Posts Tagged ‘WWII/Holocaust’

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.

As many of you know, this isn’t the only blog I write for. Another, Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors, is another blog I’ve been contributing to for a little over two years now. And there’s a third blog that I set up over the summer, The Voice of Common Sense.

That’s the blog I’m here to talk about. I started that blog over the summer because I was tired of the amount of stupid I was seeing from the US government and the people in it, the things they said and did and how so many people ate it up. I was tired, and a little angry (especially whenever Trump opened his mouth). So I started The Voice of Common Sense, where I pretended to be the actual personification of Common Sense and reamed out in hilarious fashion all the stupidity I saw on the news every day.

And for a while, I stuck with it. I got out about fifty posts, most of them Donald Trump-related. I managed to snag a few followers. And I think I got people thinking a little bit, which was the point. I wanted people to think, to really wonder if they were perhaps getting too upset over the renaming of Mount McKinley or if Kim Davis was actually someone to call a hero (and of course I took several swipes at Donald Trump).

But after a while I started posting less and then I completely stopped somewhere in September, even though I meant to get back into it. And now I don’t post there at all. In fact, I don’t plan to post there ever again. Why? Because I got so busy. Let’s face it, I was in Germany doing a full-time job, I was working on editing two different books and producing an audio book, and I was searching for a job (still am on that last one). I had no time for another blog that, let’s face it, is basically a full-time job that I don’t get paid for.

And I got tired of that blog as well. The Voice of Common Sense was fun, but it was exhausting. You had so many idiots saying so much stuff (especially Donald Trump). I couldn’t keep up. Heck, there are three late-night comedy shows on two different channels whose sole purpose is to do just what I was trying to do, and even between the three of them they can’t keep up. How could I be expected to? After a while you get sick of just trying to keep up.

So while I really wanted to make The Voice of Common Sense something special, in the end time and the amount of work that goes into such a blog made it impossible to do so. I accept that, although a part of me wishes I could’ve still done more with that blog, especially after I got home and I had some time on my hands. Not much, but some.

Still, I think it’s time I shut down The Voice of Common Sense. Like I said, I just can’t keep up, so I’ll take it down and devote my time to the projects I know I have time for and that I can make a success of. Like this blog, for instance. I’ve been doing Rami Ungar the Writer for over four years now, and it’s grown immensely. In fact, these past couple of days I’ve seen an increase in new followers (thank you for joining up, I really appreciate that), as well as people checking out my books. That’s hard work paying off right there, and that’s where I’ll continue to devote my energies: my fiction and this blog.

Not to say I won’t post the occasional politically-themed post. I definitely will when the mood and the energy for it hits me, though that isn’t often. But for the most part I’ll devote my time and energy to writing about horror and the craft and just all the crazy stuff that can happen in one’s life. That’s what I like to write about on this blog, and that’s what you come here to read.

Still, I do feel I need to get out a few things involving our crazy, mixed-up world, so I think I’ll take the time to do that now:

  • Donald Trump, your fascist and prejudice-filled rhetoric is sickening, and I wish you would stop making remarks that remind me of Adolf Hitler, because they’re scaring me. The fact that so many of the GOP base like you still and the fact that so few of your opponents in your party take the time to thoroughly condemn you just makes me worry more. Here’s hoping you get visited by three ghosts tomorrow night!
  • Why do so many people think it’s a good idea to increase the number of guns after so many shootings? If we were having a series of stabbings or missile attacks, would we call for more knives or rocket launchers? And how do we know who’s a good guy with a gun, especially in a crowded room? It’s not like a video game, where the bad guy is marked out in red or something. In fact, it’s often more complicated than that.
  • Turning away Syrian refugees because of their religion is no different than turning away the St. Louis in the 1930’s. As a nation founded by religious refugees, we shouldn’t turn away others in dire straits because of a few bad apples who interpret a religion practiced worldwide in a violent away. Either that, or all Christians should be treated like they belong to Westboro Baptist, and all Buddhists should be treated like the radicals in Myanmar who advocate killing Muslims. And I know nobody wants that.
  • Ted Cruz, stop trying to deny climate change or warp the data for your own ends. It’s going to be an unusually warm Christmas this year, that should set off alarm bells in your head.
  • Ben Carson…open your eyes, I guess? Nap time was over a long time ago.

