say, gosh, didn't they see how bad this was getting?
You know, it's a question that a lot of people, my own ancestors--I'm Jewish and my own grandmother escaped Russia in the early 20th century from anti-Semitic pogroms that were very similar to this kind of thing.
And I think so many, so many people who are part of a diaspora, like European Jews are, look back and ask themselves, well, why didn't they just leave, you know, earlier? Or why didn't they do something earlier? Or would I know when it's time to do, to take action if I were in that situation?
And that was kind of what I was trying to get across in that passage was that these people are trapped in their own moment of history, just as you and I are today in 2023.
They don't know what's coming.
And the Germans really capitalized on that very human quality, I think, which is our tendency to kind of rationalize away things that, let's say in our politics or in, you know, the, in the air around us, we feel something's not right, but we kind of want to rationalize why it's probably okay.
And the strategy with the Germans was, let's not come into the Netherlands with a Kristallnacht kind of bombastic, you know, destruction of all Jewish property.
Let's come in rather quietly and start implementing these measures so slowly that not only the Jewish people will be able to sort of rationalize it to themselves that it's quote, not that bad, but also the Gentiles all around them will not be roused to protest because they don't seem, things don't seem so bad yet.
It's a kind of frog boiling in water scenario, you know. And I wanted to keep that in the mind of the reader because it's easy to look back and say, oh, I would have done this and that when that started happening. But of course, you know, if we were in that situation, who's to say?
Exactly. Yeah, and that metaphor of like a frog set in a cauldron of cold water.In fact, I've seen that a lot in reference precisely to the Jews in the Netherlands.And it's funny, my mother's side of the family, we also came to this country escaping pogroms from Russia. So I have often asked that same question, would I know, especially now as we are seeing, you know, the very worrisome signs of increasing authoritarianism, of racism and attacks on Jews as well.
Absolutely, and attacks on all races.
I mean, I think, you know, one of the things that I, you know, my background is in history, but that doesn't give me a lot of special insight into our current day, except that when I do look back on, you know, big moments in the past, I do see how, you know, those people in the past, whether we're talking about 80 years ago, 500 years ago, you know, 1000 years ago, they're just people like us, everybody, they're still human beings.
And we all struggle to stand outside ourselves and see the world, quote unquote, objectively. It's not always possible.
One thing I noticed when I read this book, and what really taught me something was that Hannie and also the Oversteegen family, which is another family that plays a big role in this book, their daughters, Truus and Freddie, were members of the resistance with Hannie.
Their whole family had been involved as essentially social justice activists for decades. And the way they started and the way Hannie first started in resistance work was through helping refugees.
And I really started to understand that a refugee crisis in a country is a little bit of like a canary in a coal mine of letting you know, something bad is coming, is coming toward these shores, not the refugees, they're coming because they believe in our values, they're fleeing something that we should take seriously.
And as I was writing the book, it was right around the time when the Trump administration began locking families in cages on the Mexican border and separating parents from their children.
And I was so horrified by this, not only because of the obvious human rights issues, but also because it was so similar to what I was researching in this book about the rise of fascism in Europe and specifically the Nazis.
In fact, Anne Frank and her family were themselves refugees from Germany who moved to the Netherlands because they thought it would be a safe place to live.
And that's a story that I read over and over in doing the research for this book was how many of the people who were ultimately victims in the Netherlands were there because they had fled somewhere that they thought was worse.
Yes, that's true. And that was true for the young man that my father sheltered. He was a German Jew who had come to a Quaker school in Eastern Holland that was set up for the children of refugees. But ultimately, all of the Jewish children in that school perished in the Holocaust, except for those who had gone underground, like the boy that my father sheltered.
So there's a very interesting scene in the book that I was struck with, where Hannie is schooled by her two friends about the reality of the persecution. I mean, it's something she had been aware of, but she didn't really get it in quite that way.
I just wonder if you could talk about that scene, her sudden realization that although she is sympathetic to them, she really isn't, that she doesn't feel it quite like they do until they really kind of call her on that, call her out.
Yeah, these are her two Jewish friends, Sonja, Philine, yeah.
And even between the two of the Jewish girls, there is a little bit of a disparity: Philine seems to be the more pragmatic and sort of worried one, while Sonja is trying a little bit harder to convince herself it's not so bad.
But definitely, you know, so many things had already changed in their lives.
For example, they had a curfew at first, so they couldn't go out, you know, be on the streets after eight o'clock at night.
Then Jews were barred from owning businesses, you know, then their bikes were taken away, you know, slowly and slowly.
And I think for Hannie, it was, she's seeing these things happen, but she's also still seeing these two young women in a fairly, she kind of idolizes them in a way, just because of who they are and how sort of charming and intelligent they are.
