John Mulqueen at The Dublin Review of Books:
The story of two brothers from Antwerp stands out in Tremlett’s dramatic telling of the tragedy of the Republic and its international defenders. From a Yiddish-speaking family of Polish origin, Piet and Emiel Akkerman, like many other Jewish immigrants, found a cultural home in that city’s left-wing milieu during the Depression years. In Belgium in particular, the far left attracted Jews because it worked hard to make the connection between antisemitism and fascism. Remembering more than fifty years of a wave of pogroms in Europe, Jews were overrepresented in the International Brigades. Piet had led a march of striking diamond workers earlier in 1936: his police file recorded that he was “an excellent orator, who appears to have an honourable profession but, as soon as anything happens on the street, he is there”.
In a letter to his mother, Bluma, Piet wrote from Spain: “How could I hesitate, even with my scarce abilities, to help prevent another world war and to defeat fascism?” Emiel did not hesitate either and fell during the battle for Madrid.