De Groot took the letters home that night and read through them, struck but
the increasing sense of fear that the young man expressed. Moved by the
correspondence, the foreman took them to the Dutch National Institute of War
Documentation, where he had once done a job. The only condition he made was
that he eventually be told what had happened to the young man and his
family, and if there were any survivors.
As the book’s publisher and co-annotator, Deborah Slier, states in her
introductory remarks to Hidden Letters, this book is De Groot’s answer.
Slier annotated Flip’s wartime correspondence, and her children’s book
company, Star Bright Books, has published the work, their first adult title.
Slier’s interest in this project goes beyond just being a publisher with a
book to sell; Flip also happened to be her first cousin.
The publisher came into possession of the letters in 1999. She and her
co-annotator Ian Shine then spent seven years researching the story behind
the correspondence, tracking down the references Flip made and fully
identifying all the people the young man knew or spoke of (the letters were
translated by Marion van Binsbergen-Pritchard). The annotators also
attempted to recreate the atmosphere in Netherlands during the German
“As my explorations widened and deepened,” wrote Slier, “Flip’s world
gradually came into focus. Once I had photographs, documents ad local
knowledge, it became easier to understand the conditions under which Flip
was living in camp, to understand his fears, and above all, to appreciate
his spirit, courage, optimism and generosity.”
Flip’s father and Slier’s father were brothers, both born in Amsterdam. In
1922, Slier’s father emigrated to South Africa. She notes in her
introduction that she remembers the day in 1940 when she came from school to
find her mother in tears because the Germans had invaded the Netherlands. At
war’s end, a letter came to South Africa saying that all of the Slier
brothers and sister had died in camps, and their mother had died in
Westerbork—the infamous transit camp in the Netherlands. That was the only
time the publisher said that she ever saw her father cry.
The German invasion took place on May 10, 1940, and Slier says that for the
next year, life on Vrolik Street remained pretty much as it had always been.
The Nazis tightened their grip so slowly and cleverly, she suggests that the
attitude toward the Jews did not seem particularly hostile.
According to the publisher, the German policy in the Netherlands was an
effort to fortify the coast against an Allied invasion, integrate the
country into the greater Reich, steal whatever they could, put the Dutch to
work as slave-laborers and purge the country of its Jews. “By 1942," she
writes, “Jews were prohibited from almost all types of work. Once they were
unemployed, they were sent to one of about 50 work camps set up throughout
the Netherlands, which were, in reality, holding pens. In the spring of
1942, at age 18, Flip was one of 7,000 Jews sent to a Dutch work camp. From
there he wrote to friends and family almost daily, and his letters now
provide [an] eyewitness account of life in camp Molengoot.”
Flip was 17 at the time of the invasion, working as an apprentice typesetter
for the Algemeen Handelsblad, a daily newspaper where his father was also
employed. In the little bio included in the book, it states that he was just
about 5 feet, 8 inches tall, weighed 156 pounds, had black hair and grey
eyes. “He was a good-natured, gregarious young man who was described by his
friend Karel van der Schaarf as brutaal—that is, audacious.” He was also a
dedicated photographer, and, we are told, many of the photos of family and
friends spread throughout this large, ultimately tragic, scrapbook-like
volume were taken by Flip.
In late April of 1943, the young man received a letter from the Jewish
Council, the Judenrat-type group in Amsterdam, ordering him to take a train
to Hardenberg, which is 80 miles east of Amsterdam; from there, he walked
to the Molengoot camp.
In these chatty letters to his parents, Flip tries to be upbeat, and
generally he succeeds, but there always comes that moment when reality
breaks in. In an early one, he makes reference to a relative and says that,
if he had to do the kind of work Flip and his friends are ding at the camp,
even for one day, “he would collapse. Let him stay in A[msterdam]. It’s no
Then Flip immediately returns to his cheery tone: “But again I will get
through it. If anything happens here, I will be gone in no time.”
And he held to his word. When the possibility arose of the camp being
evacuated, Flip escaped. By then, he knew that certain members of his family
had died in Auschwitz, and he understood what his fate might be.
HIDDEN FOR A TIME
He got to Amsterdam and was offered a place to hide. He occasionally saw
friends, and was near enough to see his family now and again. By then, he
had dyed his hair and had false papers.
But on March 3, 1943, Flip was arrested at Amsterdam Central Station and
taken to Vught, another wretched camp in Holland. It is reported that Flip
never recovered from this experience.
From Vught, he was sent to Sobibor in Poland, where he was murdered.
More than 300 photographs, maps ad documents illustrate this sad but
compulsively readable, coffee-table-sized volume. Because this is an
Amsterdam story, Anne Frank is evoked, but in this instance, the comparison
is not disproportionate. Flip’s extraordinary sprit and the irrepressible
nature of his personality come directly through his 86 pieces of
correspondence. When you read them—you touch—and are touched by—an