'Land of Many Bridges': Personal tribute to heroic gentiles - review

There have been many Holocaust books, some fiction, some written by survivors, some written and published as scholarly research. This one combines all these genres.

 Land of Many Bridges: My Father’s Story (photo credit: Courtesy)
Land of Many Bridges: My Father’s Story
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

I started reading Land of Many Bridges: My Father’s Story when I had a spare moment one morning while waiting for a call. Instead of being pleased when the call came in that I had at last made contact, I regarded it as an intrusive interruption, which continued all day: anything that caused me to put down the book was an irritation, but I finally finished it – an hour and a half after my usual bedtime.

There have been many Holocaust books, some fiction, some written by survivors, some written and published as scholarly research. Meticulously and painstakingly researched, this one written by the daughter of two Holocaust survivors masterfully combines all these genres.

The book opens with the author journeying with her daughter to the village where she was born. From there she started researching the lives of her relatives in the years before World War II, which became this book.

Her research shows just how comfortable and orderly life was in the small Dutch villages in which they lived, loved, worked, and prospered. The picture she paints of the days before “the terrible times,” as her mother came to call them, is vivid. The characters she describes briefly live again in print as they proudly flew the Dutch flag, and prayed for the Dutch Royal Family in synagogue every Shabbat. These – the family of the author and their Jewish neighbors – were proud patriotic citizens of the Netherlands.

FASCIST SALUTE: ‘Il Duce’ Benito Mussolini with Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler. (credit: Courtesy)FASCIST SALUTE: ‘Il Duce’ Benito Mussolini with Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler. (credit: Courtesy)

After the rise to power of Hitler, the author’s father recognized almost immediately with “an inner whisper” the potential threat that Germany and its megalomaniac, Jew-hating leader posed to the Netherlands. He started to contrive plans to save himself and his family from the catastrophe that he could clearly foresee.

Sadly, most European Jews were convinced that the situation was so incredible, so bizarre, that it could not be true; and if it was true, it was but a temporary aberration and would pass. We, the readers, with the benefit of hindsight, long to scream at these long-dead friends: “Go, get away while you can!”

Unfortunately, the warnings did not prevail until it was too late,  and the author’s father let the precious visa that would have ensured his safety lapse in order to stay with his and his wife’s dependents. He then heroically took on the responsibility of his little community at the same time as having to earn a living, reassure his young wife and protect his small daughters. The book chronicles the desperate struggles of the author’s parents to stay alive as hidden Jews, their hearts aching at having to relinquish their two small daughters into the care of different and unknown gentile families.

The author’s parents alone survived. The family that we had read about and come to know at the start of the book all perished. Her parents survived but were scarred and broken by their terrible experiences, wracked by grief and survivor’s guilt. A post-war baby, the author’s life was marked by secrets, by her mother’s bitterness, and the terrible unbearable grief her parents shouldered trying to put their lives back together.

The book is a loving tribute to this gentle man, David Simon Samuel, a devoted and long-suffering husband, loving father, and quiet, unassuming hero. The author’s father was just an ordinary man forced by circumstances to become extraordinary, to face unbearable decisions and live forever with the consequences. After the war’s end, he did not rest but with courage and tenacity continued the battle for justice and retribution.

The book is also a tribute to the heroic gentiles, the Righteous Among the Nations, as they are known at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. Without them, the author writes in her dedication, she would not have been born and lived to become the matriarch of a large family.

Indeed, it was the author’s daughter who was the catalyst that led to the research and writing of the book. There are no caped crusaders saving the world here, just very ordinary people who went against the tide putting their own lives and the lives of their loved ones in danger because they felt it was the right thing to do. The truly amazing thing is none of these people thought of themselves as heroes. They were genuinely good and moral folk following their conscience. ■

The book is available on Amazon, Book Depository and Barnes and Noble, and can also be read on Amazon Kindle.

Land of Many Bridges: My Father’s StoryBy Bela Ruth Samuel TenenholtzAmsterdam Publishers, 2022292 pages; $26.95