This poem was written by a young Dutch Jewish woman named Betty Straus (later Betty Cohen) while living underground with her brother and sister under German occupation in the Netherlands. Approximately 25,000 to 30,000 Dutch Jews responded to Nazi persecution by going into hiding, and approximately two-thirds of them survived the Holocaust.1 While the story of Anne Frank and her family has become well known, the Straus siblings had a much different experience. Unlike the Franks, Betty and her family became separated from one another and had to use multiple hiding places.2
In spring 1940, German forces occupied the Netherlands and began targeting Jews. The anti-Jewish actions of the German occupation authorities and their Dutch collaborators escalated quickly from registration and public identification to segregation and forced labor. In summer 1942, German authorities ordered the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands to killing centers in German-occupied Poland. These deportations continued for over two years, mostly through the transit camp of Westerbork to Auschwitz and Sobibor. By the time these deportations stopped in fall 1944, over 100,000 Jews had been deported to their deaths from the German-occupied Netherlands.3
Betty was barely twenty years old when German forces invaded the Netherlands. The van Gessel family sheltered Betty and her sister for nearly a year, but the arrest of several friends hiding nearby forced them to relocate. The young women were smuggled from one safehouse to another on a long and dangerous overnight bicycle journey as pouring rain helped keep them from being seen. Betty wrote this poem describing her second hiding place—the "cabin"—while she and her older brother and sister were living there. The three siblings spent fifteen months hiding in the small attic of the farmhouse belonging to the Garben family. Despite these close quarters, however, the poem describes a relatively normal life in which "we almost forget there is a war going on." As active members of the Dutch underground, the Garbens also briefly shared their hiding space with American pilots whose planes had been shot down and were evading capture by German forces.
Although Betty's poem reveals the difficult conditions of their life underground, it also reflects the optimistic perspective of a young woman who expects to survive. Indeed, the Straus siblings were liberated in April 1945. Betty's parents, however, did not survive the war. They had been deported to their deaths at Auschwitz in 1943. Fewer than a quarter of Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust.