Memoirist Embodies Resistance in Nazi-era Title
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A nail-biting tale of female strength, spiritual resilience and resistance to evil that is relevant today. You won’t forget this beautifully written story ––Dr. Betsy Cohen, psychoanalyst
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA – In her memoir When a Toy Dog Become a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew (She Writes Press, August 27, 2019), Hendrika de Vries focuses on the importance of female empowerment. A story of survival and the power of love, courage, and imagination in a time of violent oppression, Hendrika de Vries shows how the bond between mother-daughter is made stronger amidst subversive activities and acts of moral courage.
Born when girls were to be housewives and mothers, a Dutch “daddy’s girl” in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam learns about female empowerment when her father is deported to a POW camp in Germany and her mother joins the Resistance. Freedoms taken for granted are eroded with escalating brutality by men with swastika armbands who aim to exterminate those they deem “inferior” and those who do not obey.
Following de Vries’ journey from child- to woman-hood, When A Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew bears witness to the strength that flourishes despite oppression, the power of women existing beyond cultural gender roles of the time, and shows that memories hold the keys to the betterment of our future. A therapist for over thirty years, de Vries has used her experience healing the trauma of others’ to tap into her childhood memories of Nazi-occupation to empower others to stand up in the face of injustice.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Author of When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew, Hendrika de Vries’ life experiences, from the dark days of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam as a child, through her years as a swimming champion, young wife and mother in Australia, and a move to America in the sixties, have infused her work as a therapist, teacher, and writer. Hendrika holds a BA (with Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of Colorado, an MTS (cum laude) in theological studies from Virginia Theological Seminary, and an MA in counseling psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Read more on www.agirlfromamsterdam.com
“When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew”
Hendrika de Vries | August 27, 2019 | She Writes Press
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-63152-658-9 | Price: $16.95
“This beautifully crafted memoir reminds us that we are never far from oppression by those who wish to silence us.”
—Maureen Murdock, author of The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness
She is a master storyteller. —Dennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D.
In an interview, Hendrika de Vries can discuss:
● The significance behind her memoir’s title and what it represents
● Her experience as a child in Nazi occupied Amsterdam
● How male presence shaped her understanding of gender and the absence of her father in her early years influenced her relationship with her mother
● The xenophobia and violence in today’s political climate, and how looking at our past can help guide our future
● What led her to becoming a therapist
● How she uses dreams and intuitive imagination to facilitate recovery in her patients
● Her experience as a mother and what being a woman means to her––the mother-daughter relationship
An Interview with Joan Cohen
You experienced a lot of uprooting from what a “normal” childhood might look like. How did that effect you and what did you learn most from your childhood in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam?
As a therapist for over thirty years I have learned that a “normal” childhood is more of an illusion than we imagine. Around the world we see children suffering violence, hunger and prejudice, and, as therapists and social workers we know that even behind the façade of our safe suburban homes, many children silently endure the trauma of incest, of physical or verbal abuse, and domestic violence.
I grew up at a time when people who were deemed “inferior” were dragged off the streets to be slaughtered, and when discovered listening to the radio could get you shot. I will always carry the vigilant awareness that freedoms we take for granted can be taken away at lightning speed and that hatred is easily fanned by leaders who attain power through stoking fear and prejudice, but I was fortunate to have had parents who taught me the spiritual and emotional power of integrity, moral conscience and courage. Their strength of character lives inside of me and has enabled me to guide others in my work as a therapist, teacher, and writer.
How did your mother’s choice to join the Resistance and hide a Jewish girl in your home impact you as a young girl?
At the time that my father was deported to Germany, I was an only child surrounded by friends and cousins who all had siblings, so that when my mother told me we were going to hide a Jewish girl I was thrilled that I too would have an adopted older sibling. But as she and I formed a sisterly closeness and often slept in the same bed, I could never figure out at six-years-old why the Nazis wanted to kill her. I believe this set me on my lifelong path to try to understand human behavior and an eventual spiritual quest for the divine. By joining the Resistance and breaking Nazi-imposed laws, my mother sowed the seeds for my adult feminism. She modeled female strength, showed me the limitations of culturally imposed gender roles that expected women to be passive, and taught me that active disobedience could be an empowering act of moral courage and love.
