Amsterdam under the Nazis

Gift of Darkness: Growing Up in Occupied Amsterdam - Craig K. Comstock

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.


                Gift of Darkness is part chronicle of one boy’s life in Nazi Amsterdam, one part interview of the man said boy become, one part remembrance of that man, and finally one part coming to peace or terms with trauma and loss.


                It’s not a bad book.


                Comstock’s book is the finished product of what was to have been a joint project with Robert Van Santen who died before the project was completed.  Van Santen was a Dutch Jew living in Amsterdam when the Nazis invaded.  The book chronicles his experiences under Occupation, and d by design, it does not focus much on his period in hiding.  The book does jump from the relative present to Van Santeen’s experience in Amsterdam.  On one hand, the reader encounters Comstock and Van Santeen walking down Amsterdam, and then shifts back Amsterdam in the 40s. 


                It’s strange because there is almost a religious meaning to the book, though it is not Jewish or Christian.  It’s more generic, and it isn’t quite religious either, though it can be seen that way.   The message is more of not giving into despair, of not losing faith, whatever that faith may be.  IN other words, it is not like the recent Christian romance novel that takes the Holocaust and uses it to set-up a conversion to Christianity.  That’s not the case here.  Van Santen is and remains Jewish.  This is clear.  As it is clear that he is someone we should either admire or learn from.


                The use of present tense to chronicle Van Santen’s experience in Amsterdam might put some readers off, and this is simply a matter of taste.  Van Santen, it is noted, attended the same school as Frank, though he was in a different grade.


                Van Santen’s family did not go into hiding straight away, and in many ways, his experience is more “common” than that of Anne Frank’s, whose mutli-family hiding place arrangement was somewhat uncommon.  Van Santen was able to see what the Nazis did before the massive round ups.  The details of not only the changing laws but of the movement of people are aptly chronicled in the book.  Comstock includes debates among various leading Jewish citizens.  While this might function as a type of filler, it does give the reader a greater view of Amsterdam at the time. 


                In all, despite the fact that at times the book seem to go slightly off point, it is an engrossing read that expands the reader’s knowledge.  If you or someone you know has read Anne Frank’s diary and wants a larger picture, this is a good place to start.