The remarkable story of how a consul and his allies helped save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust in one of the greatest rescue operations of the twentieth century.
Jan Zwartendijk was just a businessman who worked for Philips, a manufacturer of lightbulbs and radios—until he became Dutch consul and concocted a secret plan that would ultimately save over 2,000 Jews from the Holocaust. An unsung hero, those he saved knew him only as “Mr. Philips Radio.” This is his story.
In the capital of Lithuania, desperate Jewish refugees faced annihilation in the Holocaust. That was when Zwartendijk—with the help of Chiune Sugihara, the consul for Japan—chose to break his country’s diplomatic rules. Together, the two officials opened a route to freedom. Zwartendijk issued thousands of visas to the Dutch colony of Curaçao on the other side of the world, and Sugihara ensured a clear path, allowing refugees to travel on the Trans-Siberian Express all through Soviet Russia to Vladivostok, further to Japan, and onwards to China.
Many of these Jewish refugees survived, but Zwartendijk and Sugihara were both shunned by their own countries after the war, their courageous actions left unheralded.
In The Just, renowned author Jan Brokken wrests this story from oblivion and traces the journeys of a number of the rescued Jews. This epic narrative shows how, even in life-threatening circumstances, some people make the right choice at the right time.
“If I had known Jan Zwartendijk’s story before, I would have had filmed that.”
“He [Zwartendijk] filled desperate lives with hope during a period of great darkness, and his actions will remain a beacon of decency and righteousness for generations to come.”
“The Just is a riveting epic, a masterful interweaving of many threads and many journeys, written with consummate skill, clarity, and acute insight into human nature. Brokken restores to history, and to memory, acts of profound goodness and courage performed by individuals who responded to the frantic knock on the door by displaced people whose lives were in great peril. It will inspire you.”
—Arnold Zable, author of Café Scheherazade
“The story of a Dutch businessman who helped Polish and Lithuanian Jews escape the Holocaust… After getting their Dutch papers, [emigrating Jews] required a visa from the Japanese ambassador, Chiune Sugihara, who also proved willing to cooperate. Through the agency of these two men, several thousand Jews, perhaps as many as 10,000 were able to survive the Holocaust. Dutch writer Brokken traces the stories of Zwartendijk, Sugihara, and a number of those they aided, along with several other Dutch diplomats who added their help as the Jewish refugees continued their travels. The author has interviewed surviving members of Zwartendijk’s family and some of those he helped, and he has sifted through government documents in several countries to compile a complete picture of how these few men made a difference in a time when thousands of lives were in the balance. Brokken brings these largely unknown men to vivid life, and few readers will come away from the book untouched by their stories. A deeply moving account of a few brave men who worked against the Nazi horror in the early days of World War II.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“The Just documents a rescue operation to save Jews from the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Lithuania… Deep dives into archives, and documented encounters with people who were involved in the operation, contribute to a strong narrative about ordinary people performing extraordinary deeds at great risk to their personal safety. The lives of some of the people who were saved are chronicled, as are the struggles of Zwartendijk’s family and friends to have him officially recognized for his work on behalf of Jewish people, an experience of which he was robbed during his own lifetime. In telling the life story of Jan Zwartendijk, The Just adds one more piece to the memory of the Holocaust.”
—Foreword Reviews, starred review
“Stories of extraordinary acts of bravery and heroism continue to come out of WWII, and Dutch author Brokken’s recently translated work is no exception. His extensive research and interviews form the story of Jan Zwartendijk … Along with the Japanese consul in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, they were able to save as many as 10,000 Jewish families (possibly more). They could have both been seriously punished or killed if their superiors or the invading Russians or, later, Nazis discovered their deeds … Weaving their stories, along with those of Jewish families rescued through the use of these visas, is remarkable for both the storytelling and the depth of research the author has undertaken to bring it to a wider audience.”
—Lucy Roehrig, Booklist