Diet’s story is true. She had to keep a secret. Several secrets, actually. People depended upon her to keep her silence so that they could live.
While rifling through an enormous stack of books in my apartment two days ago, I rediscovered the book Things We Couldn’t Say by Diet Eman. I’ve had this book for years, but never bothered to read it because something else came along or I was too lazy to read it. Finally, I decided to read this book and see what it’s all about.
Diet Eman, a Dutch woman working against the Nazis during World War II, waited over 50 years to publish her account of the war and her experiences. She says in the preface she wanted to forget about the war and the Netherlands because of what happened there.
Diet Eman was a carefree woman who lived with her parents and worked in a bank in the Hague in the Netherlands. Her family took in another man by the name of Hein. At first, Diet was distressed by the invasion of privacy by a new person in her parent’s home because she liked how happy her family was. According to Diet, she sent clear signals to Hein to stay away from her and to not annoy her while he was living with her family. Instead, Hein fell for Diet head over heels. This sounds like a typical boy meets girl and gets the girl story, but it’s so much more. Hein joined the Dutch military. Not long after, Diet’s and Hein’s futures changed completely when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940.
Earlier that evening Hitler had promised Germany’s neighbors they would be save from invasion and respect the Dutch’s neutral status, as they had been during World War I. The Germans invaded without any declaration of war. The day before small groups of German soldiers entered the Netherlands wearing Dutch army uniforms or civilian clothes. They advanced while the ragtag Dutch army resisted. Within four days, the Dutch had the Germans until Hitler ordered the bombing of Rotterdam and every other Dutch city until they agreed to surrender.
This is a picture of Rotterdam before the bombings.
Rotterdam after the bombings.
After Rotterdam was annihilated by the Nazis, the Dutch surrendered and German occupation began. Hein, now Diet’s fiance, was moved around from town to town because of his enrollment in the army. He took on a false name and began to work for the underground resistance to save Dutch Jews by moving them, giving them false identification papers and adverting the German’s plans. Diet followed Hein’s example and worked too. She took on the false name of Willie and worked as a maid, while traveling throughout the Netherlands giving rationing cards and letters to Jews hidden throughout the country. She was arrested and imprisoned in Vught Concentration Camp for having false identification papers.
This is a gripping first-person account of Diet’s experiences in the Netherlands as a 20 something woman trying to save her fellow countrymen. She tells her tale of her love of Hein and longing to see him as well as her account of not only her suffering, but those she helped. In this book, Diet is brutally honest and shows entries from her own diary and letters. This book easily draws the reader in. I really connected with this book because I have spent large amounts of times in the Netherlands and have seen these places. What really struck me was Diet’s unshakable faith and her dedication to a cause higher than herself.