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The Holocaust was a barbaric event, a genocide which led millions of innocent civilians and soldiers to their deaths. Though many groups were targeted during Hitler’s tyranny, the Jewish often faced the worst torment. Believed to be less than human, those who were Jewish were methodically removed from their homes, subjected to hate crimes, and slaughtered in an attempt to carry out the Nazi Party’s disgusting agenda. The hatred of the Jews and other minorities mostly stemmed from misinformation, racism, and the concept that Germans were the superior race. In fact, Hitler intended to create a perfect German race, called the Aryan race, by weeding out those who he deemed had less desirable characteristics. The cruelty of the Nazis was astounding and was harshly condemned by the rest of the world after the Germans were defeated. Though, before Germany lost, many people remained unaware of the genocide taking place or of the appalling conditions of concentration camps. Yet, due to the Nazi’s meticulous and detailed records, the world finally learned of the millions who died unjustly. Understanding the extreme cruelty of the Nazis’ actions, many looking back on the event cannot comprehend how or why it was possible to ignore or justify the massacre taking place. Monica Hesse, in her novel, The Girl in the Blue Coat, writes a profound story about a young Dutch girl named Hanneke that is currently residing in Holland, a country that has been occupied by Nazis for two years.. Monica Hesse’s unique and refreshing story showcases how lack of action against the Nazis often stemmed from fear, ignorance, or naivety rather than a blatant disregard for the value of human life.
In the beginning, the novel introduced Hanneke, a young Dutch girl who resents the Nazis with a passion. Despite the fact that her hatred for the Nazi Party runs deep, Hanneke is often described to have Aryan qualities, implying that she faces less discrimination than many others usually deal with. Yet, regardless of the benefits her appearance brings her, Hanneke has not faced an easy or painless life. Due to her father’s disability, Hanneke is forced to take on the role of the main breadwinner, which often places a strain on her familial relationships. Though her mother intends for Hanneke to continue playing the role of an obedient child, it is hard for Hanneke to listen to her parents when she is taking care of her family rather than the other way around. She works in the black market, finding and selling what many today would consider basic commodities, such as meat or makeup. Despite the fact that many today would consider her job an innocent means of income, she would be arrested and perhaps even executed if caught by the Nazis. The Nazi’s occupation of the Netherlands has seemingly uprooted and fundamentally changed her once basic and normal life.
Throughout the novel, Hanneke often mourns the death of Bas, her former boyfriend who tragically passed away during the very beginning the Nazi occupation. Bas’ death has left Hanneke a mere shell of the once warm and naive girl she used to be. She also laments over the loss over her best friend, Elsbeth, who has lost contact with Hanneke after understanding their positions on the Nazi occupation could not be reconciled with one another. . Though she repeatedly details the regret and remorse she feels for these two characters, what happened to them is shrouded in mystery. Eventually, Hanneke reveals that nature of Bas’ death, explaining how Bas passed away while bravely fighting against the Nazis. Though she feels a great deal if remorse for Bas, Hanneke also discusses the guilt she feels in regards to how Bas died. Her naive perception of war and death led her to push Bas to enlist in the army, which eventually would lead to his death. These old mistakes weigh heavily on her conscious and result in a great deal of inner turmoil. Hanneke also reveals the troubled friendship between herself and Elsbeth, who is now the wife of a Nazi. Incapable of accepting Elsbeth’s affiliation with the Nazis or her support for their occupation in Holland, Hanneke often struggles to reconcile her once kind friend with a Nazi sympathizer. It is shocking, in a way, to learn of Elsbeth’s kind and generous ways while also understanding that she supports the brutal and cruel Nazi Party. The novel is riddled with flashbacks of Bas and Elsbeth, often showing their compassionate and kind sides, which only serves to make Hanneke more aware of her losses. She seems incapable of letting herself move on from these two characters, choosing instead to hold onto their memories dearly despite any grief it brings her.
Though Hanneke resents the Nazis, mainly due to their occupation of her country, her resentment is overshadowed by her ignorance. Hanneke remains unaware of the horrid conditions of concentration camps and is shown to not truly recognize the symptoms of the disease that is a genocide. In the beginning of the novel, Hanneke is hired by a woman named Mrs. Jannsen to find a young Jewish girl named Mirjam and return her safely. As Hanneke struggles to discover what happened to Mirjam, readers witness Hanneke’s metamorphosis from a naive bystander focused on her own survival to a brave participant of the resistance to the Nazi occupation. Her changes are profound, despite her constant hesitance to get more involved in the resistance. Though her hesitation is somewhat frustrating occasionally,, I feel that Monica Hesse realistically portrays the thoughts and feelings of a young scared girl who could suffer serious consequences if caught by the Nazis.