Well, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ve got editing and a few other things to do today, so I’ll get on them. Unless something blog-worthy happens soon, I’ll see you all on Friday (you know why that is). Have a good day, my Followers of Fear. I know I will.

Today is my last day in Germany. It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been here for four months; it feels more like I’ve been here for ages. The day I arrived, all the way back in July, feels like it happened years and years ago. Heading home to Columbus feels almost a little weird. Almost like I’m heading to a place that only exists in my memories. I know that sounds weird, but after being away from home for longer than I’ve ever been before (the record before this was five weeks in Israel back in high school), that’s what it feels like.

I am looking forward to coming home to Columbus.* It’s where my family is, and where I’ve spent a majority of my life. It’s familiar, it’s got a lot of people I know. And our football team is undefeated this season, which is always something to be proud of. Go Buckeyes!

Still, I will miss being here in Germany. I’ve become so used to this nation, it’s become something like a really nice foster home for me. Every day there was something new to learn or see, and I got to go to all these wonderful places while I was here. Germany is filled with such history, and I was lucky to be able to explore that history in so many ways, from traveling to the many WWII-related sites in Munich to a Roman wall in Wiesbaden and everything in-between. I even got to see a castle, something no trip Europe is complete without. No matter what the cost, it was worth going out to see all these things.

The Roman Wall. I'm going to miss seeing stuff like this.

The Roman Wall. I’m going to miss seeing stuff like this.

And the people here are very awesome as well: more than once when I got turned around trying to get somewhere, I was able to find someone who was able to point me in the right direction. Even at the grocery store, people were more courteous than I could imagine: yesterday a woman at the grocery store saw I had just the one item (a bottle of wine for my dad and his wife), and she let me go right in front of her. I usually don’t get that even in the States, so I was very grateful for her kindness. When I heard reports about how Germany was the only European country willingly accepting refugees while other countries closed their borders, I wasn’t at all surprised, because that’s just the sort of country Germany is, a kind and accepting place where you can feel as welcome as you might in your own home.

Plus I got to watch Doctor Who several hours before my Whovian comrades in the Western Hemisphere, seeing as the show airs in Europe before it does over there. That was nice. I will miss that.

But yeah, I will miss Germany. My time here was well-spent and I learned and experienced so much, and one day I would like to return, see old friends and do some more exploring of the country if possible. If I could do that, I’d be one very happy horror novelist.

Here's looking at you, Germany.

Here’s looking at you, Germany.

So thank you Germany, for being my home away from home. I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been here (even the more stressful minutes) and I can’t thank you enough for all you, your people, and the other guests who call your lands home have done for me. It has truly been a wonderful experience getting to know you firsthand. So auf wiedersehen, and I hope we can one day meet again.

Until that day comes though, you will be alive in my thoughts, my memories, and in my stories (horrifying as those are).

*And apparently Columbus is preparing for me to come home as well. Already the National Guard has been called out, people have been praying for salvation like mad. There’s even been strange activity reported amongst animals, like a bridge full of spiders (not kidding, it made the local news). I guess they know I plan on jumpstarting the Apocalypse, huh?

As you are probably already aware, I’ve been spending the past three months here in Wiesbaden, Germany, working as an intern at the US Army base here in the Army Civilian Corps, specifically in the Equal Employment Opportunity office (we handle stuff like equal rights for everyone and discrimination complaints and that sort of thing). It’s been a crazy, fun, exhausting, edifying adventure. I’ve been able to live in a really amazing European country–one taking proactive measures to help refugees in the current crisis, by the way (take that, Hungary! Nobody likes you right now!)–get some very valuable job experience, see some things I’ve only read about (SS castle of mysticism and the birthplace of Nazism, anyone?), and even learn a few words of a foreign language.

Plus seventy-something ideas for stories and articles and everything else creative too, by the way. That is something I’m very happy about!

