This meandering but mesmerizing memoir details the political and social turmoil of World War II through the eyes of an intrepid courier for the headquarters of the Italian resistance movement.
De Hoog’s journey begins and ends at Mauthausen, the site of a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Austria. It was to Mauthausen he was taken on January 8, 1945, “four murderous months before the end of WWII,” in a cattle car barreling through the snow-dressed peaks. Sent there after he and other top resistance leaders were arrested by the Gestapo, he escapes by leaping from the train and finding his way back to Bolzano. He becomes involved in the Italian resistance in 1944, participating in life-or-death missions and raids. De Hoog’s memoir recounts anecdote after anecdote of wartime chaos: Among many other things, he comments on the “abiding personal hatred” the Nazi SS guards displayed for their prisoners, the “Calvary path” of stone steps the prisoners were forced to climb at Mauthausen and the censored correspondence from his sister Caroline about the miseries of German occupation in Amsterdam. De Hoog, who used the code name Martino in honor of his brother, a soldier who perished in the Dutch army, illustrates not only the frights of upheaval, but its small miracles and unexpected blessings. He writes, for instance, of a conservative resistance leader staging a raid to free a member of a more liberal sect. As the volume concludes, it’s revealed that a 1983 trip to Mauthausen prompted the author’s recollection of terror. While large-scale accounts of WWII will provide a more comprehensive overview of its conflicts, De Hoog’s firsthand version teems with humanity not often found in such surveys. It’s written with the same measures of ethical commitment and intelligence that seem to have helped him outpace his German persecutors.
A lush, unsparing narrative that honors history and emotion.