A generational memoir of war and its long-lasting effects on descendants.
History, the old saying goes, is written by the victors. The fortunes of the losers often go unnoticed, particularly if the losers are associated with a bad cause. So it was in the case of one side of Eerkens’ family, her grandfather a member of a Dutch nationalist party with ties to the Nazi occupiers. She writes dolefully of discovering an article of his that she turned up in the National Library, “someone who supposedly had Jewish colleagues and friends whom he spoke highly of, writing clearly anti-Semitic, racist nonsense for a racist NSB publication.” Understandably, that grandfather did not wish to discuss his past, and the author’s mother was too young to comprehend events, though her older siblings recalled being shunned and cursed by their neighbors. On the other side of the family and politics was her father, imprisoned with his family in the Dutch East Indies; Eerkens focuses closely on the fact that the Japanese military ran “brutal labor camps for civilian prisoners including women and children,” to terrible effect. The author examines the psychology of loss on the part of children caught helplessly in tumultuous events. In the case of her parents, who met as adults after the war and raised their family in California, their experiences lingered in large and small things—e.g., her mother’s frugality, explained by her aunt with the meaningful phrase, “we aren’t just automatically entitled to nice things.” Privations and fears became ancestral memories “imprinted on my genes.” Eerkens’ work takes on a particularly timely note when, in closing, she notes the rise of a new wave of nationalism, a time when “people I know and care about have endorsed candidates and political positions that I find unconscionable,” reverberating again through the generations.
The sins of the fathers are visited on their children, indeed. Eerkens’ poignant book sheds new light on the history of World War II.