My Name Is Selma
Selma Van De Perre
Scribner, New York, 2020, 204 pages
Book Review published on: May 6, 2022
My Name Is Selma is the autobiography of Selma Van De Perre, a Jewish Dutch woman who watched the Nazi takeover of her homeland, served in the resistance, then was captured, and survived the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, Germany.
The book begins with her early days, introducing many members of her extended family and describing her family’s nomadic life as they moved around the Netherlands because her father was in show business. There are many details about the interpersonal relationships within her extended family and how these impacted Selma as a girl and young woman. We also meet her two older brothers and younger sister.
The story transitions to the Nazi occupation. Her brothers would soon leave the Netherlands—one as a merchant marine, and the other with his Dutch army unit that moved to England after the collapse of the Dutch government. Over time, the Van De Perre family began to realize that the occupation would be trouble for the Jewish community. Eventually, Selma’s father was summoned by the authorities and sent to a work camp in the Netherlands. While there, he was able to write letters to the family. However, he was soon sent to Auschwitz, where he was murdered.
After her father left, Selma’s mother and sister left Amsterdam and went into hiding. As there wasn’t room for her, Selma, now twenty years of age, stayed in Amsterdam, working various jobs, and staying with extended family. Eventually, she moved on and began living under a false, non-Jewish identity.
Selma met members of the Dutch resistance (though she didn’t know it at the time) through her extended family. Eventually, she began working with them, executing missions such as carrying messages and stealing a German officer’s identity papers. However, one of the leaders of her cell was arrested, which led to Selma’s capture at the age of twenty-two.
The second half of the book deals with Selma’s arrest and captivity. She was sentenced to imprisonment for the duration of the war. After a month in prison in Amsterdam, she was moved to a Dutch concentration camp near Vught in the southern Netherlands. A chapter details her time and the atrocities she saw there. About six weeks after her arrival, she was put on another train to the concentration camp at Ravensbruck.
Still living under her assumed identity, Selma would spend seven months at Ravensbruck. Her story describes daily life in the camp, jobs she was required to do, and some of the women she was interned with. The book also details the camp’s liberation and her trip, via Sweden, back to the Netherlands. It was in Sweden that she finally revealed her identity to the administrators.
Selma describes her postwar life—she’s still alive today! After the war, she learned that her parents and younger sister had been murdered, and that her two older brothers had survived. She moved to England, where she met her husband, with whom she had a son. In the final chapter, she discusses meeting fellow resistance members and prisoners in the decades that followed the war.
My Name Is Selma is a fascinating book and an enjoyable read. I found the part discussing her time with the Dutch resistance the most interesting; I wish the book included more details about this time. There are sixteen pages of black and white photographs, mostly family photos. My only complaint is that the book introduces many, many people from Selma’s family and her time in the resistance, and it’s not always easy to remember who she is talking about when a person reappears a few pages after their introduction. Keeping a list of characters would be helpful to the reader.
I recommend My Name Is Selma to anyone who enjoys reading about European World War II history. The book would be of note to those interested in Nazi-occupied Europe, the resistance to it, or the life of those who were captured and imprisoned in concentration camps.
Book Review written by: Joseph Curtis, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas