In the foreword to The Journey Back, Johanna Reiss (who had grown up with the name Annie de Leeuw) explains that her second book is the sequel to the earlier The Upstairs Room (1972), which describes how she and her sister Sini were hidden for three years by a simple farm family while Adolf Hitler’s armies rounded up European Jews for deportation and death. So that the sequel is not dependent on the first book, Reiss begins the story of her journey back by describing what the three years of hiding were like for her, her sister, and the Oostervelds, who sheltered them. In the first and briefest of four parts, Reiss recalls the tedium of her days in hiding, the paralyzing monotony broken only by the warm presence of the Oostervelds each night. Then, in the spring of 1945, the war in Europe ended and Annie and Sini began the journey back to their Winterswijk home.
In part 2 (Summer) and part 3 (Fall and Winter), Reiss tells of the reunited de Leeuws’ attempts to become a family again. They began their new life without their mother, who had died a few weeks after the younger girls went into hiding. Because their father was consumed with rebuilding his business in the aftermath of the war, Rachel tried to play the role of parent for her younger sisters. Yet Sini wanted only freedom after three years of confinement, and Annie was increasingly left alone with a changed Rachel. No longer the carefree oldest sister content to entertain the family’s youngest, Rachel was preoccupied with remaking the home ravaged by war and caught up in the conversion to Christianity that she had experienced in hiding. With their father away much of the time, and with Sini and Rachel no longer the same people that they were, a confused Annie found comfort only in a visit back to the Oostervelds in Usselo. Like the rest of her family, she was caught between two worlds, unable to live fully in either.
As summer turned to fall, the older members of the family began to make decisions, choosing the new worlds in which they wished to live and leaving Annie even more isolated. Sini left home to begin a nursing course in a nearby town. Mr. de Leeuw unexpectedly announced his intention to remarry, choosing for his second wife Magda Vos, a Winterswijk Jew widowed by the Germans. Before the wedding, Rachel returned to the family that had hidden her during the war. Annie also found herself once again stepping into a new world. Fall and winter were dominated by Annie’s attempts to please her perfectionist stepmother, to take the place of Magda’s daughter, Nel, who was away at boarding school, and to reconcile the presence of a refined but cold Magda with the memory of the simple but loving Oostervelds.
After a year of struggling with emotional scars that healed more slowly than physical ones, Annie revisited the Oostervelds in the spring of 1946 and found her first sense of direction. Like the Oostervelds and like the other members of her family, she began to understand that life means change. “Me, too. Move on, go places, see things,” she told herself, reaching out to what was ahead. Thus, for Annie, the hope of spring overcame the cold of winter.
Like The Upstairs Room, The Journey Back is an autobiographical memoir, chronicling the impact of World War II and its aftermath on...
(The entire section is 1359 words.)