Some books are about historical events; some make you feel you are there. AN ADDRESS IN AMSTERDAM, by Mary Dingee Fillmore, is a masterfully crafted story that made me feel I was living through the first few years of World War II while living as a Jew in Amsterdam.
Fillmore tells a story so engrossing that even the best informed student of the war will be surprised by every lurch to a baser depredation. Life is normal, then a little less so, then abnormal but fixable, and finally, the truth dawns, perhaps too late to overcome.
The reader lives through those days with the Klein family. The father, a doctor, is reluctant to escape from the impending danger, thus leaving his patients without medical care. Raised and educated in Germany, he finds it hard to believe that Germans would do the things they are accused of. The Dutch mother is caught between devotion to her husband and her logical predictions of their fate. The main protagonist is their daughter, a girl caught between life as a normal teenager and an unimaginable apocalypse.
Fillmore’s 13 years of research is woven tightly into the story. Each event flows gracefully into the next. The lurking German soldiers, the odors in the cramped basement hideaway, the venality and/or courage of those would help, the hunger and thirst, the fragility of good intentions, the desperate sex between starved and terrified lovers…all are described as firmly and fully as one would describe a weekend picnic. Fillmore leaves it up to the reader to find the terror, a far more effective literary goal than announcing “They were terrified!”
The book is both hard to put down and deeply informative. This reader made the connection to the unimaginable apocalypses pressing upon us all today. For people with Jewish connections, this story adds nuance and depth to a well-trod era. For everyone regardless of background, the story cries out for us to pay attention and find solutions, though it also shows us how difficult it is to do the right thing when so many people and events are pressing from all sides. This book all about being human, with all the danger, passion, energy, beauty, and danger that entails.