Posts Tagged ‘the Holocaust’

It’s Saturday, and I’d like to be sleeping in. However, weekends don’t mean I’m slacking off. Or maybe I am, but I don’t consider it slacking off. I’m just working in a way most people don’t see as working. Anyway, welcome back to the Ten Day Book Challenge, brought by my cousin Matthew. Here are the rules:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book is special for me, as it was part of the reason I took up a history and studied the Holocaust in college. Allow me to introduce The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth.

An alternate history story, Roth inserts himself as the childhood narrator in an America where Charles Lindbergh gets elected President of the United States during the rise of Nazi Germany and Hitler. Lindbergh acquiesces to the wishes of the America First crowd and declares America neutral when it comes to events transpiring in Europe. However, moves made by the government under Lindbergh makes Roth’s family and many Jews suspicious that Lindbergh may secretly be a Nazi sympathizer or pawn. And as time goes on, events transpire to make that fear seem very reasonable.

Alternate history is supposed to give us a view of what could’ve happened if a few things were different, and The Plot Against America does just that. While I do find it difficult to believe that Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer, it does go to show what could’ve happened if his America First policies did shape America for a few years, as well as if more anti-Semitic practices or ideas were made law. But it also shows what could happen if a young boy in America saw his very people suddenly under threat, at risk by something behind-the-scenes, and how his family reacted to that. It’s not just interesting, but engrossing and makes you think about how only a few minor things could have seriously changed America’s destiny.

From what I hear, a TV miniseries based on the novel is in development under the guy who created the TV show The Wire. Honestly, with the resurgence of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in America, I can’t imagine a better time to adapt this story. Hopefully it gets a good network or streaming service that will ensure it’s seen by a lot of people. And in the meantime, I hope you take the time to check out the book. Believe me, it’s worth a read.

Today, I’m tagging my friend Pat Bertram. Pat, I know you’re busy these days, but I think it’d be cool if you could do this. Good luck if you can!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be back later today with a review of The Nun. Until then, I hope you’re enjoying the weekend. I know I plan to.

Advertisements

 

There are people looking at the title of this post and thinking, “What the heck did that crazy author come up with now?”

To answer that question, I just finished writing a short story taking place during the London Blitz. I first had the idea for this story over four years ago, when I went on a study-abroad trip to Europe to follow the Allies’ path through Europe. While our teacher and tour guide (or was it one of the other students giving a report based on the research they did the last semester?) was discussing the London Blitz at Bletchley Park (the site where Alan Turing cracked the Nazi Enigma code), I had this idea for a story taking place during the Blitz, involving some kids encountering something awful while trying to run from the bombs. Over time, the antagonist came to be Adolf Hitler.

Or is it him? You know me, I never write anything simple. In any case, the story reflects something about me that shouldn’t surprise anyone: I’m scared of Hitler and the Nazis. As a Jew, I know how close my people came to annihilation nearly three-quarters of a century ago. If the war had gone differently, I probably wouldn’t be here, let alone talking about my stories and my love of horror with you. This is part of why I studied the Holocaust in college, and why I still study it today (though obviously not as frequently as I did in college). But even though I studied the Holocaust and have a pretty good understanding of what occurred, knowing doesn’t make me any less afraid of the Nazis or their monster of a leader. And with such a resurgence of people saying Hitler was right or worthy of admiration, I made sure to get that fear across in the story. Hopefully I succeeded.

You know, I actually wasn’t intending to write this story. I was planning on getting back to a novelette that I’d started working on in-between drafts of Rose. However, this story started calling to me to write it, and I couldn’t resist the call to listen to it. And yes, stories can demand to be written. At least while they’re in our heads. And I only just figured out why this story wanted me to write it so badly that it grabbed my attention. You see, I went to Washington DC recently for work. It was the first time since I was thirteen or so that I’d been to DC, so obviously I was going to do the tourist thing and check out some places (see my Instagram for photos). One of the places I decided to visit was the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, so I could see it after being so much more informed about it than I was as a teen.

