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Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Waiting for Sunday Night Football to come on, Sandy and I turned the channel to watch the beginning of the 1961 movie, Breakfast at Tiffanys, starring Audrey Hepburn. Ms. Hepburn is one of my all-time favorite actresses and as I watched the opening scene with her standing in front of Tiffanys, I was reminded about her childhood growing up in Holland during World War II.

Audrey Hepburn—trailer for the film Roman Holiday (1953). PD-No copyright notice. Wikimedia Commons.
Audrey Hepburn—trailer for the film Roman Holiday (1953). PD-No copyright notice. Wikimedia Commons.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s Opening Scene – HQ

I’ve been lucky. I’ve never had to personally experience war. I’ve never felt hunger or had to worry where my or my children’s next meal was going to come from. I’ve never lived in a country occupied by a foreign enemy. I’ve never had to show documentation to move about in my own country. I’ve never had to worry about the possibility of being deported each time someone knocked on my door in the evening.

Audrey Hepburn (1929–1993) wasn’t so lucky. Unfortunately, the story of her life during World War II is not unique.

Growing up in Nazi occupied Holland

Audrey’s father was a Nazi sympathizer and after his divorce (not because he was a Nazi—he was caught in bed with Audrey’s nanny), Audrey and her mother moved to England. After Britain declared war on Germany in the fall of 1939, they moved back to Holland and Arnhem. Her mother thought Holland would remain neutral in the war.

As Germany marched across Europe in 1940, they quickly defeated and occupied Holland. Audrey changed her name to Edda van Heemstra to rid herself of an English sounding name. During this time, her uncle was executed by the Nazis for sabotage activities while her half-brother was deported to Berlin as forced labor. Her other half-brother went into hiding. Audrey raised money for the Dutch Resistance by dancing (she was accomplished in ballet) and acted as a courier for the Resistance.

The Hunger Winter—The deliberate starvation of an entire country

After the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, Operation Market Garden (17–25 September 1944) was undertaken by the Allies and the city of Arnhem was virtually destroyed. A strike by Dutch rail workers prompted the Nazis to set up a blockade of Holland and they began to starve the Dutch (an estimated 18,000 died of starvation). Audrey developed severe health issues including anemia, respiratory problems, and edema. Due to the scarcity of food, she began to suffer from malnutrition (as did many of her fellow Dutchmen and women). It wasn’t until May 1945 that food began to flow back into Holland.

View Larry King’s Interview with Audrey Hepburn (1991)

Audrey would later talk about her memories of watching the Nazis roundup, load the Jews into the cattle train cars, and deport them to the east (75% of Dutch Jews perished—compared to 25% of French Jews). After the war, she turned down offers to portray Anne Frank.

Audrey’s wartime experiences led her to become a very strong advocate of UNICEF and its efforts to combat worldwide hunger. Unfortunately, Audrey died too young from cancer at the age of 63.

Do we have a lot of stories? Of course we do. I’m looking forward to sharing these with you. Please continue to visit my blog site and perhaps you’d like to subscribe so that you don’t miss out on my blog posts, past and current.

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Copyright © 2015 Stew Ross

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