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Resistance On A Bicycle Book Review
It is a story at once too horrific, too impassioned and too triumphant to be true, yet it is.
Dirk van Leenen’s biography reads like a fictional masterpiece. The book follows the story of a young Cornelius ( based on Dirk) , his parents and the defiant Dutch city of The Hague, which gave up their own safety to protect the Jews during WWII.
Cornelius’ mother is a Jew who, by a simple clerical error, did not have her maiden name properly recorded in the official town records when she married a Gentile. It is that oversight that keeps her from being killed by the Nazis.
It is her husband’s kindness, charity and honor that keeps his family and the Jews hidden beneath the floorboards of their humble home in the city alive. Once, when Cornelius was only three-years-old, he had thought that the impressive soldiers were playing a game of hide-and-seek and he was ready to give them hints where to look, that his mother, Johanna had to pull him away from the scene, putting her finger on her mouth as a gesture which he understood very well: keep it a secret where our friends are hidden.
“Resistance on a Bicycle” is a novel, but all the stories are very true. Many of the tales are compilations Dirk gathered from his own recollections and from other WWII survivors not many of whom are any longer alive. Each chapter is a movingly written saga in itself about the previous forgotten heroes who risked their own lives to save the lives of people they had never met before. Van Leenen takes the reader along with the members of the Resistance as they dress Jews as farm workers and hide God’s Chosen people on ambulance gurneys beneath real wounded looking (soldiers) to transport the out of the country. The reader fears for the safety of the elderly Dutch neighbor who risked her own life purely for the payment of hearing someone she has aided to survive the war.
The Resistance was everywhere and the Germans would never be able to defeat such a determined people. “Resistance on a Bicycle” was written at the urging of Dirk’s grandchildren and is a poignant tribute to the author’s father, Kees. Earlier in the book de great man is handcuffed, thrown in jail and questioned by the Gestapo. Once in a jail cell he fell on his knees and prayed for his enemy: Lord, give them compassion and wisdom. Please let them behave humane. The Gestapo was never humane. It is a credit to Van Leenen’s skill as a story teller that Cornelius naivete comes across even as the boy is witnessing unimaginable cruelty. It is a credit to Van Leenen’s powerful words that the struggle of a father to both shelter his boy’s innocence and protect his son from danger- it is so clearly and painfully portrayed.
Eventually, Van Leenen relates Kees’ words to his child: “This is not a game son, this is called War”. ”Resistance on a Bicycle” is much more than a biography. It is more than a novel. It is the moving story of a father and son that will stay with every parent who turns its pages long after the saga has ended. The reader has no choice but to reflect on whom their own life has touched. To question their own heroism and to wonder: Do any of us have the strength of character to risk our families to save the lives of families we have never met.