The train car at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. There’s such a palpable energy of despair coming from it, you can’t help but be affected by it.

I guess my subconscious had me write this story because I was going to that museum. Maybe it was some form of mental preparation, or maybe I felt somewhere in my mind that it was the right thing to write. In either case, I went to the museum on Saturday, and let me tell you, their main exhibit has a palpable atmosphere. You can’t go in there without coming away affected. Seeing all these artifacts from the past–concentration camp and Nazi uniforms, newsreel footage, photographs, testimonials from survivors, even a train car that might have been used to transport Jews and other “inferior races” to concentration camps–along with the museum’s presentation of them, make you fully aware of the horror that occurred so long ago and how it still affects us today.

After I left the main exhibit, I was so glad I was writing this story. It was as if through the story, I was reminding people there’s still a reason to fear Hitler and his ideology. Especially since it’s showing a resurgence these days, long after its abominable creator committed suicide.

So what’s next for this particular story? Well obviously I’m going to have it looked over and then edited. Afterwards though…we’ll see. It’s a little over sixty-eight hundred words, so it’s not too long. I’ll see about getting it published somewhere. There’s a magazine I’ve been trying on and off to get published in, so maybe they’ll take it. Then again, the Ohio Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, of which I’m a member of, has been talking about putting together an anthology. Perhaps I’ll submit it there.

In any case, I’ll let it lie for a while before working on it again. In the meantime, let’s see if I can finish that novelette before I get the latest draft of Rose back from Castrum.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to get ready for bed. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Aokigahara forest.

On December 31st, YouTube star Logan Paul visited Aokigahara, a forest in Japan that is visited by thousands of tourists, families, and school trips, but has a dark side. Aokigahara is a popular suicide spot, to the point that its nickname is Suicide Forest. The Japanese government has even posted signs throughout the forest encouraging visitors to choose life rather than take their own lives. While there, Paul and his friends came across a hanging body, filmed it, and posted the video on YouTube (the body’s face was blurred out). The video quickly went viral, garnering a lot of negative controversy. Within a day, Paul took down the video, and issued an apology over Twitter, but people are still very upset and there has been a lot of talk online about his actions.

Before I get into the main thrust of what I wanted to talk about with this post. Firstly, I am about to talk about a sensitive subject, and I am going to approach this with as much care and respect as possible. Still, I am an imperfect being and I make mistakes, like everyone. So if I say something that offends you or that you disagree with, please understand that is not what I intended. I’m just trying to make sense of a difficult topic in a world that doesn’t make sense that often, and sometimes I miss things that cause misunderstanding between others and myself without meaning to. So please bear with me as I try and explore a topic that a lot of people have strong opinions about.

Second, there are two things about me I would like to tell you all. One is that I have experienced depression before, and a couple of times it made me think of suicide. Those times when I considered suicide, it was because I had toxic people in my life who made me miserable. I still remember the crushing despair, the feeling that things were never going to get better, and the thought that I could just make it all better by leaving this life and falling into–I don’t know. Something better. It took the extraction of these toxic people in my life, as well as the help of a lot of good friends and family to help me find happiness and hope again.

The Yahrtzeit candle I lit at Sachsenhausen.

The other thing I would like you to know is that back in 2014, I visited Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp twenty-two miles north of Berlin as part of my study-abroad trip. Around thirty-thousand people died at that camp while it was operational. When I arrived, it struck me as a very tranquil place. There was lots of grass and trees, the sun was shining, and there were only a few buildings left from when the camp was operational. But you spend enough time there, and this pall of despair settled over me. It was like the prisoners had felt over seventy years ago had seeped into my very body. An hour there, and it was just hard to even breathe there. I lit a Yahrtzeit candle, a ritual candle in Judaism for memorializing the dead, at a wall used by firing squads. And when I left, I was glad to get out of that anguish-infected place, even as I was glad to have visited a place connected to the history of my people.

