The Assault Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 33 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Assault.

The Assault Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 33 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Assault.
This section contains 2,011 words
(approx. 6 pages at 400 words per page)
Buy The Assault Study Guide

The Assault Summary & Study Guide Description

The Assault Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Assault by Harry Mulisch.

The Assault is a novel by Dutch writer Harry Mulisch. In this novel, Anton Steenwijk's family is murdered and their home destroyed after a Nazi collaborator is murdered on their street. Anton is adopted by an aunt and uncle in the aftermath and chooses to bury the events surrounding the deaths of his family rather than dwell on them. However, as Anton grows and matures, he finds himself almost constantly running into people who provide small details of that fateful night, until finally Anton learns everything that happened and lead to his personal tragedy. The Assault is a novel about how one event can have a lingering effects and can change a life.

The Steenwijk family is locked in a single room of their house because the war has left them with an inability to warm the entire house. There is no food, no medical care, and no dental care, leaving Mrs. Steenwijk suffering a toothache with no remedy. Peter Steenwijk, the eldest child, has just finished his studies when he hears a series of gunshots outside. Peter runs to a window and sees Fake Ploeg lying dead on the neighbor's lawn. Ploeg is a Nazi collaborator, a local police officer, who is known for his cruelty. As Peter watches outside the window, he sees the neighbors, Mr. Korteweg and his daughter Karin, move the body in front of the Steenwijk house. Peter becomes furious, knowing they have done this because the Germans will seek retribution. Peter tells his parents they must move the body back or to their other neighbor's house, the Beumers.

Mrs. Steenwijk is frightened. She tells Peter that they should leave the body where it is. Mrs. Steenwijk believes if they stay in the house, the Germans will not think they had anything to do with the murder. However, Peter refuses to listen. Mrs. Steenwijk takes the key to the front door and throws it into the darkness of a back room. This infuriates Peter, but it does not stop him from leaving the house. Peter runs out a back door and goes directly to the body. However, it is too late when Peter reaches the body. The Germans are already coming. Peter grabs Ploeg's gun and disappears. At the same time, the Germans charge into the Steenwijk house and demands to see their papers. Mr. Steenwijk quietly does as they demand.

The Germans takes Mr. and Mrs. Steenwijk outside. Anton is placed in a car where he loses sight of his parents. Anton watches as soldiers use a flame thrower to torch his house. Anton briefly sees his mother, but does not know what happened to her or where she was taken. When all appears to be over, the German soldier comes back to the car and finds Anton there. The man forgot about the twelve-year-old boy. The soldier takes Anton to a police station in Heemstede. Anton is placed in a dark cell with a young woman. The woman talks to Anton, telling him a story about being lost in the dark. The woman refuses to tell Anton her name or to discuss why she is in the jail. After a short time, Anton falls asleep. When he wakes, Anton is yanked out of the cell and taken to the Ortskommandantur, the Regional Command center.

At the Ortskommandantur, Anton falls asleep again. In the morning, Anton meets the commander who asks him where he might have family. Anton mentions his uncle, Peter Van Liempt, in Amsterdam. The commander arranges for Anton to be taken to Amsterdam with a military convoy. Unfortunately, on the way to Amsterdam, the convoy is attacked by a plane and Anton's escort is injured. When they arrive at the command post in Amsterdam, Anton explains to the man in charge why he was with the convoy. Anton's uncle is located and picks him up, taking him home.

Over the next five months, Anton becomes comfortable living with his aunt and uncle. When Holland is liberated, Van Liempt goes to Haarlem to learn what happened to Anton's family. Van Liempt is able to learn that Mr. and Mrs. Steenwijk were killed along with twenty-nine hostages on the night of Ploeg's murder. However, Van Liempt is unable to ascertain what happened to Peter. There remains some hope that Peter may still be alive. However, a short time later they learn Peter too was shot that fateful night.

Over the next few years Anton grows up, finishing high school and going on to medical school. A friend invites Anton to a party in Haarlem. Anton has not returned to Haarlem since the night of Ploeg's murder and has no intention of returning. However, he finds himself drawn to the party almost unconsciously. When Anton arrives, he discovers the party is across the canal from the neighborhood where he lived. Anton walks over to his street and studies the empty plot where his house once stood. Mrs. Beumer, a neighbor, sees him and invites him in for coffee.

Anton speaks to Mrs. Beumer for a while, learning that she saw the events of that fateful night. Mrs. Beumer tells Anton that his mother attacked the soldier in charge and perhaps this is why she and her husband were killed with twenty-nine other hostages murdered that night. Mrs. Beumer also tells Anton that there is a memorial set in the spot where the murders took place. Before he leaves, Anton goes to the memorial and reads his parents' names. His father is the oldest person on the list, his mother the only woman.

