Impact Case Study: The Cut Out Girl

the cut out girl

We are always looking for new ways to share the benefits of our research with a wide audience and we employ a variety of channels and innovative methods to assist its social impact, from theatrical productions to films, books, school workshops, games, apps, public engagement events, art, and more! We've asked a selection of our researchers to explain the different ways they are sharing their research. In the Impact Case Study below, Professor Bart van Es introduces his book The Cut Out Girl. You will be able to browse all the case studies in the Research section of the website.

The Cut Out Girl, which won the Costa Book of the Year in 2019 and has now been published in 18 languages, did not start with any thought of the REF. Instead, it started out with a question that was prompted by the death of my eldest uncle in November 2014. The question was, what happened to the Jewish girl who was hidden by my grandparents during the wartime occupation of the Netherlands? At the moment of my uncle’s death, it struck me that a generation and its memories were passing and that, soon, the facts of the past would be lost forever.

A month later, without much effort, I met a bright modern-looking woman in her eighties, living in an apartment in Amsterdam. Her name was Lien. This was the girl whom my grandparents had saved from the Holocaust and also the woman with whom my grandmother had quarrelled and who, as a result, had split from my family. I had no memory of having met her, even though my father had grown up with her as a sister. She was there in the photographs of my parents’ wedding. A new question emerged and this was, ultimately, a research question: “how could this have happened?”

The Cut Out Girl is a book about memory. In part, it became a study of the Netherlands under occupation. Why was the death-rate amongst Dutch Jews so much higher than anywhere else in Western Europe? At least 75% of Dutch Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and yet the country is widely thought of, not least by itself, as a Resistance Nation. In their post-War effort of self-fashioning, the Dutch forgot what happened in the early stages of the occupation, during which the Dutch police, Dutch informers, and the Dutch civil service, were very largely responsible for sending their fellow citizens to their deaths. As Lien’s story grew in scope, I researched police archives and uncovered stories of bravery and betrayal.

But The Cut Out Girl remained a very personal story: a story about families and their memories. I wrote it using two distinct voices: Lien’s and my own. In the end, I wanted to explain not just how Lien’s parents came to be murdered and how she was saved, but also how my grandmother could have quarrelled with her and how she became the modern, positive, life-filled woman I met in December 2014 and who is still a close friend. I feel incredibly lucky to have been given Lien’s story. In the wake of its publication, I have received many thousands of emails and hundreds of invitations. I started out with modest ambitions when it came to impact. I wasn’t sure there’d be a book in this at all. The fact that it ended up as an Impact Case Study is heartening as well as surprising. 

—Bart van Es, Professor of English Literature