The Heart Has Reasons: Holocaust Rescuers and Their Stories of Courage

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"You can't let people be treated in an inhuman way around you. . . . Otherwise you start to become inhuman."

So speaks rescuer Hetty Voûte in The Heart Has Reasons, a remarkable book that provides both a fresh look at the "righteous gentiles," and a meditation on what they might have to teach us more than half a century after they defied Hitler.

In 1996, Mark Klempner sought out some of the last surviving Dutch rescuers of Jewish children to better understand how and why they made their courageous choices. Inspired by their willingness to risk everything to help others during the war, the author became deeply interested in what the rescuers have done with their lives since, and where their moral compasses point today.

What emerges is both a window to the past and a vision for the future. If the rescuers could remain committed to making a difference while under the boot of the Nazi regime, we surely have something to learn from them about taking a stand against injustices, about maintaining an open heart, and about not giving in or giving up. Framed by Klempner's quest for meaning, their words resonate across generations, providing insightful guidance as to how people of conscience can navigate ethically in an increasingly complex world.

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Editorial Reviews

"Klempner examines the lives of 10 Dutch rescuers who saved Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of their country during World War II. Some of them were primarily involved in helping to find safe addresses for the young people and then transporting them to those addresses. Three rescuers took Jewish children into their homes. One rescuer made regular visits to the houses where the children were hiding, bringing the host families food, ration coupons, and money. Another helped to raise money and one of them stole large supplies of ration coupons from government offices. One of them developed intricate security measures to ensure that the whereabouts of the children would not be found out, even if he or other members of the Amsterdam Student Group were arrested. All together, the 10 people profiled here, and other children's rescuers throughout the Netherlands, were able to save more than 4,000 young lives. These poignant stories shed light on one of the darkest episodes in the twentieth century."
Catholic New Times (Canada)
The portraits in the book are honest and complex.... Klempner's relationship with the rescuers worked at many deep levels.... Intriguingly, he stays in close contact with people he interviewed, even 10 years later. By now, half of the people Klempner featured in this book have died. The rest are aging. None are famous. Yet, their stories are invaluable....

The rescuers, by their brave and exceptional examples, continue to challenge us with what we must all hear and learn. They remind us that governments are not always trustworthy and should not always be obeyed. They caution us against being taken in by the big lies of those in power. They call us to compassion and empathy, especially for those who are vulnerable before state policies. They challenge us to live by faith and conscience. Most of all they demonstrate that even in the face of overwhelming horrors, one can resist evil without becoming evil....