Another vital character in this novel is Mirjam, the Jewish girl that Hanneke is searching for throughout the book. When Hanneke is first hired to look for this young girl, Mirjam is simply a faceless missing person, another victim of the Nazi’s brutal regime. But, as Hanneke learns about this girl, she learns about the person behind the victim, a person that has goals, aspirations and experiences. Hanneke discovers how Mirjam excelled in her classes, was best friends with a girl named Amalia, and often pretended to be an English princess. Miriam is simply a young girl who occasionally annoyed her classmates and often played with friends. At the same time, Mirjam’s innocence seems to symbolize the millions of innocent bystanders who died without cause. In a way, Miriam is simultaneously an individual who has aspirations and the face of the millions who were massacred, an unusual and contradicting parallel. Mirjam’s location, for the most part, is the main conflict that Hanneke is forced to face throughout the book, leaving Hanneke struggling for answers. Yet, despite the trouble Mirjam’s disappearance brings Hanneke, the situation forces Hanneke to deal with her own personal problems, something she had simply put off. Mirjam was the catalyst in this story, the person which encouraged Hanneke to discover her own inner strength and come to terms with her actions that led to Bas and Elsbeth’s absence in her life. .
In, The Girl in the Blue Coat, there were multiple symbolic and hard hitting themes. In particular, the main theme or concept of the novel involved the concept of letting go. Consistently throughout the novel, Hanneke ponders and laments over her previous relationships. Despite the fact that Bas and Elisabeth are no longer a part of her life, it almost seems as if Hanneke’s life revolves around their memory. She often focuses on the mistakes she made when they were all friends and often ignores any faults they may have had. Bas for example, will always be revered in her eyes, someone who had no faults and was a truly kind and just person. As Ollie explains, Bas’s older brother, Bas did, in fact, have some faults which Hanneke seemingly ignores. Though Bas was a kind person, he was kind to a fault, often making brash and foolish decisions which would get him hurt in this dark atmosphere. Her entire life, despite the two years that have passed since his tragic death, is centered around holding onto these memories of her past, whether she is reminiscing about the good times or pondering the bad times. When she meets Ollie again, she is forced to face the past, confront her feelings and come to terms with the consequences of her actions. When Ollie allows Hanneke to read a letter that Bas left before his passing, it’s almost as if she finally is capable of moving past her trauma and finally simply accepting her circumstances as they are. And though, at the end of the book, she recounts the first time she realized she loved Bas, she simply establishing Bas as a happy part of her memories, something she must move past now..
Overall, I truly enjoyed this novel and the symbolic message it was conveying to the audience. Usually, I don’t enjoy mystery novels that involve many plot twists, but this story was so interesting that I was actually excited for the plot twists and the unexpected ending. The characters were fleshed out, complex, and were very relatable. None of the characters were considered perfect, as the author elaborated on mistakes they may have made or flaws they had, making the story much more realistic. Mina, a member of the Dutch rebellion, even described the elusive Mirjam as an annoying classmate, humanizing Mirjam further. Giving characters flaws and mistakes, as frustrating as they may be, makes the characters much more relatable and realistic.. Another thing which I truly enjoyed about this book is in regards to how it was Hanneke’s character who was telling the story. I have read many heartbreaking and shocking biographies about people who were in concentration camps and were persecuted by the Nazis throughout the years. It was fascinating, in a way, to read about the Holocaust from the point of view of someone not directly impacted by the Nazis cruel ways. A bystander in some terms of the words. It is difficult to understand how someone could be unaware of the Nazi’s cruelty during this time period, but reading this novel from Hanneke’s perspective gave me more to think about. The Nazi’s meticulous ways ensured that it would be very difficult to discover what was truly occurring to their victims. Rather than being sent to concentration camps, Hannke simply believed that the Jewish people were being relocated to several other areas where they would live unhindered. It was interesting to see the way that Monica Hesse slowly introduced the horrors of the Nazi regime to Hanneke and her reaction to the experience. Once aware of their atrocities, she could no longer stand by and allow them to continue to hurt these innocent people. Yet, she had remained ignorant to these horrors for over two years, an astonishing but very common occurrence during these times. Overall, The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse was an extremely interesting read and is something I would recommend for others to read as well. It gives a new perspective on the Holocaust and is very well written.
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