The Craft of Writing Historical Fiction

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As a pediatrician, I immunize against infectious disease; as a writer, I invoke memory as an inoculation against the atrocities humans inflict upon each other – an ethical immunization that fosters respect, compassion, and justice against the diseases of intolerance, hatred, and violence.

Historical fiction as a literary genre portrays manners, social conditions and other details unique to the period depicted. Sometimes it explores notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand these key individuals and their historical moments. And, often it explores ordinary people living in extraordinary times. The spirit and essence of the writing, the synergy of history and fiction, often engenders a creative tension between historical authenticity and the author’s imagination – something unique to historical fiction.

About the Book

BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN, is populated by ordinary Germans caught up in the maelstrom of Nazi ascendancy. My protagonist, Ernst Techow, was a real person and this is his story – part factual, part fable. Historically prominent figures are characters in my novel as well. Ernst, a real fascist assassin, has an historically accurate interaction with Joseph Goebbels in the 1931 Stennes Putsch, an internal Nazi coup that almost brought down the Nazi party by undermining Hitler’s authority. This is history writ large and small.

Consider my 2 epigraphs:

Picasso: “Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth.”

Wally Lamb (This One Thing I Know is True):  “What are our stories if not the mirrors we hold up to our fears?”

BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN is historical fiction inspired by the history of how German’s Weimar democracy became the Third Reich. It is based on the true story of a young fascist assassin, Ernst Techow – an early Nazi – and his complex and harrowing atonement and redemption. He participated in the assassination of the highest-ranking Jew in the Weimar Democracy – Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau. It’s the story of his family, his friends, his co-conspirators – ordinary Germans who became complicit in extraordinary crimes. And it’s a tender love story of Ernst’s inextinguishable love for Lisa. They are star-crossed lovers buffeted by the storm of Nazi ascendancy.

BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN spans an epoch in Germany from before W.W. I, to revolution and unrest after World War I, to the fragile Weimar democracy, the rise of the Nazis, World War II and the Holocaust.

The Value of Historical Fiction

George Santayana, the Spanish writer said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

He enjoins us to recognize the echoes of painful history and do what we can to prevent its repetition. History is cyclical, but we can never anticipate how recurrence will manifest. It’s never identical. We must be ever vigilant.

This history is compelling and critical – some have called BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN a cautionary tale for today. My hope is that my historical fiction will allow the reader to appreciate the hope and tragedy of Germany’s Weimar democracy. My prayer is that it is an immunization against recurrence.

It is our unfortunate nature to project evil onto others, as if we are not somehow capable of it ourselves. In considering the history of Nazi Germany, we do so at our peril. The Third Reich rose to power as a malignancy within Germany’s Weimar democracy that followed World War I. Germany, an enlightened society – the nation that brought us Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Goethe, Bertold Brecht, Thomas Mann, Schiller – also brought us Hitler and the Nazis. A plurality of Germans voted for the Nazi party and Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 through legal parliamentary processes.

Jochen Bittner, the German journalist and New York Times columnist noted that there were 4 conditions that cleared the path for the fall of the Weimar democracy and the rise of the Third Reich

  1. loss of trust in institutions
  2. social humiliation
  3. political blunder
  4. economic distress.

I would suggest, though not identical, these conditions exist again today.

History, Alive in the Present

The echoes of this history that we feel today must be understood through the filters of history. Throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s Hitler worked his will legally and took advantage of the Weimar democracy’s vulnerabilities. He articulated ordinary Germans’ fears, their rage, their humiliation. They had been left behind, betrayed and threatened by a ruined economy, a degenerate culture, by women making free choices, by Communists, by Jews, Slavs, Romany, immigrants. He gave voice to their fear of “the other.” He gave credibility to Eugenic theories that reinforced Germans’ own racist bias of Aryan supremacy. In exchange, the German people, ordinary people no different than you and me, gave Hitler the reins of a dictatorship that would carry out the Holocaust.

The Holocaust began with the tragic failure of Germany’s Weimar democracy – before a single Jew was murdered. Indeed, Rathenau’s 1922 assassination might be considered the first Holocaust murder. This was the time to act, to resist. It was civil passivity that allowed the Nazis to flourish.

BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN explores the capacity inherent in each of us for unspeakable horror and remarkable goodness – our devils and our better angels. I want to make this history come alive, to go deep and be present, to evoke the feelings that informed and impelled this history’s unfolding.

My title has a double meaning. I first heard this story of the redemption of Ernst Techow – an early Nazi – as a Yom Kippur sermon at Middlebury College in 1992. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar – the Day of Atonement – a day to plead before the court of heaven for forgiveness for sins against God, a day to turn from evil and redeem one’s self. But sins against our fellow humans must be confessed and atoned person to person. How does one do that after murdering someone? What does that atonement look like – the redemption that must precede, that is before the court of heaven?

Literature often treats Redemption as a facile phenomenon, often a fait accompli. But it’s enormously complex. It can’t be oversimplified, or shortened, or made painless. In BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN, I have probed and studied the reluctant, complex and harrowing journey of Ernst’s redemption.

In Hebrew, the closest word for this interpretation of redemption is T'shuvah, repentant turning from evil, repairing the breech.  It is a kind of Truth and Reconciliation process that requires:

  1. A full recognition of the sin followed by an oral confession of the specifics. One must confess before man and God.
  2. Genuine remorse – the palpable inner pain and regret that follows recognition of the sin. To apologize from the heart, to make appropriate restitution for the injury, to assuage the feelings of the injured, to understand the past.
  3. Convincing determination to make amends and do everything possible to avoid future relapse.

Most challenging of all, Ernst must forgive himself - overcome his shame.  

