Guest Author - Barbara Rice DeShong, PhD.
What kind of person can betray not just his friends, but even his religion? What kind of person could not only arrange the murder of fellow countrymen, but arrange it so that when they are slaughtered, they will have with them every valuable they own? He can get away with such a horror because in 1944 Germany, mass killings of Jews were not considered crimes.
Zwartboek (Black Book, 2006) takes place in the last phases of World War II., at a time when orders are confusing and profiteering was more important than politics. Rachel (Clarice van Houton) is a young Jewish woman separated from her family and hiding on a Dutch farm. A crippled Allied bomber hits the Dutch family’s house, killing everyone but Rachel who is sheltered by a young man from a neighboring farm. Rachel has no money and cannot stay long where she is. A policeman comes by informing her that her hiding place is known, and she is about to be arrested. This policeman, Van Gein (Peter Blok) says he knows of a way for her to escape, but she must have money. She goes to visit her father’s lawyer in the city. He gives her the money and a warning not to trust everyone she meets.
She joins the group a group of other escaping Jews (including her parents and brother) on a barge down the river. All passengers have brought all their jewels and money. The barge is attacked by machine-gunners. Rachel survives by going overboard, but her family and the others are slaughtered as the soldiers clammer aboard throwing booty into bags they’ve brought for that purpose. From here the story follows Rachel as she is rescued by a resistance group who smuggles her into their camp by claiming she is a typhoid victim and transporting her body in coffins designed with holes. She joins the resistance alongside her new boyfriend, Hans (Thom Hoffman) and ends up with the confidence of the Nazi commander in the area, a man whom she hates, but to whom she is also attracted because of his humane character. The commander, aware that the war is over, wants to ignore orders to continuing to execute Jews as the Allies are already honoring the order to not execute Germans, but his second in command betrays him.
Throughout the story, Rachel has been determined to learn who set her and her family up to be murdered and so cleverly relieved of all their worldly goods. She returns to her father’s lawyer’s office where she learns that Hans, her boyfriend and “leader” of the resistance, had been the one keeping a list in a black book, a list of wealthy Jews. He was the one who brought in the policeman to direct his “fellow Jews” to the pretended escape barge. The war over, Hans is a hero until Rachel exposes him. He hides among old friends who try to help him escape using the leaky coffin method. Rachel knows to watch for such a ploy and waylays the transport. Along with her compadre, after the transport is stopped, Rachel seals the air holes and walks away to stare at a pond while he dies.