Book Review: Ajax, The Dutch, The WarNov 30, 2021
A little background on me before I dive into the book review.
By 2015 my healing journey & military work allowed me to travel in Europe & create a life both there & in Chicago. I became embedded in Dutch society, life, relationships, healthcare, politics, culture, got a deep dive into grief when I became a caregiver to someone I was married to in the Netherlands. All of that gave me a unique perspective on our world & the layers of trauma we each carry, no matter where we live.
I visited battlefields & burial sites, religious & cultural sites, heard family & war stories, some of which brought me to my knees in grief as I channeled the people telling the stories. I understand context that many people do not. This makes me unique in the way I can help clients heal on both sides of the ocean to explore their personal & ancestral family patterns & war trauma. I have studied & understand genealogy & military records, & what information, secrets, patterns, inherited trauma, feelings, & emotions they may share.
I'm both an outsider and yet, not quite an outsider. I question everything.
Please note the author makes it clear the original Dutch version is not as expanded as the later written English version. He conducted more interviews and did more research for the English version. If you want to entire story, read the English version.
I'm not a huge fan of sports to be honest. I did attend several Sparta Rotterdam games and watched a lot of Chelsea (UK) football when I was married and living in the Netherlands. Before that I mostly watched sports with my boys on occasion. However, I really enjoyed this book, Ajax, The Dutch. The War. I even enjoyed the football stories!
It really gave me a different look at Dutch culture, the war, how and why some commemorate everything about the war (that comes from guilt and shame primarily from what I gleamed in this book), and put many puzzle pieces together of things I intuitively sensed, but the people I surrounded myself with either denied or ignored. There is a cultural narrative to uphold that a good Dutch citizen can't deviate from. I have seen this cultural narrative in every country, including the U.S. Isn't it time we stop following the narrative and be honest and heal?
Traveling in Europe, living in the Netherlands, exploring different cultures, being embedded in society, having attended numerous WWII commemorations and memorial services, and having a military research background, I got a different experience of the Dutch than I had after six years back and forth overseas.
This book talks about Ajax, the Amsterdam football club and their ties to the local Jewish Community (pre-WWII annihilation.) The author shares stories about the Jewish players, what happened to them, how the club treated them, and what took place after the war. The author also tells stories of other country players from Germany, the UK, Italy. We learn how in many countries, especially the Netherlands, football was continued to be played because the country was occupied and not really at war, as compared to other countries, until the Allies arrived late 1944.
We also learn about many of the Dutch football clubs, their history, their history with Jews, and the history pre- and post-WWII. Who was kicked out? Who was fought for? How did football just keep going no matter what?
The author is not a born in the Netherlands Dutch man, although he did grow up in Leiden. He has an outsiders perspective of the "good" Dutch during the and the "bad" Dutch during the war based on the interviews he conducted and the research he did. How interesting it was to learn that the Dutch Institute for War Documentation in Amsterdam carries a lot of materials on the Resistance and very little on the Collaborators. I've often heard from Dutch friends how stupid and backwards Americans are because we rewrite our history, but they do the same thing. Every country does this. Hide the history you don't want people to see because it might change how outsiders view you.
The author explained the pillars of Dutch society from centuries ago and how they were always taught to OBEY. CONFORM. Be LAW ABIDING. DO NOT SHINE TOO BRIGHT. NEVER ASK QUESTIONS. This type of cultural programming was reinforced during the war and the Dutch citizens ended up being taken over by the Germans and helped them round up the Jews. Yes, there was resistance but the way the author explains it, many citizens barely knew there was a war on because they continued with life as normal, outside of Rotterdam which had been bombed, and until late 1944 when the Allies arrived to shake up the country, and then the Hunger Winter took place before the north was liberated. The Dutch really didn't suffer as they say they did until the Allies arrived. The way I have always heard it, the Dutch suffered the entire war, but if you honestly look at the timeline......I question that. Was there fear there? Yes. Was there constant daily destruction the entire time they were occupied? No. The author gives some compelling evidence of all of this.
The author shares so many stories and so much research, it really made me question everything I knew about the war in the Netherlands, or any country really. Since I read this book, several other books and resources have shown up to give me a different perspective of the war, especially in Germany. I invite you to question everything you were taught and consider changing your mind and possibly healing the past.
It was interesting to read about the football clubs ongoing games in the country, throughout Europe and the UK as the war was raging. Football it seems never really ended. The author shares where in the Netherlands and at which football stadiums you find war memorials. And which you do not because the club wants to hide their past.
I would say the overall theme of the book is how did the Dutch really function during the war? The author argues: "Intellectually most Dutch people who think about the war know the Netherlands was cowardly and grey. Yet, as Orwell said, it is possible to know and not know at the same time. Alongside this knowledge there survives a hardy popular fantasy of a heroic little land where everyone was in the Resistance, Asterix's village writ large. This is the story the Dutch prefer to tell foreigners."
That is the story I have always been told, yet this book made me question all of it.
Have you read this book? There is so much I could say about it but that would skew your opinion if you read it. If you looked at my copy, it is tabbed up with colorful tabs - probably about 50 and the pages are written on and passages underlined. I had a lot of strong emotions move through me as I read this book. Not only because I lived in the Netherlands and listened to the stories, attended the events and bought into their version of the narrative, but also because it opened up space for me to question and change my perspective on the entire war and all the people involved. It opened space for healing to come through for me, for them, the past, and the trauma that still resides there.
Honestly if you read this book, it is one you could go back to again and see the deeper layers of history - especially as it has repeated today. As I have watched the Dutch news since March 2020, I see so many similarities between WWII and this global war today. I understand how their culture and personal/cultural/collective trauma forms the individuals as it does. No judgment, just witnessing the past and present. Wondering how their society will change in the future. No matter which country you live in, you will learn something from this book.
Since reading this book and having gone through everything I did in Europe, more of my experience and journey makes sense. All those intuitive hits I got that I couldn't figure out or they wouldn't fit into the giant puzzle that is my life - now they do.
If you enjoy learning the non-politically correct narrative of a subject, exploring different perspectives, have an open mind which invites change, I highly recommend this book.
If you would like to explore more of your stories and how your ancestors and culture affects you, sign up for my course, Exploring Family Patterns and Stories. It might just change how you look at yourself and your family.
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