The Occupied Garden

A Family Memoir of War-Torn Holland

Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski

Thomas Dunne Books

The Occupied Garden is the powerful true story of a market gardener and his fiercely devout wife who were living a simple life in Holland when the Nazis invaded in 1940. During the subsequent occupation, Gerrit and Cor den Hartog struggled to keep their young family from starving and from being broken up in an era of intimidation, disappearances, and bombings -- until one devastating day when they found they were unable to protect their children from the war.

It wasn’t until long after Gerrit and Cor’s deaths that their granddaughters began to piece their story together; combing through Dutch archives, family lore, and a neighbor’s wartime diary, den Hartog and Kasaboski have lovingly and seamlessly recreated their grandparents’ wartime years. The result is an extraordinary tale of strife and hardship that contains moments of breathtaking courage -- a young mother’s bicycle journey of two hundred miles to find food for her children, a brother and sister’s desperate escape into unoccupied France, a pastor forced into hiding for encouraging acts of resistance -- with a cast of characters that includes the exiled Dutch royal family, Adolf Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. But it is Gerrit and Cor who take center stage in what is ultimately a deeply moving love story of a man and woman who drew strength from each other throughout those difficult years.

Poignant and unforgettable, The Occupied Garden is a testament to the resiliency of ordinary people living in an extraordinary time, written by two sisters determined to keep their family history alive.


Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Twilight 1927–1940


For all the years after the war, Gerrit dreamed – sporadically, without warning – of being chased by German soldiers with guns, but back in the crisp winter of 1927, as he skated on a willow- rimmed pond in South Holland, he had no such demons. Warm in his wool cap and coat, he sped along under a cloudless sky, breath pluming in the bright winter air, his plaid scarf flapping behind him. He had just turned eighteen, and his life would change in moments.


On either side of him, the flat landscape of


Praise for The Occupied Garden

The Occupied Garden, written by two sisters, offers a window to anyone who is interested in history, in this case the history of Holland during World War II. It covers Hitler’s rise to power, the invasion of Holland, the five-year Occupation that followed, the fate of the Jews and how the Dutch citizenry as a whole coped, especially the authors’ devoutly Christian grandparents. They would have been proud of this beautifully crafted, meticulously researched book.” --Johanna Reiss, Newbery Honor Book Award-winning author of The Upstairs Room and A Hidden Life: A Memoir of August 1969

“In this heroic gesture of recovery of family history, the authors not only recreate their grandparents’ world, but the horror of life in Nazi-occupied Holland. History is retold in relentless detail through the tragedies lived by people who become as real to us as our own family. The Occupied Garden is a triumphant refusal to accept the silence that erases the past.” --Rosemary Sullivan, author of Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape, and a House in Marseille

“A dramatic and moving account of the World War II occupation of the Netherlands and its subsequent liberation.” --Mark Zuehlke, author of Terrible Victory

“Truly gripping. . . . This is intimate history: the writers recover not only the facts, but the tastes, smells, and lived experiences of events that today almost defy belief.” --Quill & Quire

“Personal, unsentimental, intensely compelling . . . these reconstructed lives just hum with authenticity.” --The Globe & Mail

“Moving and lyrical . . . If this book were less carefully crafted and not as well written, it would be mere family history. Instead, it’s also the history of a country---and of the people who lived in it during a terrible time.” --The Montreal Gazette

“A ‘must-read’ for students of modern history and anyone who grew up in Europe during the Second World War.” --The Record

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski

  • KRISTEN DEN HARTOG is a critically acclaimed novelist who has been called “a sort of literary younger sister to Alice Munro” (Quill & Quire). She is the author of Water Wings, The Perpetual Ending, and Origin of Haloes. The Occupied Garden, her first work of nonfiction, was written with her older sister, TRACY KASABOSKI, who was born in Rotterdam and first inspired den Hartog years ago with her own dramatic childhood stories.

  • Kristen den Hartog © Jeff Winch
  • Tracy Kasaboski © Jeff Winch





    Available Formats and Book Details

    The Occupied Garden

    A Family Memoir of War-Torn Holland

    Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski

    • e-Book



    Thomas Dunne Books