“It was difficult to imagine a time without Nazis patrolling the streets. Their presence was a constant reminder that the Germans had control over everything in our lives, right down to how much sugar we could have in our porridge.”
Actually, it was much worse than that, as described in Johannes Krane’s gripping memoir, “Innocence Denied: A Holocaust Childhood.”
More than what was affected by day under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during the height of World War II — be it hunger or warmth — it was the uncertainty and constant fear of what could happen by night — the so-called razzias, with Nazis raiding homes without warning with rifles drawn at all hours in search of able men and women to take away to work camps.
Johannes, 10 years old at the time, had other complications: Both his parents were deaf and mute, making him and his older brother, Dick, their ears and voice to the outside world in their small village of Beverwijk, northwest of Amsterdam.
And there was yet another wrinkle: His mother pushed him into illegal activities such as stealing food and supplies and selling food coupons on the black market. It was a life of crime but a matter of survival. And the more he’d do it, the easier it would become, any issues of morality quickly dissolving with the obsession to supply his father with a decent meal.
“I was ashamed of our lifestyle, but at the same time I was pleased with myself. It was a good feeling to be able to put food on our table, to make my mother proud of me.”
“Innocence Denied” seems the perfect title for Krane’s narrative. It was a childhood lost — so disturbing and haunting that it took the author well into his adult life to sit down and write about it. “It took many years to write this book … But my family’s situation in that time was very unique, and over the years, the thought increasingly weighed on me to share our story.”
Readers feel the true tension and terror, from Krane’s descriptions of looking both ways before sneaking a stolen loaf of bread into his bag, to lying face down in a puddle with mud-soaked clothing hiding from his Nazi pursuers after fleeing from peril, to scurrying to stash his father awkwardly under a staircase so he would not be discovered during a Nazi raid and to quickly dispose of his father’s soup bowl so it would not appear there were four seated to dinner.
It’s a gritty, gut-wrenching tale of resourcefulness, bravery, accountability and responsibility — of trying to maintain hope in a world where it is slim.
Krane’s hesitancy to tell his story was a belief that people had enough war stories. Fortunately for readers, he saw past this concern. “My goal is to recount how we two young brothers had to fight every day to survive and to offer the unique perspective of what it was like to be the children of deaf and mute parents during the horrors of such a world-shattering war.”
“We witnessed our countrymen’s survival tactics that often had deadly consequences. But we devised our own survival strategies, and at our mother’s insistence, we learned how to break the law to ensure our family’s survival.”