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, as they must. And today was my last day working as an intern. Yep, today was the last day. Sad but true. Did some work in the morning, went with the folks from my office to a beergarten for a goodbye lunch to commemorate all the hard work I’d done, did some more work when we got back, met with a few people to discuss this and that, and then headed home. All told, it felt pretty quiet. I almost expected a somber air or something, just a heaviness in the atmosphere to signal that today was my final day working in that office. No, just a normal day, minus the fact that I’m not getting ready for bed at this point because I have an early morning tomorrow (yeah, I’m sleeping in!).

I’d like to thank everyone who helped make this possible. The folks from my office, for guiding me every step of the way, working so well with my quirky nature, and giving me lessons I’ll carry with me for years to come. My family and friends, for supporting me and being just a Skype call away when I needed them. The many people who helped me get into this internship in the first place, including Ohio State’s Office of Disability Services and the Workforce Recruitment Program, and especially the US Army for willingly taking in a budding horror novelist who proved with his mother that he has demonic abilities. And of course, I have to thank you, my Followers of Fear. No matter what mood I was in, you were there to support me and share in my triumphs and my failures.I can’t thank you enough for that.

Now, this is the part where I tell you my plans. Unfortunately, I can’t. You see, some opportunities have arisen for me here in Germany. I can’t say what they are at this point, though I can assure you that I’m not on tour with Taylor Swift as her live-in boy-toy or breaking into a haunted pizzeria with killer animatronics (if you got that reference, then you’re hip. If you didn’t, click here and get hip). What I can tell you is that these opportunities mean I have to stay in Germany a bit longer. So yeah, I won’t be flying back home at the end of the week. As things progress and we see what happens, I’ll let you know what’s going to happen.

For now though, know that I have some time to myself to clean the apartment, write and edit, and catch up on TV in between working on making the most of these opportunities.

That’s all at the moment. I’ve got stuff to do, so I’m going to do it. You have a good night, my Followers of Fear, and thanks again for giving me so much support and love. I couldn’t ask for a cooler audience.

Wewelsburg castle. Magnificent to behold.

Wewelsburg castle. Magnificent to behold.

Well, I finally did it! I got to visit the castle I’ve been dying to see since I first heard about it while researching Nazis and the occult prior to last year’s study abroad trip. And today, I spent a good part of my day uploading most of the photos I took to Instagram and Facebook. Honestly, it sucks when that ends up taking a longer time than it should, but what are you going to do?

Anyway, if you’re not familiar with Wewelsburg Castle, it’s a triangular castle in the small village of Wewelsburg, part of the town of Buren. During the Nazi era, the SS, led by Himmler, began doing renovations on the castle with the purpose of turning it into the ultimate Aryan production center, a place where the Nazis’ ideological beliefs could be made real. Some people even believe that Himmler, who was a big believer in all that Nazi mysticism stuff, conducted ceremonies in the castle, and hoped to make it into a sort of SS Hogwarts. I personally think that the SS could’ve been doing some magical rituals while they were there, and there is some evidence to suggest that’s what they were planning on doing or did there.

Of course, if you ask the museum staff about it, they will deny that anything like that occurred at the castle, but maybe they want to keep the right-wing nuts and the Satanists and pagans away (yet they still have a small display in the museum to the mystical side of the SS in the exhibit). The staff also deny any sightings of ghosts or anything else paranormal, but maybe they want to keep away ghost hunters too.

Weird occult stuff. Don't ask me what each stands for, I couldn't give you a definitive answer.

Weird occult stuff. Don’t ask me what each stands for, I couldn’t give you a definitive answer.

Anyway, the castle is divided into two permanent exhibits. One exhibit, the Ideology and Terror of the SS, is mostly housed in a separate building, with a path leading to the Crypt and the Group Leader’s Hall in the North Tower (more on that below). It’s very similar to the exhibit at the Topography of Terror Museum in Berlin, which I visited last year: lots of white columns and display cases, with photos and artifacts talking about the history and the beliefs of the SS. Some of it was in English, but most of it obviously was in German, so I didn’t spend as much time there as I might have liked.

