The Vision of Antje Baumann – Laurence Power
In this historical novel, a Dutch family struggles to endure the chaos of war after Holland is invaded by the Nazis.
It is May 1940 in Holland. As the Baumann family realizes that Hitler’s war has suddenly become their war, sirens begin blaring as a squadron of airplanes flies over Oosterbeek.
Antje, Gerrit, and Cornelis Baumann are too young to understand what is happening around them. All they know is that they feel powerless as they watch their father cry.
As the Germans invade, the Baumanns strive to maintain a quiet life. But as war comes to their street and doorstep, they soon recognize that keeping a low profile is not an option. Antje, Gerrit, and Cornelis each respond in their own way to their new crisis. Just as the French and Belgian armies surrender to the Nazis, little Antje loses her sight, prompting a chain of events that causes all the Baumanns to realize that surviving as a family in a land of mayhem and death is a greater challenge than they ever imagined.
I must have dozed off because when I awoke, I found Antje in my bed gripping my hand firmly. I was her protector. At birth, Antje had encountered major hip problems that plagued her young life, she was three by the time she was able to walk, but even then she walked with a waddle. The many operations helped. Her waddle grew less noticeable, though she would limp whenever she overdid things or became very excited. Antje had operations for tonsils, for appendicitis and for a throat abscess that nearly choked her. She had lost sight in her left eye from measles complications when she was five and her shaded-out lens was a constant reminder.
“I’m afraid, Nelis,” she whispered.
“Can’t you hear it?”
I listened. Only then did I hear the drone gradually growing louder. I bolted upright.
I heard movement in Dad and Mam’s room. The noise grew louder. Sirens screamed from the direction of Arnhem, less than four kilometres away. We jumped out of bed, Antje pulling on her bathrobe, and ran to the window. Dozens of people were already on the street looking at the sky. Others had collected a short distance from our house. The noise became deafening. We rushed downstairs and joined those already on the road. There was a heady spill of emotion as people knocked into each other, trying to see what was happening. Neighbours who had only ever exchanged hellos were talking non-stop. The barking of dogs added to the commotion. The peculiar old lady, Eliza Till, was talking to others for the first time in years. Her cats followed her, upset by the noise.
“No longer rumours,” Dad said.
He had to shout to be heard.
“They are on their way to bomb England,” someone said.
“Over Holland is the shortest route,” said another voice in the darkness.
Bombs dropped on London were bombs not dropped on Holland. Antje gripped my hand tightly. Dad put his hand on my shoulder. “I’m glad we don’t live in Amsterdam or Rotterdam tonight.”
“After centuries of freedom and tolerance, everything we stand for is falling apart.”
Mr. Brouwers, with his goatee beard and long hair, was speaking. He played the organ at St. Bernulphus, the Catholic Church on the Utrecht Road out of Arnhem. He would be the organist for the First Communion Mass on Saturday.
“How long can we hold out?”
“By morning they’ll be pouring over the Rhine Bridge in Arnhem.”
“Will they come this way?”
“Yes. They’re bound to take the main route to Utrecht and Rotterdam.”
As we moved into the early hours of Saturday, 11 May 1940, during Holland’s final hours of freedom, in the racket of squadrons of aeroplanes flying to war above us, people debated soberly how we were about to lose our freedom. We felt powerless. We had yet to see a tank or lorry, let alone a single German soldier! But something that every person living in Holland had, until then taken for granted, suddenly dissolved in the time it took that first squadron to fly over. Our power and will, that which had made us the proud people of a free and civilised nation, had seeped away. Within days the freedom we had assumed as our birthright and by which we lived would be crushed and we could do nothing.
About the Author
Laurence Power is a retired business professional. When Catherine, his wife of 50 years passed away, he researched and wrote Black ’47, a story of the Great Irish Famine of 1846-49 that forever altered the path of Irish history.
His current work, The Vision of Antje Baumann, came about by accident when, on a business trip to Holland, he met with ordinary Dutch families who had played their part in the survival of their people and country. He had been aware of much of the dreadful happenings in Holland during the war years, and of the aftermath, but he knew little or nothing of the heroic nature of Dutch resistance to Nazi terror. When he was into his seventies Laurence returned to Holland and rode a bicycle around Arnhem and over many of the sites of the airborne landings and of scenes of battle. He came, he saw, he listened, and he was glad. Though his book covers the entire period of occupation it was the drama and scale of events at Arnhem in 1944 and the hunger winter that followed that drew him to write the story.
Laurence lives in County Kildare in Ireland and is currently researching and working on a book that will reverberate in a few countries, hopefully in 2019. His cycling days are over but not his writing days…not yet.