Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Among the Reeds

Among the Reeds. The true story of how a family survived the Holocaust

by Tammy Bottner

Amsterdam Publishers 2017


"Among the Reeds"  (c.f. Moses in the bulrushes) is the harrowing and tender story of the Offner/Bottner family during the Nazi occupation of Belgium.  The family were Jewish refugees from eastern Europe.

It's a story of efficient brutality. If the Nazis were clear about anything it was about "The Final Solution" - the extermination of every Jew in the territories they controlled, often aided and abetted by local anti-Semites. 

It's a story of misplaced trust.  Jews often went along with Nazi demands  (e.g. registering as Jewish, wearing the infamous yellow star), reasoning that if they complied their persecutors would "play nice".

Queen  Elizabeth of the Belgians put all too much stock in Hitler's personal promise that Belgian Jews would not be deported They were.

It's a story of tragic collaboration  with the Germans by many "god-fearing" Belgians, and of at least one renegade Jew.

It's a story of single minded determination e.g the harrowing journeys of the Bottner extended family as they journey from eastern Europe to Belgium.

It's a story of the risk-taking bravery of family members, especially of the teenage Nathan Offner.

Mostly it's a story of Melly (Offner) and Melek Bottner, the author's grandparents, and their two children, Al (Bobby) Bottner (Tammy Bottner's father) and Irene.

Al Bottner at age 2 was sheltered in two Belgian Convents, thanks to the amazing and risk-taking courage of a Belgian woman,Andree Geulen.

Irene Bottner was adopted by an older Belgian couple who took her in on the basis of a creative and necessary lie by their son, a Roman Catholic Priest, who told them that she was a foundling, abandoned on his Church steps.

Melly, Melek,  and their children Al and Irene survived and were re-united soon after liberation. This reunion was not entirely rosy.  Melly and her daughter Irene had a particularly fraught relationship, Irene was never entirely happy that she had been snatched away from the older Belgian couple - she knew them as Dad and Mum and they loved her dearly.  Melly never bonded with Irene, and was incapable of showing her love.

I have a local and personal interest in this story because Al Bottner and his wife Rosalie are local acquaintances.  They live in the neighbouring Glen Oaks Manor community, and we often have friendly chats as we encounter each other whilst walking. Al  (then known as Bobby) is the young boy on the front page of the book.  


About Tammy Bottner

Tammy Bottner is a physician who treats children and adolescents in a small city north of Boston. She lives with her husband Danny Carlat, and their two nearly grown children.  When she is not seeing patients or writing, Tammy enjoys yoga, dance, tennis, biking, photography, travel, reading and spending time in nature. This is her first book.

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