Do you know the Dutch built a village for the Jewish community in World War Two? Imogen Matthews tells the inspirational story in ‘The Hidden Village’. She has written to her readers to explain more about the forgotten history and to introduce her dramatic extract.
I’m so pleased to tell you about ‘The Hidden Village’, my novel set in WW2 Holland, deep in the Veluwe woods. It’s a story about survival, hope, despair, and ultimately, love, as a community pulls together to build a purpose-built village to shelter those persecuted by the Germans. The lives of young Sofie, Jan and Liesbeth become entwined with devastating consequences for their future.
About half-way through the book, Jan and his brother, Oscar, are arrested by the Gestapo for helping a fallen American pilot. This extract describes what happens after their terrifying journey in the back of the Nazis’ vehicle.
I chose this extract because it represents a dramatic turn in the story and shows how ruthless the Germans could be towards the Dutch people, even children.
I hope this extract will tempt you to read the book. I am delighted to present more context about the novel.
‘Is this a prison?’ he whispered to Oscar, who stood, white-faced, next to him.
‘It’s a police station but there are cells through that door,’ said Oscar.
‘They’re going to lock us up?’
‘Looks like it.’
Jan wished Oscar could be a bit more encouraging.
It was their turn next and they went up to the desk together.
‘Name,’ said the man behind the desk without looking up.
‘Oscar Mulder and Jan Mulder,’ said Oscar.
‘One at a time.’
‘We’re brothers. He’s only eleven,’ said Oscar.
Jan pushed close against him.
The man lifted his gaze for a brief moment, before going back to his form. After a short pause, he pulled out another from a pile and wrote Jan’s name in capitals across the top, followed by a line and a squiggle Jan couldn’t read.
Jan decided to let Oscar answer the questions. When he’d finished, they were both led by the smirking SS-er to the door leading to the cells. Again a feeling of panic rose from Jan’s abdomen at the prospect of being separated from his brother. They were marched along an echo-y corridor lined with closed doors. Jan had to break into a trot to keep up. At the end was a metal door that needed four keys to open it.
Jan and Oscar didn’t need telling. They walked through and the door swung back behind them with a decisive clang.’
More about the Novel
Deep in the Veluwe woods lies a secret that frustrates the Germans. Convinced that Jews are hiding somewhere close by, they can find no proof.
The secret is Berkenhout, a purpose-built village of huts, many underground, sheltering dozens of persecuted people.
Henk Hauer, head woodman, is in charge of building of underground huts and ensuring the Berkenhout inhabitants are kept safe, But could his friendship with certain German soldiers endanger the very existence of Berkenhout?
Sofie, a Jewish Dutch girl, is one of the first inhabitants of Berkenhout. At first she refuses to participate in village life and pines for her friends and family. But she realises there is no choice and comes to appreciate the support of the local community who make their survival possible.
Young tearaway, Jan, finds the woods an exciting place, but they pose danger from the patrolling German soldiers. His discovery of Donald, an American pilot, changes everything.
Ms E. Holmes-ievers: “From the first chapter you are engaged with the characters and I even found myself warning them when they were due to be raided – OUT LOUD! Sensitively written, with a page-turning plot, this is a wonderful new book from Imogen.”
Gilly Cox: “This skillful blend of fiction within the factual events happening to many at those times, holds you till the end. I couldn’t put it down, nor did I want to until the final page.”
Clarky: “Though the subject matter is tough, there are lighter moments and the book rattles along at a good pace. The varied cast of characters, especially the younger ones, keeps your interest. Highly recommended.”
This was a story I felt I had to get down, so when I’d finished I was pleased I’d told a story that so many people won’t have known anything about. It left a big hole as I’d spent so long on the book and I realised just how attached I’d become to my characters.
I miss Sofie’s feistiness and determination not to let her life change by hiding away from the Germans. And I miss her best friend Liesbeth, who sticks by Sofie through thick and thin, even though she also has to make her own big sacrifices. I even miss the enigmatic Henk, the head woodman, who’s instrumental in getting the hidden village built, but struggles with his loyalties. I particularly miss Jan, who’s always getting into scrapes but is only trying to help others and do good. He goes through so much that I just want to give him a big hug and tell him that everything will turn out alright.
My Dutch heritage has shaped me and influenced the writing of this novel, which is set in the woods where my family and I have cycled for the past 27 years.
This is a story about events in WW2 that hardly anyone knows about. Once you start reading The Hidden Village you’ll be gripped and won’t want to let the book out of your sight!
‘The Hidden Village’ is a bestseller in the US with over three hundred reviews. The novel explores wartime Holland and asks: Who can you trust? You can read my review of this book at……
Imogen re-visited the setting of the novel and has mailed an article to Books in my Handbag Blog.