Guardian (U.K.)
For those of us addicted to Holocaust memoirs, 2006 was a banner year, with the release, among others, of Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost (HarperCollins) and Mark Klempner's The Heart Has Reasons (Pilgrim Press). The two books complement each other in that, to use Elie Wiesel's nomenclature, The Lost is "night" while The Heart Has Reasons is "dawn." Mendelsohn dives headfirst into the dark tale of what the Nazis did to his forebears in Poland, while Klempner presents the stories and wisdom of those few Dutch people who risked their lives to try to save their Jewish neighbours.
Midwest Book Review
"Enhanced with an informative foreword by Christopher R. Browning, The Heart Has Reasons: Holocaust Rescuers And Their Stories Of Courage by folklorist and oral historian Mark Klempner is the account of how many valiant people worked at great personal peril through the Holocaust and Hitler's Reign to save Jewish children and others from being murdered in the Nazi death camps. Guiding readers through the epic and heroic tales of these Dutch rescuers, The Heart Has Reasons vividly recounts deeply terrifying efforts of ten gallantly individual experiences. Superbly presented and an important addition to the growing library of Holocaust literature, The Heart Has Reasons is very highly recommended reading, especially for all historians and students of the Dutch involvement in World War II."
Oral History Review
Klempner strikes a masterful balance between self-revelation and scholarly restraint. He tells his narrators as well as his readers why his own history makes him so intensely engaged in this subject, and later he reflects on the ways the interviews have changed him. Through the oral histories he presents here, the Netherlands during this most terrible of times becomes known on a personal level and on a societal level, as well. The narrators reflect not only on the wartime experience but also on its effects on their lives ever after. Resistance work presented in the entire context of these lives is a remarkable contribution to the literature of the social history of this war. This is a book that will haunt any reader; needless to say, it can profitably be used in courses in modern European history.
Publishers Weekly
Asked why she helped save Jewish children during Germany's occupation of Holland in WWII while so many others stood by, Clara Dijkstra replies, "The heart has reasons." Klempner, a folklorist and oral historian, attempts to explore some of those reasons through interviews with 10 Dutch resisters who rescued Jews from the Nazis. Each of the chapters includes a short introduction, a first-person narrative from the rescuer, followed by a question and answer format and historical information. The result is often choppy; a straight and more integrated narrative throughout each chapter would serve these powerful stories better. As the son of a Holocaust survivor, the author uses the book to come to terms with his family's past and figure out what to do with his life. The dual objectives of profiling rescuers and wrestling with personal issues don't always work well together; the narrative often shifts uncomfortably between a focus on the rescuers and the author's focus on himself. But the summary chapter, which explores the lessons learned from the resisters and the application of those lessons for today's world is a highlight. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
World War II was a dark time of widespread evil, brightened by the quiet acts of humanity of ordinary individuals. In this work, offered by a publisher affiliated with the United Church of Christ, folklorist Klempner recounts the stories of ten brave people who risked everything to save Dutch Jewish children because they felt a responsibility for those being mistreated. Their oral histories are filled with interesting details of daily life under the Nazi boot, how they conspired to defy a brutal dictatorship, and their constant fear of discovery. The author conducted these interviews also as a way of discovering more about the life of his father, himself a quiet survivor. Those interested in this topic should also review Andre Stein's Quiet Heroes: True Stories of the Rescue of Jews by Christians in Nazi-Occupied Holland, Pearl M. Oliner's more academic Saving the Forsaken: Religious Culture and the Rescue of Jews in Nazi Europe, and The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations: Rescuers of the Jews During the Holocaust; The Netherlands, edited by Jozeph Michman and Bert Jan Flim. Although the broader historical issue is important-particularly when there are dangerous extremists who deny that the Holocaust even took place-this particular volume is an optional purchase most suitable for public libraries and collections specializing in this subject.-Daniel K. Blewett, College of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780829816990
  • Publisher: Pilgrim Press, The/United Church Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Pages: 235
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Hetty Voute : invincible summer 19
2 Heiltje Kooistra : faith like a rock 45
3 Rut Matthijsen : chemistry of compassion 63
4 Gisela Sohnlein : on wings of song 75
5 Clara Dijkstra : divine mother 85
6 Kees Veenstra : just the human thing to do 105
7 Janet Kalff : a glimpse of grace 127
8 Pieter Meerburg : mastermind of the heart 133
9 Mieke Vermeer : staring truth in the face 157
10 Theo Leenders : laughing it all away 169
11 The heart has reasons 193
12 Reflections 209
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"I have spent much of my professional career trying to put a human face on the ordinary men who committed asks of unspeakable evil. Like no other work I have read, The Heart Has Reasons puts a human face on those who committed acts of inestimable goodness."-Christopher R. Browning.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2006

    moving, profound, wise

    I have read a number of books about Holocaust rescuers, but this is the first one that follows the rescuers into their post-war lives and discusses how they continue to help people out, do the right thing, and try to make a difference. Klempner asks them what they think about everything from the violence in Iraq to the violence on TV, and their responses are both wise and profound. I believe America sorely needs to listen to moral voices such as those that speak in this book, and I hope many people will read it. The stories about what the rescuers did during the Holocaust are both hair-raising and inspiring, and there are a great deal of them to be found here also.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2006

    Learning to be a hero

    Another book about Holocaust rescuers? That might be a first reaction to The Heart Has Reasons - but this one is far beyond just more of the same. It focuses on motivation and context: why did these Dutch non-Jews risk so much to help Jews? Are they better people than ordinary folks? The answers that keep popping up are all about the personal and cultural histories of the rescuers that taught them, directly and by experience, to think independently and to value all people as equally human. Their first steps as rescuers were usually small and compelling, the kind of thing you or I might actually do. Their stories of increasing heroism are not only an inspiration to the rest of us, they are genuine and realistic examples. These people are special not because of who they are but because of what they felt obliged to do. The ordinariness of heroism and the assumptions it depends on are the main threads in this book. I found it a very refreshing, helpful note in this cynical age.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2006

    decency and heroism

    In today's society, it is often in the news when people do the wrong thing and seldom reported when we as individuals or societities do the right thing. In this book, the author allows the rescuers to tell their stories in their own words and clearly separates those words from his own. He maintains that one of the reasons these heroic individuals were able to mobilize was that they were individual thinkers. By using a slightly different format, he has enabled the reader to follow that same process and be an individual thinker instead of maintaining that he (the author) has THE ONE AND ONLY ANSWER to any or all of the issues he raises in his book. An interesting, thought provoking book with many wonderful stories that show how individuals managed to maintain their beliefs in basic human decency when their whole world was shattered. I would recommend it to anyone who cares about the world around them and the people in it. It can be read as a whole or digested in small segments. It has something to offer almost any reader.

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