Hirschfeld’s Friends

Written by Michael Dean
Review by Victoria Lyle

Hans-Max Hirschfeld is Secretary General for Trade and Industry in the Netherlands in 1941, while it is occupied by the Nazis despite their declaration of neutrality. The Queen and many government figures have fled for England, but Hirschfeld has been instructed to stay, with clear instructions to protect the Jews as far as possible. However, Hirschfeld is a Jew himself, and the Nazis know it.

Hirschfeld attempts to protect the Jews by cooperating with the occupying forces. For example, he attempts to ensure that work on a new battleship, the Armenius, proceeds as quickly and efficiently as possible. He fears that if there are problems the job will be moved to Bremen in Germany, leaving thousands of workers unemployed and therefore susceptible to being deported to labour camps in the east. However others in the Jewish community have different ideas on resisting the Nazis. Manny, Hirschfeld’s nephew, and his group of friends, led by Manny’s father, Robert Roet, plan to blow up the Armenius as an act of defiance and to damage the Nazi war effort. The two different methods of resistance are effectively portrayed and contrasted.

The characters are described in the blurb as ‘flawed’ and ‘all too human’. While they are believable, their ‘flaws’ are particularly unattractive, which did affect how I felt about them, and therefore how interested I was in their plight. Dean’s male characters are far more three-dimensional than his female ones.

However, this a well researched, very readable and emotionally engaging account of the Dutch resistance to Nazi occupation.