Right alongside surviving Nazi-occupation, you survived the Hunger Winter of 1944-45 in which 20,000 Dutch people died of starvation. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
The Hunger Winter of WWII Amsterdam was not written or talked about much during the early postwar years, when the discovery of the death camps and slaughter of millions of Jews sent shock waves through the Western World. Our family emigrated to Australia and I sometimes felt that my mother and I alone experienced the trauma of the Hunger Winter. This created an intense mother-daughter trauma bond that would require many years of personal therapy to untangle. When I returned to Amsterdam in 1993 for analysis with a Dutch Rabbi/Jungian analyst, I was surprised to find a book with photos that had been taken by Underground workers, of the malnourished and starving children of which I had been one. Suddenly, I did not feel so alone with my memories anymore. I could acknowledge the origins of my intense need for physical security, for warmth and food, and my fear of empty kitchen cupboards, and began to heal the trauma.
What is the meaning of your title?
The title of my memoir refers to two actual events, described in detail in the book, that gave me a lifelong belief in the power of our imagination to change the world. Born and raised at a time when women were expected to be obedient as toy dogs and passive as the reflective moon, I see a similarity between the enforcement of culturally prescribed gender roles that take away women’s rights and gun-toting Nazis threatening those they deem “inferior” or those that dare to disobey. The women and men who resisted the dark evils of prejudice and hatred drew on their wolf nature to resist and drew down the moon from behind the clouds to illuminate their path when the powers of darkness tried to permanently extinguish all the Light in the world.
In light of war, violence, separation, betrayal, hunger, poverty and emigration, how did your mother’s choices empower you to become a successful woman?
My mother was a bit of a “tiger mom” who taught me not to let fear or feelings of helplessness turn me into a victim. A woman of deep faith, intuitive wisdom, courage and practicality, she believed every problem was simply a challenge and taught me that survival and success both depend on a disciplined mind and a focus on the tasks over which we have power––even if it is only to make your bed or brush your teeth. Connect with the higher power in your life, whether it is God or your own conscience, trust your dreams, and give thanks for what you have. Her rituals of survival, determination not to let fear turn us into victims, and daily practice of gratitude, have guided and empowered me at every turn of my life.
How has your experience with male presence influenced your perspective of gender?
The little girl who experienced the Nazi presence and cruelty did not identify the Nazis, whether Dutch or German, as evil because they were men, but because they were “bad people” filled with hatred and prejudice instead of love and kindness. Raised on Grimm’s fairy tales with evil kings and monstrous witches, I believed that evil transcended gender. On a more personal level, I saw my father respect women, and male resistance workers treat my mother as an equal warrior in the fight against tyranny, but I also witnessed other men (Nazi and non-Nazi) dismiss and reprimand my mother as if she were an ignorant child, simply because she was a woman. These early experiences gave me a glimpse into the connection between the abuse of power, based on ideologies of supremacy, and cultural gender bias that shaped my future feminist views about the need for a gender equality that is based on mutual respect and an acknowledgment of our shared humanity.
What drove you to write your memoir now?
Over the years, as I shared stories of my childhood in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam with friends, students and colleagues, I was often told that I should write my memoir. I always hesitated, because it felt self-indulgent to write about my childhood experiences, since I have lived a long successful life while so many others were brutally tortured and died horrible deaths. But after seeing torch-bearing Neo-Nazis carrying swastikas in Charlottsville, Virginia, on my television screen last year and witnessing the current resurgence of hatred, prejudice, and attacks on women’s rights, I realize that those of us who have experienced the swift erosion of freedoms and the brutality of Nazi tyranny have an obligation to future generations to share our stories.
What ways have you overcome your own trauma? Has that helped in your role as a therapist?
Trauma is a complex issue, since traumatic events are often encapsulated within the psyche and not dealt with until a current event triggers the memories. For many years, I locked mine away, while I enjoyed being a swimming champion, young wife and mother in Australia. The full impact of my childhood trauma only resurfaced after a series of events––a permanent move to Denver, Colorado, for my husband’s career, the unexpected death of my father, and the break up of my marriage––shattered my defenses. I entered Jungian analysis, embarked on an intense spiritual quest, and eventually made a pilgrimage to Amsterdam to work with a Rabbi/Jungian analyst who had me visit the sites where the trauma had taken place and encouraged me to tell him my story in Dutch, the mother-tongue familiar to the little girl who had experienced the trauma. Without my own healing I doubt that I could have been a successful therapist to others.
What advice would you give someone who may be facing trauma in their lives currently?
Do not go it alone! Seek support, surround yourself with people who understand trauma and are able to hear your needs and concerns, and find a therapist. Know that you can survive and thrive. Take action. We are all much stronger than we think we are, and with the current increasing awareness about the impact of trauma, help is available if you look for it.