An Oxford don’s biography of the young Dutch Jewish girl his grandparents saved from the Nazis has won the Costa Book of the Year Award.
Professor Bart van Es bagged £30,000 for ‘The Cut Out Girl,’ after judges praised the “sensational and gripping” account of Lien de Jong, whose mother gave her to an unknown family working secretly in the Dutch resistance in August 1942.
Lien’s mother and father were both taken to Auschwitz hours later, where they were killed, but Lien – aged eight at the time – managed to survive, after the underground network smuggled her out of The Hague, then under Nazi occupation.
She was one of 4,000 Dutch Jewish children smuggled out by the resistance families, of which the author’s was one, and she lived a life of unpicked yellow stars, safe houses, hidden rooms, false identities, raids and escapes before she finally reached safety.
Lien, 84, was at the award ceremony in London this week, and recalled how the resistance families showed “amazing bravery,” with Dutch women protecting the Jewish children by recording them as their own.
In some cases the Dutch women even said that they had given birth to Jewish babies after an affair with German soldiers, despite knowing that they would be ostracised by their own community for declaring such. The tactic saved many lives.
Lien also revealed how, years later, it was discovered that one woman in the network had been acting as a Nazi spy, revealing the whereabouts of Jews and their saviours, who would later be arrested and deported.
The judges’ panel, chaired by BBC News journalist Sophie Raworth, described the book as “the hidden gem of the year”.