Velmans, Edith 1925-
VELMANS, Edith 1925-
Born 1925, in Netherlands; son of David (a timber merchant and artist) and Adelheid van Hessen; married Loet Velmans, 1949; children: three. Education: Columbia University, master's in gerontology.
Home—Berkshires, MA. Agent—The Susijn Agency, 3rd Floor, 64 Great Tichfield Street, London W1W 7QH, England.
Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Award, 1998, for Edith's Story.
Het verhaal van Edith, Podium (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1997, published as Edith's Story, Soho Press (New York, NY), 1998.
The author's memoir has been published in several countries, including England as Edith's Book and in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan.
Edith Velmans, the author of Edith's Story, began keeping a diary at the age of thirteen in 1938. At the time, the Dutch teenager living in The Hague was a pampered child of a well-to-do family. Two years later, her life began to change as the Germans invaded Holland and it became increasingly clear that Jewish families were in danger. In the summer of 1942, Velmans was sent into hiding with a Christian family in the south of Holland. She gave her diary to a friend for safekeeping but kept on writing letters to her parents.
"I didn't keep a diary because of the war," Velmans is quoted as saying by Linda Matchan in a Boston Globe article. "I always had this need to write things down because otherwise I felt as though they would just evaporate in the air. I felt I always was an eyewitness to things, a reporter. I was the chronicler of the family."
Velmans retrieved her diary after the war and, more than fifty years later, returned to her diary and letters to produce a family history for her grandchildren to read. However, convinced of her story's worth by her friends, Velmans proceeded to write Edith's Story, which became her published memoir of surviving the Holocaust. Combining excerpts from her diary and letters with new commentary and notes, Velmans tells her story and the story of her family as she turned from precocious, carefree teenager to a resilient young woman who worked hard to please her foster mother and to survive.
As Velmans revealed in her diary, she initially thought the war would be short lived, as she was shielded from the harsh realities by her parents and continued on in her normal day-to-day activities. But after she and her family were ordered to wear the yellow Star of David to designate them as Jews and she was no longer permitted to go to school, Velmans began to realize the seriousness of their situation. On September 2, 1941, she wrote: "This morning I had to return some books to school. When I inquired I was told it was best if I didn't show my face at school.… Funny feeling, that, not to be allowed to ride through that gate that you've cycled through every day for four years … not to be allowed to set foot in the building that you've grown fond of, whose auditorium you've often worked hard at decorating for special occasions."
After 1942, Velmans's recollections were recorded solely through letters she exchanged with her parents, written as though they were friends to protect her identity. It is largely through these letters that Velmans reveals her growing anguish as her parents are hospitalized, her mother for a hip fracture and her father for treatment of cancer. At one point, her father writes to her, "It's strange how much you can bear if your doom is parceled out in small doses. It's just like poison: if you start taking it very gradually, increasing the quantity drop by drop, then your body will eventually get used to it." Velmans's father died in the hospital, and the Germans removed her mother to a concentration camp, where she died along with Velmans's grandmother and one of her two brothers.
"In the present flood of Holocaust memoirs, this one stands out, not only because of the immediacy of the young girl's voice (in her diaries and letters of the time) but also because that raw material is shaped into a quiet, gripping narrative with the writer's hindsight and restrained commentary," wrote reviewer Hazel Rochman in Booklist. Some reviewers made inevitable comparisons between Edith's Story and the classic Holocaust memoir The Diary of Anne Frank. For Anouk Hoedman, writing in the Toronto Sun, there is no comparison. Calling Frank's diary "gut wrenching," Hoedman found the diary of Velmans to be "prone to ridiculous shallow proclamations." A contributor to Publishers Weekly, however, commented that "Velmans's powerful account stands on its own, piercingly conveying the disbelief and horror she experienced as the Nazis clamped down." Caroline Moorehead, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, concluded: "Through the pages of this touching book come echoes of a shattered family, its pieces splintered beyond repair. Edith's story is not unfamiliar, but in their detail all survivors' stories are different. They bear telling again and again."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Velmans, Edith, Edith's Story, Soho Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Booklist, October 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Edith's Story, p. 416.
Boston Globe, April 25, 2000, Linda Matchan, review of Edith's Story, p. C1.
Publishers Weekly, November 8, 1999, review of Edith's Story, p. 57.
Times Literary Supplement (London, England), Caroline Moorehead, review of Edith's Story, p. 31.
Toronto Sun, January 9, 2000, Anouk Hoedman, review of Edith's Story.
Canoe,http://www.canoe.ca/ (January 9, 2000), Anouk Hoedman, Toronto Sun, review of Edith's Story.
Susijn Agency,http://www.thesusijnagency.com/ (November 11, 2003), "Edith Velmans.*"