In 1997, during the demolition of a small family house in Amsterdam, Manus de Groot, a foreman noticed a small bundle of papers hidden in a ceiling. The papers consisted of 86 letters, postcards, and a telegram sent from an eighteen-year-old Dutch boy, Philip “Flip” Slier to his parents while he was imprisoned in a forced labor camp in Holland.
Hidden Letters is the annotated collection of Flip’s 1942 letters. The book is the result of eight years of exceptionally detailed research, in which almost everything and everyone mentioned in the letters is presented. The annotators found and interviewed the letter writer’s best friend, his first girl friend, people who had lived through the German occupation, and six death camps survivors.
Each letter is presented as it was written, with crossings-out, insertions, spelling errors and mistakes, and the annotations by Deborah Slier and Ian Shine are neither timid nor benign.
The book reveals that many of the Dutch had German sympathies and “lost more soldiers fighting the Allies than fighting the Germans.” But Hidden Letters also relates the stories of the many Dutch who went to extraordinary lengths to help Jews and fought against the Germans. It mentions that a few Jews betrayed their fellowmen, and a few Germans helped Jews. It tells of instances of German compassion, the help given to people held at the central collection point in Amsterdam and at Sobibor to escape.
Hidden Letters does not shy away from exposing the indifference of some Jews in the US, typified by the New York Times “Staggering staining failure” to report honestly the fate of the Jews in Europe.
Hidden Letters tries to prevent genocide forever, not by remembering the past, which has its place, but by urging the prosecution of any politicians who do nothing to prevent genocide and did nothing to prevent the genocide in Rwanda, as they were obligated to do as signatories of the UN Genocide Convention.
It is not unique that the hero of Hidden Letters was a loveable person from an ordinary family, but it makes his fate more terrible.