To set the scene: Madzy Brender à Brandis was a young mother with two small children, trying to survive through years of hardship and danger – and some unexpected pleasures. In May 1942, after her husband was suddenly taken prisoner and sent to a German camp, she began writing a diary to record the details of her life – for her husband to read when he returned, if he returned. She called it “this faithful book.” Here are some passages:
28 October 1944 [when the electricity was cut off because of lack of fuel for the generating plants]: “We have to use the daylight to its utmost, and we figure this out already in the morning. [At the end of the afternoon] We flew faster and faster to use the last bits of daylight, lay the table, lay everything ready so that at 5:30 we could eat in the dusk until we couldn’t find our mouths any more. Blackout and one candle, finished eating and washed the dishes. Read to children in pyjamas and then they to bed. Then unraveled a knitted baby blanket [so that the yarn could be used to knit other things] and at 9:00 blew out the candle and continued by moonlight. But now I’m going to bed, tired but satisfied with my efforts, though very sad about all the misery.”
1 November 1944 [after a threat of having the house demolished]: “Well, our house is still standing. I filled a laundry bag with many things, and everything is standing ready [in case there was a need to evacuate]. Because there is much flying again. At one moment an Allied fighter plane flew over very low; just then three German soldiers were walking past our house and one, “as a joke,” shot his gun at the plane. Tje! What a scare we had!”
24 December 1944 [addressing her husband, still in the camp]: “The whole house is in wonderful peace and I’m sitting by the fire, which gives me just enough light to write this. [The upper door of the small heater, when opened, gave a bit of light.] My Dicks, I don’t have to tell you how very much I miss you on this evening. It is a gnawing sense of longing. But beyond that there is a sorrow in me, a despair about everything, that pervades my whole being. Besides that, however, I’ve already for days seen the light of Christ coming closer and in these days that gives me hope. So does the waxing moon, the hard frost, the bright sun – in a word, all the light in nature after that endless series of misty, rainy, dark days. And so I sit close to my unsteady little light, that constantly abandons me, and think of you. It’s as though you are very close to me. I’m so grateful for everything that I have: your love, the two children, and everything around me.”
12 February 1945 [during the “Hunger Winter” of 1944-45, after one of her trips to forage for food]: “Today I went to Rika in Renswoude: 1¼ hours cycling there, 2½ hours walking back pushing a broken-down bicycle and with 25 pounds of rye [the whole grain, not flour] through streaming rain, while there was constant booming of artillery and bombing in the distance.
Marianne Brandis (This Faithful Book: A Diary from World War Two in the Netherlands)