The first 26 pages of this novella consist of an introduction by Jolanda Vanderwal Taylor that sets the story in its historical context. This is important because if the reader does not know what happened in Holland during the Second World War, much of the story’s impact will be lost. Secretly Inside is a simple tale, stark and beautifully written, but without the introduction I would not have grasped all the nuances.
A young Jewish man has to hide from the occupying Germans, not only because he is a Jew but also because he has been involved in some form of resistance. He must hide far from the city, on a farm among strangers. He’s a fish out of water, in the midst of a dysfunctional family, in a village of people who do not understand what hiding a partisan really involves. Our hero is a troubled young man, but he does escape the inevitable German descent on the farm.
The story’s main point is that the history the Dutch made for themselves after the war, that of fierce resistance against the Germans, was not true. For those who were brought up on tales of the brave Dutch Resistance, it will be a difficult story to read. Those of us reading the story as a piece of history are given a clear idea of the “on the edge living” it was for those trying to hide. But the novella also shows how those involved in the hiding were not the courageous heroes we imagined or were told about. They were just ordinary people in an intolerable situation: some cracked, some gave in, and some held out. Just as we would have done.