Now to the point of why I’m writing this blog post. You see, a month before I went to Sachsenhausen, I wrote a blog post about haunted locations I wanted to visit, and Aokigahara was on that list (even before it became a suicide hotspot, the forest was well-known as a place for hauntings, hence why it was on the list). Given that, I feel like I have a responsibility to talk about this controversy, as well as my desire then, and now, to visit Aokigahara.

Obviously, what Logan Paul did was extremely disrespectful, the equivalent of taking a photo of the corpse at a funeral, or a selfie at Auschwitz or at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. It shows total disregard for the deceased and their loved ones in favor of quick-lived social media attention, and should be discouraged at every opportunity.

However, there is nothing wrong with wanting to visit Aokigahara in itself (hold your comments, let me finish). As I pointed out above. Aokigahara is visited every year for totally innocent reasons. However, no matter what reason you go to visit the forest, it should be done with respect. Any death is horrible, and suicides are especially tragic. We can never know what is going through someone’s mind or what is happening in their lives, let alone someone dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. Not unless we’ve been there ourselves, and sometimes not even then. But in every case, it is terrible, and shouldn’t be treated lightly.

With that in mind, anyone who visits the forest should do so with respect and cognizance for what has happened there, the same same way I approached visiting Sachsenhausen. Be respectful of what has happened and is happening there, understand that depression, suicide, and the forest itself has affected a lot of people in horrible ways, and if God forbid you do come across a body, leave it alone and notify the authorities. Only take photographs or footage if it is to help the authorities find the deceased, not for views or likes or whatever. Other photographs can be taken of the forest, or of the tourist attractions there such as the Narusawa Ice Cave and Fugaku Wind Cave, but definitely not of the bodies.

Remember, 1-800-273-TALK.

This is how, if I am ever lucky enough to visit Japan and I end up visiting Aokigahara, I will approach the forest. Not for ghosts, not for likes, and definitely not for suicide, but to pay respects to the dead and to draw attention to the ongoing struggle of suicide the world over. I may even bring a Yahrtzeit candle or some incense to burn, provided I can make sure it won’t cause a forest fire or injuries. Because what happens in this forest is a tragedy, and should be treated as such, no matter who you are or what your background is. Even as I enjoy the beauty of the forest and the tourist sites, I will remember these people, and hope they find rest, even as I hope others find the will to continue on and live.

And if you’re dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, please know that things do get better. There were times when I thought my life couldn’t get better, but it did, and now, my life is great. And if you keep living, there’s always a chance your life could get better too. Every day is an opportunity for improvement. All it takes is the will to continue on. I support you, I’m there for you, and I hope you take this message to heart.

And again, if I said something wrong or caused offense, I beg your forgiveness. It is not my intention to cause any hurt feelings. I only want to make sense of something horrible and help those in troubled times. Thank you for reading.

If you’re dealing with suicidal thoughts, please also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The counselors there will help you through this crisis, and help you find the light to fight off the darkness.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live long as God himself. Never.

Elie Wiesel, Night

This is really hard for me to write. I actually cried a little when I found out. It feels like I lost someone dear to me. A few minutes ago, a friend of mine sent me a message over Facebook. It was a New York Times article, telling me that Elie Wiesel had died. He was 87.

My only response was “No.”

Now if you’re unfamiliar with who Elie Wiesel was, he was a Holocaust survivor who was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, one of three survivors of his family. Ten years later, he wrote a 900-page account of his experiences in the camps, which was later shortened to the 127-page memoir La Nuit, later translated into English as Night. As time went on, and Night gained attention, Wiesel became a well-known speaker on the Holocaust, as well as other subjects, including Israel, genocides across time and the world, and human rights. He also wrote over 56 more books, helped to found the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (where, on opening day, he famously interrupted one of the speakers, I think President Carter, by saying that all the niceties were meaningless when there were horrors being perpetrated in Yugoslavia), received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, started the Elie Wiesel Foundation with his wife, Marion, to fight intolerance and prejudice, and taught at Boston University as the Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities.