Four years later, Anton has graduated from medical school and has become an intern. Anton has taken an apartment of his own. Demonstrations are taking place a few blocks from his building, causing Anton to have trouble with noise and simply reaching his own front door. One evening Anton comes home and finds protesters blocking the street before his building. Anton makes his way to the door, but the police come and cause people to press up against him. Suddenly they all run in another direction, leaving Anton alone with a single protester. Anton recognizes him as Fake Ploeg, the murder victim's child. Anton invites Fake into his apartment.

Fake tells Anton how difficult life was after the death of his father. Fake's mother went to jail for a time and then was forced to take a job as a house cleaner to make ends make. Fake himself had to drop out of school and became an appliance repairman to help care for his mother and two sisters. As they talk, Fake begins to cry, insisting that his father was an innocent man and Anton was not the only one to suffer from the events of that faithful night. Before Fake leaves, he throws a heavy rock at a mirror on Anton's wall, destroying it.

Ten years later, Anton is an anesthesiologist and has married a beautiful young woman named Saskia. Anton and Saskia have a four-year-old daughter, Sandra. One afternoon Saskia is to go to a funeral for a friend of her father's who was a part of the Resistance with her father during the war. Anton decides to take the day off and attend with her. Afterward they intend to go to the beach with their child. The funeral turns out to be more of a reunion than a funeral. Afterward, Anton and Saskia go with the other mourners to a bar where many of the Resistance members reminisce over the war. Anton overhears a man describing the death of Fake Poeg. Anton finds himself questioning the man's memory, involuntarily revealing his connection to the murder.

The man, Cor Takes, drags Anton into the cemetery and begins to ask him about his recollection of that night. Anton tells him how the Kortewegs moved the body in front of his house. Takes admits that he knew there would be retribution for his actions, that the hostages might be murdered. Takes tells Anton he had a younger brother who was a hostage, but that even his mother agreed that Ploeg had to die no matter the fallout. Takes then tells Anton he was not alone that night, that he had a girlfriend with him. Anton realizes that Takes' girlfriend must have been the woman in whose cell he was placed that night. Takes becomes agitated at this news, demanding to know what she might have said to him. Unfortunately, Anton cannot recall their conversation.

Anton goes on to the beach with his family and then home, still thinking of his encounter with Takes. At home, Anton finds himself realizing that he married Saskia because she resembled the image of that woman in the cell he has carried with him all these years. Anton decides he must see a picture of the girl, to know once and for all what she looks like. Anton calls Takes and arranges to see him the following day. At Takes' apartment, Anton finds he has created something of a shrine to this woman, Truus Coster. Anton studies a picture of her and sees in her eyes that she is very similar to Saskia.

Takes shows Anton a gun and describes how Truus used it to murder Ploeg. Then, as she believed Ploeg lay on the ground dead, she began to ride her bike past him. Unfortunately, Ploeg was not dead and he fired at her, shooting her in the lower back. Takes tried to get Truus out of the area as the soldiers began approaching, but could not. Instead, he hid under some bushes with her. An elderly woman tells the soldiers where they are hiding. Truus makes Takes leave, which he does, leaving her to be arrested alone. Takes clearly regrets this choice. As Anton leaves Takes, Takes tells him he has just received news that a friend from the Resistance has committed suicide because a war criminal, a man who was responsible for thousands of deaths during the war, has been released from prison because of poor health.

Fifteen years later, Anton has divorced Saskia and is now married to a young student named Liesbeth. Anton and Liesbeth have a twelve-year-old son named Peter. One morning Anton wakes with a bad toothache. Anton convinces his dentist to come to the office and fix his tooth, but the dentist demands that Anton attend an anti-nuclear bomb protest in compensation. At the protest, Anton runs into his daughter, who is now pregnant and living with a man Anton dislikes. As they talk, Anton sees an elderly woman watching him. A few minutes later, the woman approaches and introduces herself as Karin Korteweg.

Anton and Karin walk together and Anton asks about the events of that fateful night. Karin tells Anton that her father forced her to help move the body because he was worried that the soldiers would burn down their house, killing the lizards that had become his only source of happiness since the death of his wife. Karin then describes how she and her father were arrested that night, taken to the Ortskommandantur and questioned. Karin admits that she told the truth, admitting to moving the body. However, this admission had no impact on the soldiers.

Karin explains to Anton how her father was deeply troubled by the deaths of the Steenwijk family. In fact, Mr. Korteweg insisted on leaving the country, afraid that Anton would come looking for revenge when he became an adult. The fear of retribution became so intense in Mr. Korteweg that he committed suicide three years later. Anton listens to this information and tells Karin he had no intention of ever seeking revenge. However, he has one last question. Anton wants to know why they placed Ploeg in front of their house and not their neighbors, the Aarts. Karin tells Anton that her father knew the Aarts were hiding a Jewish family, a couple and their daughter. Mr. Koretweg knew if the body was in front of the Aarts home, the Jews would be found and executed.

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