A Family Secret – Eric Heuvel

family secretEric Heuvel is a Dutch comic book artist, so A Family Secret, a story which takes place in Amsterdam during the second world war, is perhaps a topic especially close to his heart.

Jeroen is looking for items to sell at a flea market held on Dutch Queen’s Day. He decides to head over to his grandmother’s house, hoping to score some good stuff without actually have to visit with his grandmother. Snooping through the attic, he comes across a scrapbook filled with items marking the German occupation of Holland.

“I”ll tell you why I started this scrapbook,” his grandmother tells him. Jeroen is thinking: I hope this doesn’t take long. It turns out, though, that her story is riveting.

When I was twelve or thirteen I read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. It was one of those turning point books for me, as I am sure it was for many other young people. Here was a real teenager, coping with typical teenage problems but under extraordinary circumstances. Decades later, while visiting Amsterdam, I was priviledged to visit the house where she and her family were hidden away. I can’t begin to explain to you the feeling of stepping behind the hidden door and heading up the stairs to the annex where she spent just over two years of her short life.

A Family Secret tells another one of the, I suspect, hundreds of thousands of personal stories about that horrific time in history. Jeoren’s grandmother tells of her father, a Dutch police officer, forced to make choices she doesn’t understand until years later, about her brothers, one who joins the resistance and one who joins the Nazis and of her childhood friend, Esther, a  German Jew who fled with her parents to the safety of the Netherlands…only to discover there was no safe place for them.

The graphic novel format of this particular story makes it a perfect read for reluctant readers, but all readers should get something meaningful out of the personal choices the characters are forced to make in times of great distress.

These atrocities continue to be written about, as they should. We should never be allowed to forget.