And I really felt that it wasn't until 1943, when the Nazi Party insisted that all Dutch students had to sign a loyalty oath to the Nazi Party—uou know, fortunately, 85% of Dutch students refused to sign that loyalty oath, but they were immediately kicked out of school.
And I think it wasn't until Hannie really got kicked out of school, which up until this moment in her life, by now she's 22, had been her only ambition and her only goal was to get this law degree. Suddenly that's taken away from her. And I think that was the first moment when it really hit her, oh, I see, everything can be taken away from you. And this has already happened to a large extent to my two friends. And I've been kind of oblivious to it, you know.
And in fact, it's right after that happens that she quits school and actually convinces them to go live in her family home, hide in her family home, essentially. I think it all kind of hits her like a brick at that point.
Yeah, she brings them home to Haarlem, but she doesn't warn her parents in advance. Is this just part of the novel or is this something that really happened?
As far as we know, she did not ask her parents in advance. And her parents, you know, to their great credit, agreed to hide these two young women, which was something, as you know, Francesca, was punishable by death.
I got the impression that she didn't ask them because on the one hand, I think she suspected they would say yes. And I say that because both of her parents were very, they were very socially justice minded people.
Her father was a head of his local teachers union and her mother was not as political, but she did a lot of work with refugees and helping people in through her very progressive church, Christian church. And so I think she had a sense that they would probably say yes.
But also I think the idea of asking them first and waiting to hear might lead to the possibility that they could talk to somebody else about it, maybe seeking advice. And Hannie knew that that could not happen. Nobody could know about this.
And if it was going to happen, it needed to happen quickly and with as little sort of other information leaking out as possible. So that's sort of my theory of that.
The scene where Hannie confronts her parents and brings the girls home is something that I basically reconstructed from essentially everything I could find out from the memoirs of the people involved.
But a lot of that is also just me trying to imagine what that would be like, not only for Hannie, but also for her parents and also for Sonia and Philine, who suddenly walk into this situation as these burdens that need to be taken care of. That had to be a horrible feeling, too.
Yeah, and I think you also capture the kind of, you know, the mental stress that Sonia and Philine, as well as the others, but Sonia and Philine in particular, go through in hiding.
You know, even though their situation was so much easier in some ways than it was for other Jews, as you point out, people who had to, you know, live for years, literally in holes in the ground. It's a really incredible description there.
You know, one thing, if I could just say one thing about that, that that goes back to the topic we were talking about a few minutes ago, which is that I kept trying to keep in my own mind as I wrote the book, that when we look back today at the Second World War, we say, oh, it ended in 1945. You know, that's what Wikipedia says. Nobody at the time knew when the war was going to end. You know, these people didn't know if it was going to last one more year, eight more years, 20 more years. I mean, nobody knew.
So the idea, I think that also leads to the extreme anxiety of being hidden in someone's home. You don't know if you're going to be there for six months or if this is your new life for the next decade. And that I think is a very difficult thing to come to terms with for anybody.
Yeah. Now, Hannie gets involved with the RVV, a resistance group that's organized by Communists. Tell us about them.
Yeah, well, I think, you know, one of the important things to understand about about sort of what was going on in the Netherlands at this time is that I would say the vast majority of resistance work was organized by the Dutch Communist Party.
And that, you know, this is also time it's important to for everyone to remember that, you know, the USSR was our ally in World War Two.
So this at the time maybe didn't seem so odd as it might sound to our ears now.
But the Communists in Europe had been really active for, you know, obviously for a long time, but certainly in the years leading up to World War Two, the struggle in Spain against a fascist dictator, Franco, was on the other side were the Communists, the Spanish Communists. And Hannie had been really following the Spanish civil war quite closely and like many people was firmly on the side of the Communists in that sense.
But on the other hand, I never got the sense that Hannie Schaft or her parents were really ideologues in any way. It was more that they were just committed to these ideals of equality and justice. And at that time, the Communist Party was the one speaking most forcefully about that in the Netherlands.
The Communist Party also organized a giant general strike in the Netherlands during World War Two that effectively shut down the country for about three days when almost everyone went on strike. It was put down by the Germans, but it ultimately was the only mass protest against Nazi Germany that was that was organized by Gentiles on behalf of Jews. So you have to give a lot of credit to the Communists at that time, the Communists in the Netherlands, for really being on the right side of history.
Yeah, I believe it was February 1941.
It was, that's right, quite early.
Well, I have to say, I think that the Communists were key in organizing the what the Dutch call “knokplugen,” you know, the sabotage and assassinations, because it was actually the Catholic Church that first organized the resistance in the Netherlands. And it was really focused on finding hiding places for Jews.
That's true. I don't want to slight anybody's anybody, any other groups, you know, it really great work that they did.
Now let's talk about that kind of resistance against, you know, the sabotage and the assassinations, because Hannie killed Nazis, as did Truus and Freddie Oversteegen. What were your feelings as you explored this history of violent resistance? And by the way, Hannie was a natural at it.