I first met Mr. Wiesel as a boy. Not in person, though I would do that when I was a teenager. My father had a copy of Night, along with his other books Day and Dawn, in his office in the synagogue. My dad gave it to me, though I can’t remember why. Perhaps I’d been asking questions about the Holocaust, or maybe he just thought I’d get something out of it. Either way, I did. I read Night several times over the many years, stealing to my dad’s office after services on Saturdays to read the story of a fifteen year old boy who had experienced so much at such a young age.

I only realize this now, but Wiesel became, in my mind, one of the older kids whom I looked up to and hung out when I saw them. There were plenty of guys and girls like that when I was a kid, teens who tried and became real role models for the rambunctious young me. I always looked up to those kids, and Wiesel became one of them, esteemed more than any of the others.

I later got to meet this hero in my mind, though he was not the young man I always imagined in my head. I think I was twelve or thirteen at the time. My synagogue has a yearly event where some big speaker is invited to speak to the congregation. That year, we were excited to have a huge coup in our speaker.

I think I remember seeing him for the first time, and remembering how small and old he was. At my age, I was around the same height as him. It was quite the contrast from my mental image. But he was so kind. And even though my vocabulary wasn’t that big at that age, I knew that, the moment I shook his hand, I was shaking the hand of a giant. He was like the titular character of my dad’s favorite Yiddish short story, “Bontsha the Silent” (you can read a full PDF in English here), in which the main character finds out that if he only opened his mouth to complain about the world, he would’ve shook the heavens, only in this case, Wiesel made use of his power, and it resonated.

Sadly, I only remember a little bit from that evening. It was ten years ago, and you don’t tend to remember much from that age, even when it’s from great men. I do remember, quite clearly, that he started with a story about how a woman and her friends thought they recognized him on the street, only to conclude that it couldn’t possibly be him. I think you can tell a lot about a titan when they begin a speech with a humorous story.

And that’s what Elie Wiesel was. A titan. A giant. A being that was more than what “man” could ever constitute. He spoke louder than Bontscha ever felt the need to, and the world shook in response. It took notice. He made the world notice Bosnia, Darfur, all the horrors of the many genocides over the years, and then some. Through his foundation and his many books and speaking engagements, he educated the world, molded minds to be more cognizant of both the great evils and the great goods that human beings were capable of, and encouraged them to take action.

And that night, I got to hear him speak, I got to enjoy desserts with him and the rest of the VIPs at the event that night, and I even got a photo with him. When he left and I got the chance to say goodbye (we were both leaving at the same time), it was like using a huge force go by.

He wasn’t the friend I had in my mind. That was the only encounter I had with him outside of the books he wrote. But he was so much more to me and to so many more people out there. Perhaps one could make the argument that he was the greatest Jew of our modern times (sorry, Jon Stewart), and one of the greatest living people to boot. Across the world, people will hear the news and they will feel his passing. They will cry, like I did. They may even tear their clothes, a tradition in Judaism on the passing of someone important. And that’s what’s happened. Someone important has left this world. A great titan, in a form that spoke of gentleness and tolerance, has gone onto the next life, and we have all suffered a great loss because of it.

In the Jewish tradition, we often put a special suffix after the names of people who have died: z”l. It means zichrono liv’racha, which means “may their memory be a blessing.” The Holocaust was a horrible event, a memory that mankind would rather forget, but it produced one of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. And we shall remember him, and his memory shall be a blessing, encouraging us to be better in all circumstances. And I shall definitely try to live up to those lessons, even more in Wiesel’s death as I did in life.

Goodbye, Mr. Wiesel, z”l. We shall miss you so.

Baruch Dayan Ha-emet.