Still, it was interesting to be there. I got to see a lot of artifacts, including a few books on mysticism and some occult memorabilia, some uniforms, and a lot of other cool stuff. And at a certain point, you could walk along a footpath to the North Tower, where two of the rooms the SS renovated are available to look at (sadly, no photos are allowed in those areas). The Crypt is a dark and eerie space, and definitely had a ritual purpose, though not necessarily a magical one. The walls are covered with paintings of stylized depictions of victims of SS tyranny, as if to say that the space is now a memorial to them than to the SS and the Aryan man. On the floor above is the Group Leader’s Hall, which was incomplete at the end of the war and was probably meant to be a meeting room of some sort (but for what purpose?). The most interesting part of that room is that in the center of the room is a Black Sun symbol, which has both esoteric connotations and–because the SS used it as a symbol of power–neo-Nazi connotations. I stood on top of it as if to say, “Yeah, I’m Jewish and you’re worth shit.”

Entrance into the castle proper.

Entrance into the castle proper.

The other exhibit discussed the castle’s history, when it was the second home of the Prince-Bishops of Paderborn. You basically go throughout the whole castle–down hallways and up and down staircases–seeing its history from prehistory to the early 1900’s. That was interesting too. Part of the exhibit displayed what creatures lived in the area in the Ice Age or earlier, and another area talked about how important agriculture was to the area. In one room they had the actual road traders used displayed where it had been uncovered during renovations, and in another section there was a small tribute to the Jewish community that lived in the area. And in one part of the East Tower is a basement room where witches were kept and tortured during the one recorded set of witch trials in the area. Believe me, I’m definitely going to email those photos to my History of Witchcraft teacher in the morning.

The castle courtyard, facing the direction of the North Tower.

The castle courtyard, facing the direction of the North Tower.

At the end of it all, I had a really great time and was really glad I’d gone (though before I ended the tour of the castle I had to take off my coat because I was starting to get really warm from all the physical activity). It’s definitely going to be one of the highlights of my time here in Germany, and I took a lot of photos so that I’ll remember it long after I’ve left the country. I even had an idea or two for stories while I was there, and I bought a few books in the gift shop so that I’ll have plenty to reference should I ever need to look up some info. Definitely check out the castle if you ever get the chance. It’s well worth the trip.

Of course, I doubt this’ll be the last adventure I have in Germany. While my time here is becoming limited, there’s still one place I’d like to visit, and I think I might have the opportunity this coming weekend. Oppenheim is a town not too far from me, with an underground ossuary and labyrinth, which sounds a lot like the Paris catacombs, and they have a wine museum too. With Oktoberfest starting, sounds like the kind of place I could have a bit of fun before I say goodbye to Deutschland, don’t you think?

A model of the synagogue that used to be in the village, located in the small Jewish display in the castle.

A model of the synagogue that used to be in the village, located in the small Jewish display in the castle.

Well, I wanted to write more posts today (I’ve got plenty to write about), but it’s getting late and I’ve got an early morning tomorrow. I guess I’ll just say goodnight for now and see what I can post tomorrow.

Goodnight Followers of Fear! Pleasant nightmares!

Yesterday was the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I had the day off, but unfortunately no one could take me to the chaplain’s house that day, and while I tried to go to the nearest synagogue, I couldn’t find it even though it should’ve been in front of me (I found out later from the chaplain that you have to walk into the building where it should’ve been to find it. Otherwise it’s hidden behind businesses. Not sure why that is, but I’ll go with it). So with the day off and nowhere else to go, I decided to do what I promised to do my first week in Germany, and go explore some more of my temporary home.

If you head down to the Marktplatz on a Tuesday afternoon, certain areas will be busy while certain areas won’t be. The main plaza was pretty empty save for some pigeons, while further back you’ll find plenty of people strolling and shopping. It was into these back alleys I went, armed with a map and a general idea of where I was going. Needless to say, I got turned around more than once.

The smaller half of the Jewish Memorial in Wiesbaden.

The smaller half of the Jewish Memorial in Wiesbaden.

