The remarkable story of how a consul and his allies helped save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust in one of the greatest rescue operations of the twentieth century.
In May 1940, Jan Zwartendijk, the director of the Lithuanian branch of the Philips electrical-goods company, stepped into history when he accepted the honorary role of Dutch consul.
In Kaunas, the capital of Lithuania, desperate Jewish refugees faced annihilation in the Holocaust. That was when Zwartendijk — with the help of Chiune Sugihara, the consul for Japan, and the Dutch ambassador in Riga, Latvia — chose to break his country’s diplomatic rules. He opened up a possible route to freedom through the ruse of issuing visas to the Dutch colony of Curaçao on the other side of the world. Thanks to these visas, and Sugihara’s approval of onward passage, many Jews — up to 10,000 — were able to travel on the Trans-Siberian Express all through Soviet Russia to Vladivostok, further to Japan, and onwards to China.
Most of the Jews whom Zwartendijk helped escape survived the war, and they and their descendants settled in America, Canada, Australia, and other countries. Zwartendijk and Sugihara were true heroes, and yet they were both shunned by their own countries after the war, and their courageous, unstinting actions have remained relatively unknown.
In The Just, renowned Dutch author Jan Brokken wrests this heroic story from oblivion and traces the journeys of a number of the rescued Jews. This epic narrative shows how, even in life-threatening circumstances, some people make the right choice at the right time. It is a lesson in character and courage.
‘He [Zwartendijk] filled desperate lives with hope during a period of great darkness, and his actions will remain a beacon of decency and righteousness for generations to come.’
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‘The Just is a riveting epic, a masterful interweaving of many threads and many journeys, written with consummate skill, clarity, and acute insight into human nature. Brokken restores to history, and to memory, acts of profound goodness and courage performed by individuals who responded to the frantic knock on the door by displaced people whose lives were in great peril. It will inspire you.’
Arnold Zable, author of Café Scheherazade
‘Brokken’s The Just is a monumental reconstruction of this forgotten history. I say monumental due to the thoroughness and breadth of Brokken’s work.’
‘Jan Brokken has built a monument to Jan Zwartendijk … He makes time fan out not in length but in breadth, and does so cleverly, with dozens of characters whose lives interconnect.’
‘According to Geert Mak, Jan Brokken is one of the greatest Dutch writers. That is no exaggeration. Throughout his writing career, Brokken has shown that he is a masterful storyteller. Moreover, he is endowed with the rare talent to extract a profoundly human story from the most wide-ranging subjects. He is also credited with the ‘invention’ of a new genre in Dutch literature, a mixture of spirited travelogue, imagination and documentary expertise.’
Praise for Jan Brokken:
‘In Jan Brokken’s hands, the combination of research, imagination, observation and involvement always changes into gold. When it comes to narrative nonfiction, he is one of the best writers in the Dutch language.’