WeWriWa—Chanukah in Amsterdam


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

My first winter holiday snippet this year comes from And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away, which is set from 1940–46 in The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. Chapter 4, “Heroes and Cowards of History,” is set during the first Chanukah of the war.

Fourteen-year-old Jakob DeJonghe and his mother Luisa moved into the apartment of their friends Kees (Cornelius) and Gusta at the start of the book, after Jakob’s father was coerced into suicide by three Nazis and his little sister Emilia mysteriously disappeared. Jakob is quite angry about everything going on.

Chanukah party in Salonika, Greece, 1945

This year, Chanukah came “late,” compared to the Gregorian calendar. The first night was on Christmas Eve. While most of the people of Amsterdam had fancy Christmas trees in their windows and bright lights and decorations, Jakob’s new home had chanukiyot in the window. When he was a boy, Jakob had asked his father why the Christians had their big Christmas celebration on December fifth when the actual holiday was twenty days away, and Ruud had told him perhaps they were trying to make up for how their religion didn’t have so many holidays. Now Jakob wondered if Emilia had gotten presents from Sinterklaas earlier in the month, and if Heer Krusen and Vrouw Peerenboom, if they still had her, were raising her as a Christian.

“I never thought I’d live to see a day when we’d be in the same position as our ancestors during the first Chanukah,” Kees commented as he put a heaping spoonful of applesauce on his plate. “Then again, I also believed the last war was truly the war to end all wars.”

“We’ll emerge victorious soon enough,” Gusta said as she cut up a latke. “Only this time we have large, professional armies to save us, and don’t need to depend on a group like the Maccabees.”

Jakob’s Leap of Faith (Janson)

(Quick note: This is one of my downloaded fonts, so it may not show up for everyone.)

Font: The classy, stylish Janson.

Developed: 17th century; later revived in 1937 and again in the 1950s

Chapter: “Jakob’s Leap of Faith”

Book: And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away (original title: And Jakob Limped)

Written: Probably March 2012, as I began expanding the long short story/piece of backstory into a full novel in early March and had finished the first draft by the end of April.

Computer created on: 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

File format: Word 2004

This is the 11th chapter of my first volume about my young Dutch resistance fighter turned real soldier Jakob. The chapter closes Part II, as Jaap makes his dramatic escape from a death train before it can cross the German border. He severely breaks his right foot and ankle as he lands, but is found by four young men who soon become his brothers in arms.

Yes, it wasn’t a very common occurrence to escape from a death train, but it happened. If I’d had him staying on that train with his mother, it wouldn’t be such an original take on the familiar Shoah story. The whole point of his character, and the story, is that he wants to fight back like the Maccabees instead of thinking things can’t get worse or that nothing too bad will happen. There are verified instances of people jumping from the trains and living to tell the tale.

Yeah, I’m still kind of pissed at being dogpiled in a pitchfest some time back and told I don’t know how to write historical and that my whole premise was inaccurate and unrealistic, even down to my hero’s name. I did quite a bit of research for this, and the spelling Jakob is definitely used in Dutch. Plus you’re just looking for nitpicks if you think I’m a crap writer and researcher for saying Holland instead of The Netherlands. Dutch people themselves often say Holland when speaking English! And all based on a damn six-line pitch. Rant over.

During this chapter, set during fall 1942 in Westerbork, Jakob’s worst nightmare comes true when he and his mother Luisa are chosen for one of the regular deportations. The night before their deportation, his friend Elma (Anselma) convinces him to kiss her in case the worst happens. They’re not in love, but she tells him that sometimes a person can have two firsts, the physical first and the first time with someone you really love. Elma was one of the secondary characters who came to me while I was crafting this story into a full-length book, and I’m glad she showed up.

Some highlights, so to speak:

[Family friend Kees] “Always the rebel, even here.  Would you rather be like some of your old school friends and forced to work on the farm?  You have nice indoor work.  I wish I could work indoors like you.”

“We’re going to be okay,” Jakob promised.  He pictured the newest drawing he would make that evening, the train station being hit by a bomb as he and other resistance fighters sprayed machine gun fire at the Nazis and NSBers. “I’ll figure out a way out of this.  There have to be some weapons around here somewhere we can steal.”

“We’re all doomed anyway,” Luuk said. “Maybe we should imitate the Zealots so we won’t be taken alive all the time.”

Elsje began weeping loudly and rubbing her fists across her eyes, oblivious to her brother’s wheezing, hyperventilating breaths and her mother’s hysterical screams.  Jakob watched the scene with as much sympathy as he could scrape up until he heard his own name being announced, followed by Luisa’s name.  He stopped breathing for moments that seemed to stretch on to eternity.  By the time he came back to himself, the Blockältester was continuing to read names and Luisa was sitting like a stone, no expression on her face, not even shock or sadness.

Jakob cast a glance at his old classmate, still feeling hollow and like he were floating outside of his body.  Everyone he cast his eyes upon seemed as if he or she were a kaleidoscopic vision of some Hindu deity with many heads and limbs, constantly spinning, rotating, and changing.

“There will be another maternity ward at the new place,” Gusta said, in a similar deadened monotone. “Women are always having babies, even in wartime.  For some reason, most of the babies I’ve delivered who were conceived after the occupation have been girls.  Maybe women are stronger than men, and God knows this.”

“I never had a boyfriend.” She curled her fingers around his arms. “If I should die this week, I want to know that I had that experience just once.  I don’t want to die never knowing what it feels like to kiss a boy.”

“I know you don’t love me.  I don’t love you either, though I really like you.  Please tell me you’ll grant my dying wish?  I’ll think of you in my final moments and remember how you were the first and only boy I kissed.”

“I’m not riding in that,” Luuk announced.  He tapped the nearest guard on the back. “Officer, may I have your side arm?  I’d like to kill myself.”

Luuk’s eyes lit up. “Please tell me you’ve got suicide pills!  I’m not going to be taken alive.  I want to die a hero like the Zealots instead of waiting for some gruesome fate as a slave, or killed in a horrible way.”

Remembering Luisa’s advice, he pulled himself into a very uncomfortable squatting position, still holding onto the ledge with a death grip.  Then, knowing it was now or never, he propelled himself off the ledge and let himself drop, landing very hard on his right foot.  It all happened so fast he had no time to be scared.