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
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott


“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

Personal Reader Reviews:

Christine Cruickshank

“Julie… the only word I keep coming back to is – rich. I find the text rich and I am so sorry if it  sounds in any way insufficient. As  I read, I am in your family’s living room. I am hearing the words spoken myself. I do have a good imagination but not your expression. Your book is excellent Julie!!! I am so looking forward to your own personal story unfolding…keep me updated.”


Jane Knight-Brown

“I very much wanted to make a comment about this well written book, even when I was halfway through it. First of all, I know the family, that is the grown up children, and knowing what they went through has only made me love them more.  The picture that was painted by your beautiful words made me feel at times that I was there myself. The second reason for my comment is that I come from a family that went through the war in England, East End London, where the daily bombings were quite usual, and everyone had just to learn to live with it. Your book Julie, made me feel as though I can understand what they went through, and for this I am very grateful, because my grandmother and the rest of  the family never really talked about the war.  Thank you for taking the time to record the history of a beautiful family.”


Helen Wilson

“How wonderful to see your book in print and how  proud you must justly feel. You were the right person to entrust this precious story to share.  You touch the reader in so many levels, as they easily feel the life in such awful times, as well as the delicacy and robustness of true love. The humour eases the absolute horror we sense through your words, as you weave a story that depicts the worth of strong family values and integrity. Congratulations Julie!


Julie James Bailey

I just wanted to tell Julie Bayl how much I enjoyed her reconstruction of the war in Holland around her husband’s family. I was at the Launch in Katoomba and was attracted to the book because three of my father’s sisters were in Holland during the war. I met them in 1951 but alas I was too young to talk to them about their experiences. However, I do remember seeing the devastation that the war had brought.

Thank you so much Julie for filling out their experiences for me. Particularly the aunt whose husband was a resistance worker on a farm while she looked after a little Jewish boy in Haarlem all through the war.


Linda Giorgaras

I loved reading this wonderful book. It was full of adventure, constant drama, suspense, love, romance, and even humour.

It is a story of extraordinary courage shown by this family during this most dreadful of times.

This book is full of lessons that we can all learn from today. It leaves me wanting more to the story. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story and I can’t wait for the movie!


Sandra Russell

Congratulations Julie, what an absolutely incredible book you have written. I am just so sorry I  couldn’t be there for your today at the book Launch. The reviews are outstanding, and I urge my friends to go to the, and read the first chapter of Julie’s husbands Charles’ parents remarkable story. Bravo beautiful lady.


Marjolein Hunter

I was absolutely enthralled from the start and couldn’t put it down until I had finished reading the book.  The account of an everyday family’s struggle during the Nazi Occupation was so realistically portrayed that you could feel their pain and fear.

I highly recommend this book for its honest and down to earth description of everyday events during a difficult time in history and capturing, not only the details but also the emotions.


Paul Bayl

Julie, I’m especially impressed with this book! It’s so well written and I just felt I was part of the family, along with Ben and Em throughout the story. Great writing and truly inspiring!


Jenny Minehan

Finished… you have done a great job on your book Julie… a privilege to read.


Wendy Bennett

Congratulations Julie Bayl. Finally launching your book Focus on Survival! Decades of research!  My friend that came to your Book Launch with me today has already read halfway, she said she can visualise it all because it’s so well written! I hope it does very well!


Robyn Gibson

Fabulous Book Julie, well done, thoroughly enjoyed reading it!


Heather Seigel

Dearest Julie just read your post. Your book is wonderful. True story. And I’m very proud to say that I knew the offspring of the dear people in this book and their descendants… anyone reading this post, READ Focus on Survival. It is an amazing piece of research on Julie’s behalf!


Katherine Bayl

Julie I just read your book as we are away on holidays and I finally had time to read.  I couldn’t put it down! It is very well written and so insightful, and such an inspiring story. It’s wonderful to have all that family history recorded. Thank you…are you up to writing a sequel?


Barbara Rocavert

Congratulations Julie, I have already started reading, going to be  hard to put down.


Vanessa Williams

Congratulations Julie What an achievement.