Between 75 and 80 per cent of Jewish people living in the Netherlands were killed during World War II, the highest rate in Western Europe. An estimated 6,000 Jewish children were hidden from the Nazis. 4,000 of those children survived the war.

Winner of the 2018 Costa Book of the Year Award, The Cut Out Girl is the extraordinary true story of Lien de Jong, a young Jewish girl in Holland during World War II, who hides from the Nazis in the homes of an underground network of foster families – one of them the author Bart van Es’ grandparents. She was one of the 6,000 hidden children. 

What really happened to these hidden children, during the war, and after? What happened to Lien? What was her side of the story? These questions began the investigation that would consume and transform both Bart's life and Lien's. The answers informed this astonishing story of a young girl's struggle to survive the war, and her powerful, tumultuous and painful ties with her foster family.  

This story is rich with contradictions. There is great bravery and generosity – first Lien’s parents, giving up their beloved daughter before being discovered and sent to Auschwitz, and then the Dutch families who faced great danger from the Nazi occupation for taking Lien and other Jewish children in. But it also looks to Holland to face a darker truth, namely that it was more cooperative in rounding up its Jewish population for the Nazis than any other Western European country; that is part of Lien’s story too.

Bart joins ABC’s Sarah Kanowski to discuss this award-winning book about the ways our most painful experiences – so crucial in defining us – can also be redefined.

Find out more 

"Although you are unknown to me, I imagine you as a man and a woman who will, as a father and mother, care for my only child. She has been taken from me by circumstance. May you, with the best will and wisdom, look after her." – An excerpt from a letter written by Lien's mother to the unknown families she hoped would protect her daughter, read the letter in this moving BBC NEW's article. 

"Van Es and Lien de Jong embraced on stage in front of a packed room after he was announced as winner at the awards on Tuesday night. 'Without family you don’t have a story. Now I have a story … Bart has reopened the channels of family,' she said"  – read the full article at The Guardian.

 

 

Bart van Es (United Kingdom )

Bart van Es

Bart van Es is a Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of St. Catherine’s College. He is the author of Spenser’s Forms of History, Shakespeare in Company, and Shakespeare’s Comedies He was born in the Netherlands and now lives with his family in England.

Sarah Kanowski (Australian)

Sarah Kanowski

Sarah Kanowski hosts ABC Radio’s Conversations on Thursdays and Fridays. Before joining Conversations permanently in 2018, Sarah co-presented ABC RN’s Books and Arts. She studied English at the University of Oxford, where she wrote a thesis on the Mosley family. Sarah then spent a year in South America before heading to Hobart to edit the literary magazine Island. Grandparents and sunshine beckoned her back to Brisbane where she now lives with her husband and three children.