*Warning: this post contains spoilers on a recent novel. Read with caution.*

I heard something very interesting yesterday that I, as a writer, a Jew, and a scholar on the Holocaust have to comment on. When you read that title and saw the words “Nazi Romance”, what popped through your mind? Probably nothing good if you haven’t heard yet, and probably a ton of controversy and maybe some simmering anger if you have heard yet. In case you’re among those who haven’t heard, let me explain:

The controversy centers around a Christian romance novel called For Such a Time by a woman named Kate Breslin that came out last year. The novel has received nods for awards and positive reviews in that time, including a few from the Romance Writers of America. However, a lot of people are taking offense at the subject matter: it’s a retelling of the Biblical story of the Book of Esther set in a Nazi concentration camp with a Jewish woman with Gentile looks and a Nazi commandant as the heroes. Long story short, the commandant thinks this blonde beauty can’t be Jewish and puts her to work in a supervisory role in the camp under a false name. Thus begins a strange, tension-filled romance that some have likened to sexual harassment coupled with Stockholm Syndrome (sounds a bit like my thesis Rose) that ends with the two heroes getting together despite all obstacles and, because this is a Christian romance novel, the heroine converts to Christianity (not like my thesis Rose at all).

Now I have not read the novel–I only found out about this yesterday, I’m not interested in reading a romance novel, let alone one trying to get me to look at Jesus in a new light, and even if I was by the time I finished it the Internet’s short attention span might have moved onto something else–but you can see why this sort of story might cause some upset feelings. The major criticism is that the novel co-opts one of the greatest tragedies in modern history, and the biggest tragedy in modern Jewish history, so as to advance a particular religious aim.

At the same time, some have come out in favor of the book. Anne Rice actually defended the novel, saying that writers should be able to experiment and that the almost extreme outcry rising on the Internet around this novel is akin to censorship and a lynch mob. The organization Romance Writers of America has said something very similar in response to For Such a Time getting two nods for major awards they hand out.

Now, I don’t like Internet confrontation. But like I said, I’m a writer, a Jew, and a scholar on the Holocaust, so I feel some need to weigh in on this subject. First off, I understand the point of view about experimentation vs. censorship. In several stories I’ve written over the years, including Rose, I’ve pushed boundaries of my own comfort zone and maybe the comfort zones of my readers in order to create a better story. Writers should be able to do just that, experiment and push boundaries in the name of creating a great story. To regulate what writers work on or threaten them if they write something someone finds offensive, which is made all too much easier by the anonymity of the Internet, does smell of censorship and makes me think of extremist vigilante justice using a new medium to intimidate people. Almost like a lynch mob, in fact.

Can you really make fiction–let alone romantic Christian fiction–out of a subject like this?

However, I do see why people are outraged over this book. Like I said, the Holocaust was a tragedy. Of the estimated 12 million victims of the Nazi genocide, around half were Jews. To take what was a horrific and defining moment for modern Jewry and use it as a backstory for a romance meant to draw readers close to Jesus is very insensitive to victims and survivors of the Holocaust who lost their lives because of their heritage, as well as those who carry that heritage today. The conversion to Christianity at the end is also very disturbing, because many Jews were forced to convert before, during, and after the war for survival and it sometimes caused trouble for them later in life. To portray it as an act of love…to say the least it seems unsettling.

Ultimately, I feel the best way to view For Such a Time by Kate Breslin is to view it as a teachable moment. While writers should be able to write and experiment as they wish, they should also be cognizant that writing about some subjects (like the Holocaust) requires more sensitivity and caution than others. When dealing with a subject such as this, it’s important not just to know your facts, but how people–particularly those affected directly by said subject–feel about it. That way when you write about it, you are writing it in a way that, while it may not please everyone, it will not cause the sort of outrage this novel has caused.

This was what I did with Reborn City when I wrote it. I’m as far away from the gangster lifestyle as possible, so I did my research to make sure I represented gangsters in a way that would do the lifestyle justice . So far, I haven’t had any complaints.

Thankfully Breslin has already issued an apology, saying she wrote it with the best of intentions and she’s very sorry for any offense or pain she caused to the Jewish people. And while others may not forgive her, I think I can. I think she’s learned form this experience. And when she puts out her next book, perhaps it’ll get the attention that every author wants their book to have, rather than the nasty kind her first received.

What’s your take on this subject? Is Ms. Breslin out of line or was she just trying to write a good story?

Should authors be more sensitive when experimenting with their stories? And is the uproar over this book overblown or justified?

Let’s discuss.