Photo Credit: Amsterdam Publishers
Liesbeth Heenk in 2022.

Sipping champagne and noshing on hors d’oeuvres, dozens of authors and their plus-ones mingled and chatted at the Dutch consulate in New York City one September evening in 2022. Ranging in age from 16 to over 90, the guests in the modest event space were members of an exclusive, if unenviable, club – all were Holocaust survivors or survivors’ descendants. The event was organized by Amsterdam Publishers for its North American authors by the publisher’s founder, Liesbeth Heenk, who had flown in from the Netherlands for the occasion. The soft-spoken Heenk held court near the entrance of the venue, greeting each guest as they arrived.

Ostensibly, the gathering was convened to celebrate these writers, chroniclers of the worst genocide in history. Heenk, in her Dutch-accented English, delivered a short address expressing the gratification she felt in having built a thriving publishing house specializing in Holocaust memoirs and novels. But as, one by one, the authors raised a glass to Heenk herself, the gathering became a salute to the woman who dedicated her life to giving voice to the untold stories of the Shoah.


The events that led this Dutchwoman to dedicate her life to publishing Holocaust stories are as serendipitous as they are remarkable. Heenk, an art historian by training, did not start out in the book business. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Leiden University and her doctorate at the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London, where she wrote her thesis on Vincent Van Gogh. Following stints at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Christie’s in London, and Sotheby’s in Amsterdam, Heenk pivoted and launched Amsterdam Publishers in 2012. She did not originally intend to focus on the Holocaust and instead planned to operate as a general publisher.

That all changed when she met Manny Steinberg. Steinberg, a survivor, submitted his memoir manuscript to Heenk in 2014. Outcry, as the book came to be titled, was published to critical acclaim and remained a longtime bestseller translated into several languages. Heenk bonded with Steinberg and accompanied him and his family on a trip to Dachau. The experience so moved Heenk that she decided that her company’s sole objective would henceforth be to amplify voices of the Shoah.

Heenk, who performs the lion’s share of the work at Amsterdam Publishers, releases 20 to 30 titles a year. Her books have been translated into 15 languages, and she anticipates publishing her 100th English-language book in 2024. “I am both pleased and sad to report that Amsterdam Publishers is the largest publisher of Holocaust books in Europe,” said Heenk. “I wish more publishing houses were taking on this important work.”

Heenk, who is herself a non-Jew, felt some initial self-consciousness serving as torchbearer for European Jews and their descendants. “At first I felt a little uneasy because I’m not Jewish,” she recalled. “Who am I to deal with those extremely personal stories?” Luckily, she soon overcame her apprehension as she came to fully appreciate the value of her mission. “I feel a tremendous responsibility toward the Jewish community to do my part to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again,” she said.

Amsterdam Publishers offers an avenue for manuscripts that too often end up in the slush pile at larger and longer-standing publishers. Heenk’s stable of writers includes a dwindling number of Holocaust survivors as well as second- and third-generation members of survivors’ families. Heenk does not anticipate Holocaust publishing to extend past the third generation – she believes the gulf in time between the two age groups will be too great. She therefore endeavors to give voice to as many stories as she can while there is still time. She sees this work as integral to both preserving stories that would otherwise be lost to history and combating the regrettable rise in antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

Rosie Greenstein survived Auschwitz as a young girl. It was always her dream to share the story of her harrowing ordeal with a wider audience. That dream approached reality when Greenstein’s granddaughter, Nechama Birnbaum, wrote and submitted a manuscript to Amsterdam Publishers in 2021 when Greenstein was 95. Heenk rushed to get the manuscript published so that Greenstein would live to see her dream fulfilled. The book, The Redhead of Auschwitz, became an Instagram sensation before Greenstein’s passing in 2022 at the age of 96. “She spent her last days signing books for her doctors,” recalled Birnbaum. “One of the last things she asked me was, ‘Is the book still being read?’ Thanks to Liesbeth, it was.”

Indeed, it is just this type of story that affords Heenk the greatest satisfaction. “The impact these books have on survivors and their families cannot be overstated,” said Heenk. “For many, they feel like they are finally being heard after a lifetime of silence.”


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