Yeah, she was very effective.
Yeah, I mean, that is one of the things, of course, that's so shocking about her story is this mild mannered young woman became a killer. And that's also true of Truus and Freddie, who are also very, you know, everyday mild mannered young women.
The way I felt and sort of still feel about it, I think, is that the Netherlands, of course, is a tiny country. It's both in landmass and in population. It had virtually no military.What it did have was destroyed in about three days during the initial Blitzkrieg attack by the Germans in 1940. And from that point of view, the resistance, the self-organized resistance, was the only military the Netherlands had.
And I think that the people like Hannie and like Truus and Freddie and many people in the resistance who did take up arms in the fight simply saw themselves as soldiers, you know, just the way that we see people in our, you know, Marine Corps as soldiers.
They were soldiers in this fight. They were defending their lives. They were defending their country and they were defending the lives of, you know, their Jewish fellow citizens. And I think that they were the only ones with the means to do it in the country.
So I think from that perspective, that was what helped Hannie get to that place of being willing to do it. Because once she started to learn of really what had already been going on in the Netherlands in terms of, you know, transporting Jews to concentration camps and them never returning, that it became a life and death situation and she was willing to fight as a soldier.
And we don't have her words on this. We do have the words of her colleague, Truus Oversteegen, who told somebody after the war in an interview, she said, we did not feel it suited us, you know, talking about the assassinations. It never suits anybody unless they're real criminals.
And I would assume that in spite of the fact that she was, quote, a natural at it, it wasn't something that I'm sure that she would have had.
And you explore this in the book also, her own complicated feelings about assassinating people.
Yeah, because, you know, it's not only the question of is it right or how do you feel about killing a German or a Nazi collaborator, it's also knowing, as they did, that for every German or collaborator they killed, one or many more Dutch civilians were going to be killed in retaliation.
That's of course, contrary to the, you know, the laws of war as we even understood at that point, but it happened all the time. And so they were constantly weighing that, that horrible calculation, you know, is it worth it to do this?
Ultimately, they did feel it was worth it.
And you know, but I think Truus, just like soldiers who are in battle come back from any war in any country and are traumatized by what they've done for their country, these resistance fighters were traumatized too.
That's a really good point. And of course they were also responding to, you know, something called Aktion Silbertannen, which was Operation Silver Fox. Talk about that and why they stepped up their assassinations because of it.
This was a sort of directive from Berlin, from Hitler's headquarters, about midway through the occupation in the Netherlands, when I think at this point, the Germans had started to see that their, you know, relatively subtle policies against Jews were needing to be ramped up if they were really going to complete the final solution as they saw it, simply because so many everyday Dutch people were trying to hide their, their Jewish friends and neighbors and try or trying to help them get out of the country if it was possible, which often wasn't.
So Aktion Silbertannen was kind of a dramatic increase in the violence toward, specifically toward the resistance to really try to root out the resistance in the Netherlands and a kind of shoot first, ask questions later approach to it.
The resistance, once they found out this was happening, I think they quite reasonably responded to it by understanding that, if anything, they just had to redouble their efforts, because nobody was going to be taken in and questioned and released.
If they were caught doing what they were doing, they were just going to be shot on sight.
And so I think it made their own work, not only more dangerous, but more pointed in a sense that they wanted to try and get as much accomplished with every mission as possible.
You say, and I think it might even be before the novel starts, you have like an author's note right in the beginning. And I wonder if you're actually a little generous. You say that 5% of the population was involved in the resistance. I've seen the figure more like 3%. You also say that 5% collaborated, although I know that, you know, I think there was some 300,000 were prosecuted after the war, but I'm sure I would assume that that's an undercount. So talk a little bit about the resisters, the collaborators, and then the vast number of bystanders, and your own thinking about this.
Yeah, I mean, I should say that, you know, the numbers and statistics that I cite in the book, I looked at many sources to try to come up with, you know, as realistic and reasonable numbers as I could.
That includes from the scholars at the Anne Frank House, the Yad Vashem, all sorts of different, you know, of different scholarly approaches to it.
But as you said, and I think this is a really important point, and one I couldn't get into too much in the book, just because it happens before the story really starts, is, as you mentioned, the Dutch Nazi Party was already thriving by the time the Germans invaded.
They had had several election cycles in which this fascist party had been gaining more and more members under the leadership of a very authoritarian, kind of bombastic demagogue named Anton Mussert.
And you know, a lot of Dutch people were already worried about that before the war even began.
You know, so you had some fanatics joining that party.
And then I think when the war began, yeah, I think a lot of people weren't sure exactly what to do and how radical they wanted to be in either direction.
