Reviews

Focus on Survival: A Young Family’s Struggle to Survive World War II
by Julie Bayl
Xlibris AU
“Those last few months of 1943 were precarious indeed, and Ben and Em had to summon all their strength and mental ability…to survive.”

They were a loving couple whose relationship had a rocky start. Ben, a professional photographer, courted Em, a certified midwife, over the objections of Em’s domineering father. Shortly after their marriage, their beloved Netherlands fell under the Nazi occupation. Ben vowed to protect Em and their children, two of whom had hemophilia. Because the occupiers did not confiscate midwives’ bicycles, Ben “became” a midwife. His disguise was so successful that no one recognized “Sister Bernadina,” allowing him to travel and find food. Ben secretly provided Jews with false passport photos and was once held for days, questioned, and brutally beaten. Em told authorities that her husband had abandoned her. They made a tiny attic space for hiding during periodic Nazi searches. Em also took bike trips, even when pregnant and dodging the bullets of warfare, to ask better-off relatives in the countryside for precious eggs and vegetables for the children.

The author is the wife of the couple’s son Charles. Em recounted to her their harrowing, wartime stories, (which are infused with humor and romance), since Ben always displayed only offhanded bravado about his deeds and adoration for his wife. Much of the story is comprised of the couple’s lively conversations and old family letters. The narrative is interspersed with Ben’s photos of the family taken at crucial points in the story. Bayl’s book brings to mind The Diary of Anne Frank, because the family she portrays was involved in trying to help Jewish families, and because their collective spirit comes across so clearly. Ben and Em, Bayl emphasizes, absolutely would not cooperate with hateful tyrants. This book is a confidently composed historical account of day-by-day deprivation, starvation, and fear that stirringly conveys the indomitable courage of two typical Dutch citizens in wartime.


Title: Focus on Survival: A young family’s struggle to survive World War II
Author: Julie Bayl
Publisher: 978-1-5035-0220-8
ISBN: XlibrisAU
Pages: 264
Genre: Historical Drama
Reviewed by: Ella Vincent

Pacific Book Review Star
Awarded to Books of Excellent Merit

Focus on Survival is a heartwarming story based on the true story of Em and Ben, a
Dutch couple who fought to survive during World War II. Author Julie Bayl’s writing
pays tribute to the triumphant spirit of Em and Ben. Focus on Survival tells the story of
Em, a midwife who marries Ben, a successful photographer. Their world is turned
upside down when World War II breaks out. Ben is sought by the Nazis to serve in the
Third Reich, but he hides from them in his house to allude being forced into their
service. On top of the political upheaval, Em and Ben have to endure personal trauma
when two of their children battle hemophilia as they struggle to fight to stay alive during
the war.

This is an engaging and emotional novel that showcases Em and Ben’s perseverance.
Em is shown as a persistent and powerful woman who became a midwife despite her
father’s objections. She also has to survive the hardships of war through numerous
difficult pregnancies and keep her family together. Ben is also a pivotal person in the
book who is portrayed as a hero. Ben is a brave crusader for justice who fights against
Nazism through nonviolent resistance. Though the book has a heavy subject matter,
there are also light moments in the book as well. The tender relationship between Em
and Ben shows how dedicated they were to each other despite the hardships of war.
There was even some humor in Focus on Survival, too. Ben was able to evade Nazis
and travel around Holland by dressing in drag, a rare light moment in the text.
The book is not only touching, but also historically accurate as well. Bayl adds Dutch
words into the dialogue and gives detailed descriptions of the Dutch countryside to give
readers a complete picture of life in Holland during the war. Focus on Survival has
pictures of Em and Ben along with a blueprint of their house to add more historical
aspects to the text.

Focus on Survival is ideal for readers who want to read historical fiction about the
personal toll of World War II. The book is great for people interested in inspirational
stories about having faith through challenging times. This book is an excellent text for
students who want to learn more about World War II and Nazi resisters. Julie Bayl has
written an excellent book that will inspire readers.


As a radio talk show host in 90 cities, i interview hundreds of guests per year.
A few stand out like Julie Bayl, ‘Focus on Survival’.
Her excellent book has created a lasting impression.

-Stu Taylor
Nationally Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host

Focus on Survival

Focus on Survival