Audrey Hepburn is best remembered for her starring roles in films—such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Roman Holiday, and My Fair Lady—and for her work as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. But what is known about her life during the years of World War 2? In Dutch Girl, Robert Matzen reveals the terrors and triumphs young Audrey experienced during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
Part biography, part WWII history of specific areas of the Netherlands, Dutch Girl is a fascinating book. I didn’t know very much about Audrey Hepburn prior to reading this. The little I did know was about her films and humanitarian work—and that knowledge was scanty, at best.
Audrey was the daughter of Joseph Ruston and Baroness Ella van Heemstra. In the mid-1930s, Joseph and Ella became involved with the British Union of Fascists, and were intrigued by Nazism, going so far as to travel to Germany where they met Hitler. Joseph abandoned the family shortly thereafter.
Knowing war was on the horizon, Ella and her children moved to Arnhem—and, later, Velp—where much of the van Heemstra family resided, hoping that the Netherlands would remain neutral as they had during the first World War. Sadly, this was not to be. The Nazis invaded the Netherlands the following year. The Nazi occupation lasted five years, leaving death and destruction in its wake.
These were the years that molded Audrey Hepburn into the person she became. During this time, she studied dance, and gave her first performances. She felt the horror of the execution of a beloved family member. She watched as Jewish people were loaded into railcars, never to be seen again. She felt the heartache of failed liberation, and suffered the agony of slow starvation. She experienced the dangers of participating in the Dutch Resistance. She felt the terror of battles being fought close to her home. And finally, at long last… she felt the indescribable joy of the Germans being forced out when help arrived.
Audrey Hepburn survived the war, but she was forever changed by it.
I almost didn’t read this book, but I’m so glad I changed my mind. It’s outstanding in every way, and I highly recommend it.
About the Book
Twenty-five years after her passing, Audrey Hepburn remains the most beloved of all Hollywood stars, known as much for her role as UNICEF ambassador as for films like Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Several biographies have chronicled her stardom, but none has covered her intense experiences through five years of Nazi occupation in the Netherlands. According to her son, Luca Dotti, “The war made my mother who she was.” Audrey Hepburn’s war included participation in the Dutch Resistance, working as a doctor’s assistant during the “Bridge Too Far” battle of Arnhem, the brutal execution of her uncle, and the ordeal of the Hunger Winter of 1944. She also had to contend with the fact that her father was a Nazi agent and her mother was pro-Nazi for the first two years of the occupation. But the war years also brought triumphs as Audrey became Arnhem’s most famous young ballerina. Audrey’s own reminiscences, new interviews with people who knew her in the war, wartime diaries, and research in classified Dutch archives shed light on the riveting, untold story of Audrey Hepburn under fire in World War II. Also included is a section of color and black-and-white photos. Many of these images are from Audrey’s personal collection and are published here for the first time.
About the Author
ROBERT MATZEN is the author of eight books, including the bestsellers Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe and Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3, which won the 2015 ‘Biography of the Year’ Benjamin Franklin Award and earned praise from the Smithsonian Institution