I will say that I think it's important to note, it's easier to look at historical actors who did something extreme, like Hannie Schaft, and you say, okay, she was anti-fascist.Or you look at a person who joins the Dutch Nazi Party and say, okay, they were definitely collaborators. As you point out, the vast majority of people fall somewhere in between those two extremes.
And I think it's important both to recognize the value in very small acts of resistance by everyday people who are not necessarily going to join a resistance cell and are certainly never going to pick up a gun, but they're going to participate in resistance by doing things as simple as seeing their next door neighbor with a new person in the house, or maybe just extra laundry hanging on their laundry line. And instead of reporting it to the occupying forces, simply look away, simply say, I don't know if they're harboring a Jew over there, but I'm not going to make it any of my business.
That's a form of support for the resistance that saved the lives of many Jews during World War II.
Also, things like some people who sheltered Jews found they would just find extra ration cards left on their doorstep by some sympathetic person who knew that they were feeding more people in their house than they were really supposed to be feeding.
On the other hand, you also have the kind of passive support for fascism by all the people who really did nothing to make life easier for those supporting the resistance and who kind of end up making the decision, I'm just going to go along with this and maybe even sign the Nazi loyalty oath, for example, not because they thought of themselves as Nazis perhaps, but because it was the easier thing to do.
And they also were scared for the safety of their family, themselves, et cetera.
I think all of those different types of actions are important to look at, especially today when we're faced with a lot of similar choices about, am I going to, for instance, vote for this person representing my town, city, state, country, whatever, who seems like they're relying on racist ideology to try and get votes, or they're relying on some kind of demagoguery to try to whip up support.
Am I going to vote for them because this other issue that they have I kind of like?You may not think of yourself as the most diehard member of that party if you vote for them, and yet you're making those other reprehensible choices possible.
And same on the other side.
I tried to, I actually was inspired to become more of an activist myself during the writing of this book, simply because I felt like such a hypocrite reading about all of these incredible courageous things that these young women in the Netherlands were doing against Nazis. And I was seeing a lot of similar stuff here.
And so I decided, what can I actually do? I can go to protests. I can travel down to the Mexican border to protest the caging of children. You know, I can do smaller things here in my community and region, which is Colorado, where I live, to at least provide support to let people know not everybody agrees with these policies, you know.
And I really encourage anyone out there who wants to support, you know, the causes they believe in, the values they believe in, to just even take the smallest actions. It's all ripples on a pond, and it all makes a big difference.
Well, that's so inspiring. That's really great that writing this moved you to do that.And, you know, and I agree, it's when you take action that you begin to feel not quite so helpless. I mean, I remember my father writing about this. He witnessed this enormous razzia, raid, in the Jewish community of Amsterdam. And he said, you know, they just cleared out the entire community like they were coming in and taking all the fish out of the sea. And he witnessed his own friends' parents being taken away. They died in Sobibor, this terrible concentration camp. And he found a hiding place for his friend. And it was, you know, what comes out so clearly is just, he just felt moved. He had to do something.
Like Hannie said, you have to do something. And then it really became a defining moment of his life, as it did for Hannie, and as it does for anyone who takes those steps as you have begun to take.
Yeah, and again, I didn't do anything very heroic. But just as you said, it sort of is, if nothing else, it helps you feel better. And it also is a little ray of hope to people around you, that actually not everybody is going along with this program. You know, not everybody thinks that what's happening is okay.
And that in itself is such an incredibly strong message to send out to your community, your neighbors, your friends and family. It's important because we often make assumptions based on the media, or whatever, that I guess everybody else thinks that this policy is okay. So I guess I won't be the only one to speak up, but it can make a difference.
You know, it really can. And there's a quote in the book that I think is from the Truus and Freddie's mother, who was a really heroic activist in her own right.
And the quote is, you know, which was an acknowledgement of how hard that work can be. It can be so frustrating to try and do the right thing and still see, you know, not much change. And the quote is, “where despair ends, tactics begin.”
And Hannie has these moments in the book too, of feeling like, is it even worth it, what we're doing? Is there even any point to it?
And the idea is, you know what, don't focus on how emotionally, how you're feeling about this. Just keep doing the right thing. Just try to keep doing the right thing.
Oh, that's just great. And this is just a terrific book, To Die Beautiful. Buzzy Jackson, it's been awesome to talk with you about it.
Thank you. You too, Francesca. I'm so moved by your father's story. It's just, I mean, as you know, better than anyone, these firsthand accounts of this incredible moment in history are fading away.
And several of the people in the book were alive when I started writing the book and passed away by the time it was finished.
Although I'm happy to say that the families of Truus and the family of Philine have both read the book and are really excited and happy about it, gave it their seal of approval, which of course means everything to me.
But yeah, it's important that we keep these stories alive to inspire ourselves today, you know, to keep doing the right thing.
Exactly. Well, thank you so much.
My pleasure. Thanks a lot for having me, Francesca.
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