As the author of a Holocaust novel ("Jacob's Courage: A Holocaust Love Story"), I appreciate books that offer a frank, emotional examination of morality. Repugnance, despair and darkness exist within human nature. We therefore learn nothing about ourselves if we do not examine this part of our psyche.
"Jacob's Courage" explores how humans behaved during the most brutal and horrendous genocide in history. We are complex beings. There is a great deal more to us than the ubiquitous battleground of good versus evil. We are not one or the other, but a combination of both. We are beautiful and ugly, soothing and terrifying, brutal and caring; we love and we despise.
Deep within the fear and panic of the Holocaust were decisions about ethical behavior and our concept of integrity. Unlike animals, humans are governed by principles, moral beliefs and veracity. We are not clouded by delusions of morality, but governed by them. In "Jacob's Courage," my characters explore the human response to terror and morality, as well as the alluring beauty of passionate young love and the driving power of religious devotion. Our lives are complex - even within the garish midst of the Holocaust. Powerful passion and tender love also existed during times of horror and despair. So did a deep commitment to our relationship with faith and God. These powerful motivators churn within the consciousness of my characters, creating powerful new relationships and inspiring virtuous behavior. Yet, the world is seldom seen in black and white, or shades of gray - even during the Holocaust. In the midst of terrible anguish, beauty exists. Within beauty, despair can exist.Holocaust survivors lost everything, but perhaps somehow gained something as well. Certainly an honest examination of the Holocaust must reveal torturous brutality and death. Yes, many Holocaust survivors lost all of their loved ones. However, life is not always so simple. Deep within the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, the Jews of Europe continued to practice their religion, to teach their children and to love one another. Here, one can feel hope for the survival of the human spirit, among the ashes of destruction. In an age of realism, readers seem to have a passion for books about real-life characters. As a child of this generation, I tend to agree. I have nothing against classic stories about good versus evil. Certainly good and evil exist always. Yet, today's more discerning reader expects characters to be more like themselves – multifaceted, often chaotic individuals who possess characteristics both good and bad. Novels should not always be about traditional heroes and villains. If we wish to emulate reality, then our good characters should become complex humans, with flaws, limitations, imperfections and faults. Our villains should possess some good qualities, as well. No emotion pushes us to behave in a stronger sense than does guilt. I constructed characters aggravated constantly and aggressively by guilt. We are forever tortured by our past and guilt is the primary motivator in our decisions about the future. We can ignore it or learn from it, but we can never escape from it.
I believe that it is impossible to write about the Holocaust, or any human nature, without exploring guilt. In “Jacob's Courage” all of my characters are burdened by guilt – even the most innocent. Holocaust victims were faced with the most perfidious forces; deceit, brutality, cruelty, sickness, starvation and the death of loved-ones were the daily companions of concentration camp prisoners. The victims felt guilt for living when their loved ones had been murdered. Each of them must have wondered why they deserved to live when those they worshipped were gone. Worse yet were the prisoners who assisted the Nazi guards. These "kapos" must have born unwavering guilt. And, then we have the "Sonnderkommando," prisoners forced to undress, beat gas, carry and burn their fellow prisoners. And., there were others. In "Jacob's Courage," Jacob was forced to play in the Auschwitz orchestra every day as the trains unloaded new prisoners. He was massively burdened by guilt while playing violin for the everpresent queue, waiting their turn to die. The survivors carried lifelong guilt for surviving. At least subconsciously, many must surely have wished that they had perished with their loved ones.
Novels about this time are by causality dark and precarious. Yet, in the midst of this despair, there was life, love, passion, desire, religious fervor and the excitement known only to children. Even in such hopeless desolation, there was love of God, infatuation, romance and passion and longing for all of the things that humans crave. Characters such as these must by nature embellish the wide range of human attributes. Such was the complex state of being in a Nazi death camp."Jacob's Courage” describes the Holocaust through the eyes of a normal Jewish family. If we speak only of heroic individuals battling against dark forces, then we dismiss the truth of our nature. Humans are far more complex than such generic characters imply. Not all Jews imprisoned and tortured by Nazi Germany were good. Some became “kapos,” more ruthless than the SS. Not all Germans were bad. Some Germans were riddled with guilt and some expressed tender compassion for the imprisoned Jews. Yet, below the surface of brutality, we find the human instinct for life, liberty, love and compassion.
Most of the Jews in Nazi concentration camps comprehended that they would not survive. Yet, within the camps, the Jews constructed synagogues, schools, and orchestras. They had civic leaders, medical clinics, commerce and religious celebrations. Hidden from the SS, the Jews observed all of the covenants and rituals of Judaism, including holidays, marriage ceremonies, burials and circumcisions. Along the terrifying, dark path to the gas chambers of Nazi-occupied Europe, Jews lived, loved, learned and died. Yet, in their darkest moments, the Jews of Nazi concentration camps fabricated a “normal” life for their progeny. Despite their impending mortality, they created a normal world on the inside to protect children from the raging genocide on the outside. Such was the nature of their love. Yet this love transcended parental affection. Judaism cannot survive without Jewish children.
The Holocaust cannot be described without inflicting horror upon the reader. Such books are not for the faint of heart. The human spirit strives for autonomy and freedom, of course. Yet, if one is to search for an understanding of human nature, then one must descend into the depths of depravity and terror. We cannot understand humanity without comprehending its wicked flaws. Deep within the darkest recesses of brutal genocide, the reader will discover a faint flicker of light representing love, passion, desire, hope and reverence. Here is the essence of "Jacob's Courage" - an examination of morality, love and righteousness, in the midst of the dark whirlwind of malevolence.