An astonishing tale of romance, resistance, and bravery
Sabine’s War is the previously untold story of a remarkable resistance fighter and her incredible story of survival against the odds.
When Germany invaded Holland in May 1940, Sabine Zuur joined the resistance movement without a moment’s hesitation aged just 22. Helping to hide those avoiding the German authorities, she was soon betrayed and subjected to repeated violent interrogations. Many of her friends were executed but Sabine was instead sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp, via the Amersfoort and Ravensbrück camps. Enduring gruelling conditions and backbreaking forced manual labour, she survived through a combination of guile and good fortune.
But it was only after Sabine’s death that her daughter Eva discovered an archive of letters detailing her extraordinary life, revealing a rich inner world and a past she had discussed little. Amongst them were declarations of love from pilot Taro, shot down in his Spitfire over northern France aged just 26; notes from Sabine’s second love Gerard, executed by the Germans; letters to her mother smuggled out in her prison laundry; and passionate, creepy missives from a German professional criminal named Gebele who would ultimately save Sabine’s life. She emerges from this correspondence as a woman with an indefinable aura, somehow in control of her own destiny even when to all intents and purposes she was not.
A transfixing story of survival, Sabine’s War captures a remarkable life in the words of the young woman who lived it.
I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Sabine’s War today. This isn’t my usual sort of read, but I was attracted to it partly due to how it came about. Following Sabine’s death in 2012, her daughter, Eva, found various letters and documents detailing Sabine’s experiences during the Second World War. While Eva and her brother were aware of some aspects of this part of their mother’s life, Sabine spared them much of the detail and it was only upon finding these documents that they came to understand how much their mother had endured. Sabine’s War is the result of the decision to share that story and is primarily based upon Sabine’s own documents.
Although she often talked about the war when I was young, it was always about food, about friends she lost, but never about life in the camps. This is probably because I never wanted to know about it, and perhaps she also could not bear to recall those memories.
Eva begins by introducing Sabine prior to the War – a young, attractive woman who is outgoing, vivacious, and popular. There’s an early romance with Taro with whom she experiences love at first sight, but despite their commitment to each other, there’s a sense that Sabine is not someone who will be demure and deferential as was probably expected at the time, even by Taro who seems to worry that her continued social activities indicate a lack of seriousness on her part, despite this probably being a part of what attracted him to her in the first place. Sabine comes across as a free-spirit – adventurous and independent, and perhaps unusually so given that it was the 1930s.
With the onset of the Second World War, Sabine, along with many others, joins the resistance, keen to do her part and to help in any way she can. Her role is to help people avoid the authorities, finding safe houses for them which sometimes includes her own home. I think it’s an incredibly brave thing to do given the risks involved and is a testament to her character. Despite her caution, she is eventually betrayed and taken in by the SS for interrogation. Eventually classed as Nacht und Nabel, Sabine is sent to the concentration camp at Amersfoort before being moved to Ravensbrück and eventually Mauthausen. I wasn’t familiar with the designation of Nacht und Nabel (which translates to night and fog) prior to reading this but it was a designation given to those involved in resistance activities which effectively saw them disappear (imprisoned and often murdered), their fates unknown to their families and often never to be seen or heard from again.
Sabine’s story is but one very small piece in this horrendous period of history, but it is still important to pass it on to future generations
Sabine’s War goes on to examine the horrific conditions of the concentration camps which I won’t recount here. I found Sabine’s records of this time eye-opening – however much I learnt in school about this period of history and from what I’ve read since, reading a first-hand account of an individual’s experiences gives so much more insight. I think that it’s a testament to the courageousness and perseverance that Sabine and many others demonstrated to have survived such an ordeal.
While the focus of Sabine’s War is her incarceration, Eva also covers the physical and mental toll that it takes on her mother after the War. Having been starved for a long period, she finds eating difficult afterwards, often suffering from poor gut health, and is one of those mothers who insisted on every last crumb being eaten at mealtimes. It’s easy to understand why, although whether Eva and her brother fully appreciated what drove their mother’s behaviour at the time, I couldn’t say. It’s hard not to compare the bright young woman pre-War to the woman that she becomes, and one can’t help but consider how many were similarly affected.
Sabine’s War is an account of one woman’s experiences in the Second World War, shared only after her death in 2012. Using Sabine’s own documents provides a unique insight into this period of history and what many were forced to endure.
Sabine’s War will be published on 31 March by Harper North in hardback, digital, and audio formats. With thanks to the publisher and to Sofia Saghir at Midas PR for the opportunity to read and review as part of the blog tour.
Disclaimer – I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. This has in no way influenced my review.
About the Author
Eva Taylor is the daughter of Sabine Zuur and Peter Tazelaar, a major Dutch war hero. She was born in Utrecht, but has lived in Cheshire, England since she was 18.
Make sure you check out the other wonderful bloggers taking part in the blog tour: