January’s 4th and final book was actually its third in that I started reading it after the one on Popeye people, or Holy Discontent…but I finished it last – in fact, I finished it yesterday, on the 2nd of February. Oops!
The book was Things We Couldn’t Say, by Diet Eman. In a word, I would describe it as WOW. And maybe that’s why it was so hard to finish (I took a break to read Undaunted). Diet Eman, the author, because her psychologist told her it would be ‘good therapy’ and because she felt she had a story to share, writes with astoundingly clear memory about her years as was a 20-something year old who hid Jews during WWII with her fiance, Hein Sietsma. Both Dutch, they were a key part of the underground resistance movement which worked tirelessly to provide shelter and safety for Jews in the Netherlands, taking significant risks and making huge sacrificed for this. The end of the book tells us that all the Jews the group hid in the countryside made it through the war – some others, and other friends met along the way, were killed. Both experience imprisonment, trial, and concentration camp as punishment for the work they did. The book is long with so many stories to tell, and is often painful to read. The sorrow and suffering come through so strongly – through the accounts of people Eman knew in her fellow activist groups, through her relationship with Hein, in her times in prison and concentration camp, and in life as a survivor of the war when it finished.
But these are interspersed by Eman finding humour, observing things about the normalcy of life, and the sweet love she expresses throughout the book for Sietsma, to whom she became engaged shortly before having to go into hiding because the Germans wanted to stop her tireless work. Their relationship is sung mainly through printed letters in the book which they wrote and smuggled to each other. They were friends and colleagues, and dreamt of being lovers after the war. Sadly, this never happened: Hein died in a concentration camp. Diet found out about this months after it had happened, when she had escaped and was waiting for what she felt would be her final sign the war was over.
The third ‘flavour’ of the book is one of a very challenging faith. Countless times Eman, through her diary excerpts, is seen to be praying for peace, for freedom, for comfort – and does not often, if ever, get it. But she holds on to a faith in a God who might be faithful in suffering, whilst not shying away from asking questions, allowing herself to feel anger and disappointment, to doubt and search for reasonable truth. I can’t imagine the suffering Eman knew, both in her life and in the lives of those she walked with, but I know what it’s like to wonder what God is doing, or what kind of God would allow the things that happen in the world to be. I think Eman’s honesty is what is so inspiring about her faith: she doesn’t gloss over her anger, her questions or her doubt. The experience of the war robbed her of much: perhaps moreso even after it had ended. She talks of the emptiness, the fatigue, the lack of desire to do anything, the memory problems, the mental struggles. She ends the book with simply this,
“We break our promises, but our Lord never does.
He told us, ‘Lo, I am with you always.’ ”
Eman includes a letter, towards the end of the book, sent to her by one of Sietsma’s colleagues after he found out about his death. He writes,
“Life is like a film screen: pictures come, making an impression, go, and then make a place for new pictures with new impressions which obscure the pervious ones. Some of those old pictures fade, but the impressions they leave will never pass away. Such an impression is the image of Hein Sietsma…”
I think the same can be said about Diet Eman. Watch her tell her story below.