The first stop I went to was the Jewish Memorial in Wiesbaden, which was a pretty moving experience. The memorial stands where the old Michelsberg synagogue, which was a magnificent building with domes and spires that was destroyed during the war, used to be and is dedicated to the German Jews from Wiesbaden who died during the Nazi era. Today a road bisects the former grounds, so the memorial is split in half as well. The smaller part is an L-shaped, two story structure made from black stone, with a white display detailing in German and in English the purpose of the memorial. A small touch screen contains more information on the Jewish community of Wiesbaden (all in German unfortunately).

The second half, on the other side of the street, is much bigger. It’s in the shape of a giant rectangle with one side missing and along the walls, there’s a band where all the names of Wiesbaden’s Jews who were murdered during that period are listed. When I crossed the street, I felt the atmosphere change.

The larger, more emotional half of the Jewish memorial in Wiesbaden.

The larger, more emotional half of the Jewish memorial in Wiesbaden.

They say that certain places can hold certain emotions. I’m not sure if that’s true in this case, or if that was just my own associations affecting me, but the moment I got to the other side of the street, I suddenly felt very melancholy and started walking around the memorial, my hand running over the many names listed there. I found myself talking to the Jews listed there—I knew they probably couldn’t hear me, even if their souls were hanging around that space—but in that moment I talked, and I felt really sad because these people had lived and then had their lives violently and tragically ended, and their stories would never be known because the Nazis had done all they could to erase them. I cried a little while I was there, and I felt like something was with me in that memorial (though not necessarily the spirits of the dead Jews…maybe the spirit of the synagogue itself, if that makes sense), and it was very pleased I’d taken the time to talk to it.

The Roman Wall, with some additions from the Germans.

The Roman Wall, with some additions from the Germans.

After that I left (and felt much better once I was outside the memorial space). I then headed to something I’d wanted to see but had totally forgotten about looking for that first week in Wiesbaden: the Roman wall, known as “die Romantor” in Deutschland. Right down the road from the Jewish memorial, the wall has been reinforced and repaired and even built upon by the Germans (hence why there’s a wooden bridge connecting two parts of the wall). Nearby there are statues and reliefs that are either relics of the Roman age or they were created to resemble Roman works of art, and behind one apartment’s driveway there is a small alcove that might’ve been a storage area. These are all that remains of what might’ve been a Roman fortress against barbarian hordes. It was actually pretty cool, and I couldn’t help but think of a friend of mine from my study abroad trip who would’ve loved to see the wall.

Possibly a storage space for weapons and supplies?

Possibly a storage space for weapons and supplies?

You know thinking about it, I should write a story or two involving the ancient Greeks or Romans. There are already plenty of horror stories involving their mythologies, but involving them? I don’t know of many, though a few Anne Rice books do take place in ancient Rome or thereabouts.

Anyway, after that I headed back to the Marktplatz, where I discovered a costume shop with all these different masks and costumes and accessories available. Apparently Oktoberfest here in Germany involves costumes like Halloween does in the States (fun fact: only a fifth of Germans practice Halloween, as the holiday was mostly discouraed up until the 1990s by the Lutheran church. It’s becoming a growing trend, but still pretty small here except among Americans). I tried on a few masks and took some photos in a full-length mirror in the shop for kicks, then left while thinking about maybe getting a mask of some sort later on.

Mother always said I was a werewolf. I guess we now have proof. Awooo!

Mother always said I was a werewolf. I guess we now have proof. Awooo!

All in all, it was a pretty interesting and fun afternoon. I got to connect with my heritage in a very personal way, as well as immerse myself pretty deep in German history and culture. And I got to see some more of the city I’ve been living in for the past three months, and which I’m going to be sad to leave. Guess that means I’ll have to come back someday, right?

Of course, my adventures in Germany are far from over. I’m trying to arrange to go to this castle with a very interesting history called Wewelsburg over the weekend, and I would like to go to Oppenheim, which is not too far away from where I live, because they have underground labyrinths you can explore (sounds a bit like the Paris catacombs). Hopefully I’ll be able to do both and have fun at Oktoberfest too while I’m at it.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear!

*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.