“Secretly Inside”–gay during the Holocaust

Warren, Hans. “Secretly Inside”, translated by S.J. Leinbach, University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.


Amos Lassen

There is not a great deal of literature about what happened to gays during the Holocaust. Hans Warren wrote this fictionalized account of what is was like to be both gay and Jewish during the darkest period of human history. “Secretly Inside” is not an easy book to read but it is an important one. It s important in that it brings to light the horror that the Nazis brought to the world and the crimes against humanity that were brought about because one nation believed it was better than everyone else. The themes of homoeroticism and the tension between the classes make this story so important. Hans Warren has written a harrowing tale about the brief stay on a Dutch farm during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. This is the first English translation of this story—the story of Ed, 25 years old, well-educated, cosmopolitan, Jewish and gay from Utrecht. Ed suddenly finds himself taking refuge at a safe house of the Van‘t Westeindes and soon discovers that the family is inbred and seems to be supremely sinister.  The son of the family, Camiel is in mourning for his best friend who the year before took his own life. Mariete, Camiel’s sister has a passion for Ed and Ed discovers his own feelings for Camiel. The intrigues of the family draw Ed in and what was supposed to have been a refuge from the Nazis becomes a prison to Ed. The torment Ed feels with his attraction to Camiel causes trouble and both Camiel and Mariete cause Ed such grief that he decides to leave the house before he is betrayed to the Nazis by the members of the family.

Psychological nuance abounds in the book and the starkness of the prose reflects the starkness of Nazi rule and the scene for the action is both dire and dour. Ed (Edward van Wyngen) thought he had found safety but he discovers that the family with which he was due to stay was not as he had expected. Of the original children—four in number—two ran away and appeared to be victims of insanity which was brought about by inbreeding. Camiel,even though he has a girlfriend, is rapt in mourning his dead ex-lover, a German soldier. Although Mariete is engaged she develops a crush on Ed and he is secretly in love with Camiel.

Ed learns of the secrets in the family and realizing that he cannot survive in such an atmosphere leaves the house and the novel comes to a surprise ending.

So what is this book really about? It is a small book dealing with big issues—love, inhumanity, betrayal, cruelty—what was going on in Europe at the time. “Secretly Inside” is a welcome addition to the literature of the period from which we are almost excluded. We have heard of the problems of the gays in Nazi Germany and the occupied contries but we are rearely given a chance to read about it and Hans Warrenb gives us that opportunity. I wish that there was more elaboration but what we have is important and should be regarded as such.

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