Astrid Holleeder is in hiding because she had the courage to write this book. Her brother Willem Holleeder, best known for his involvement in the 1983 kidnapping of the CEO and chairman of Heineken brewing company, is one of the most notorious criminals in contemporary history. For decades, Wim ruled over his family mafia-style, threatening death if any of them betrayed him. Astrid and her sister, Sonja, watched as their brother eliminated anyone who got in his way, and they lived in terror of inciting his rage, unable to protect even their own young children from his violence. Trained as a lawyer, Astrid served as her brother’s unwilling confidante.
Now, she’s turning the tables on him. Charged for his involvement in multiple assassinations, including that of his former partner and brother-in-law, Holleeder is finally on trial for murder, all due to the shocking testimony of his own family.
I had previously read about Astrid Holleeder in an article of The New Yorker. Immediately, I was intrigued by the story of a sister choosing to betray her brother, a notorious crime boss, and the danger she lives in. It was very clear that because of her choice, Astrid Holleeder lived every moment in fear she will be killed in retaliation of her betrayal.
After I read the article I knew I had to know more. About Astrid Holleeder, her brother, and more specifically, her journey to choose to testify against the person she was closest to.
The minute I picked up this book I couldn’t put it down. While Holleeder’s writing style wasn’t the best (and at some points, a little too theatrical), what drew my attention was her experiences. From her abusive upbringing to her unwilling involvement in the criminal underground, Holleeder’s life is riddled with threats and impossible choices. I could feel my anxiety grow with her choices to betray her brother and work with the Justice Department to finally convict him for good. While I knew she’d be okay (she did end up writing a book, so she can’t be dead), I still couldn’t help but feel she’d suddenly be “liquidated” at any moment. That in the end, her brother will regain control over her life.
I also liked how raw Holleeder was with her feelings. At the end of the day, this story is about how a family was forced to turn on one of their own. The same brother that made her life a living hell for years was also the one to take care of her when her father refused to. Holleeder’s choices were complex. As black and white as it might seem, there are nuances of a family that Holleeder was not afraid to be real about.
Judas was a thrilling read and I could understand why it was so popular in the Netherlands. This kind of memoir is unlike any other. If you love a read that will put you in suspense, Judas is definitely the book for you.