I am not an experimental writer. I write visually – cinematically. I’ve known my characters for 25 years. I have an understanding with them, literally and figuratively.

I chose a fixed Point of View (POV) – only Ernst. I rejected a shifting or multiple POVs, there is no omniscient narrator, the narrative is mostly linear, without tricky chronologies. The reader is only aware of what Ernst experiences and thinks in his linear world. We see through his eyes only. I wanted to get into the head of a Nazi. This approach allows the reader to “feel” how ordinary people – fundamentally decent people – make accommodations with evil, incrementally and often with sound rationalizations; ordinary people who ultimately become complicit in extraordinary crimes.

After living with Ernst for 25 years, I have tried to get inside his heart as well. Plot, the “how,” is suspenseful, but Character, the “why,” drives the novel. Ultimately, I try to understand how intelligent, cultured, and civilized individuals could freely choose Hitler’s dictatorship.

The Challenge

Another challenge in writing historical fiction, is that as the author, I am mindful of my knowledge of what actually happened, as opposed to my characters, unaware, who live in their particular and eternal present. Their choices are made in the confusion and challenges of their moment, their fears and their doubts.

Any good story has Conflict, a Narrative that is (hopefully) seamless and well-written, and an Arc for each main character. My arcs involve Redemption, fear, the lust for power, the lust for justice, the pursuit of inextinguishable love, and forgiveness.

A critical element of character development is voice – my own and my characters’. I want to establish my characters’ voice and give them agency. But for historical accuracy, this requires evidence, research, and occasionally gifts. I received such a gift when I stumbled upon a hidden treasure – microfilm from the National Archives containing transcripts of Ernst Techow’s arrest, interrogation and trial. Like finding Gold! But all in German, some of it hand-written.

Marita Schine, a German friend, sat with me every Tuesday, at Middlebury’s Ilsley Library, translating these transcripts frame by frame. I am so grateful for her support and thoughtful translation as well as her critical reading of this manuscript. Thank you, Marita.

I was able to use these documents to capture the actual events and dialogue, and synergize them with my real and imagined characters. I have hewed faithfully to the transcript’s description of events, particularly the Organization Consul Trial of October 1922, a world-wide sensation. Much of Part 1 of BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN is at least partly, creative non-fiction. I could not have invented the twists and turns and outrage of this seminal trial, where the first stirrings of Nazism are manifesting.

BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN tells the stories, real and imagined, of individuals embedded in this history. As a writer I use the particular to focus a larger reality through the ordinary lives we can relate to, that are the sub-atomic particles of history. We glimpse a larger whole through the examination of quotidian details.

Going Forward

My hope is that by animating this history, readers will understand it in a visceral way so we don’t repeat it. Expository depiction of history is dry, lifeless – it appeals to our academic intellect – one narrow intelligence – necessary, but not sufficient. Convincing, compelling historical fiction is alive. It is an animated narrative that explores characters, real and imagined, and their personal relationship to their historical moment. I write about a flesh and blood family, the Techows, complex individuals in the interwar period and how they make accommodations with the rising Nazis. Sometimes, you won’t like my protagonist and other main characters, but you will always care about them. Worthy historical fiction gets to the emotional core of a particular history and those who must live it, in fact and in imagination.

I want you, as a reader, to ask yourself the questions that hung over my head as I wrote this book, and my previous book LIFE IN A JAR: THE IRENA SENDLER PROJECT.

“What would I have done?” And when a similar situation arises again, “What will I do?”

These are disturbing questions because we cannot answer them with surety. The disturbing truth is that we are all bystanders to the atrocities that occur with sickening regularity: Bosnia, Rwanda, The Congo, Darfur, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, the list goes on. The German word for bystander is more challenging. “Mitläufer” – fellow traveller – one who makes accommodation with evil. The implicit guilt is more incisive than our more passive, understandable, even forgivable notion of “Bystander.”

To be fair, though, it is fear that makes us bystanders. A psychiatrist friend told me before he passed away, “If you’re not scared, it isn’t courage.” Think about that. Fear is the handmaiden of courage. You can’t have one without the other. I urge you to remember this, take it as an affirmation, as encouragement. And then act in spite of your fears.

In trying to understand the rise of Nazism, these early years are critical. At some point Nazism and the Holocaust may have been unstoppable, but it should have been unbearable. Where was the hue and cry from public and religious institutions, from citizens, that this was fundamentally wrong and unacceptable?

Perhaps the best we can hope for is to be “active bystanders” – “Upstanders,” recognizing our responsibilities, forgiving ourselves for our failures, but indomitably pursuing justice and righteousness when we can.

I urge you to do whatever it is YOU can, no matter how small, to repair the world – Tikkun Olam in Hebrew – to challenge hatred, intolerance, neglect, aggression, bullying; to advocate for decency.

Two thousand years ago, a Hebrew sage, Rabbi Tarfon, said, “It is not for us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.”

It is our charge to answer, “What would I have done?” with “Here’s what I will do,” to affirm justice, decency, respect for all people, tolerance and compassion as the expected norms of community.

Because not to do so would invite the repetition of painful history.

Because not to do so would be unbearable.  

New Book Trailer: Before the Court of Heaven

 
 

BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN is based on the true story of a fascist assassin, an early Nazi, Ernst Techow, and his complex and harrowing redemption.  Techow participates in the 1922 murder of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau, the highest-ranking Jew in the Weimar Republic.  The novel is inspired by the history of how Germany’s Weimar democracy became the Third Reich – how ordinary Germans became complicit in extraordinary crimes – a cautionary tale for today.  BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN is also the tender story of Ernst’s inextinguishable passion for his first love, Lisa.  They are star-crossed lovers, buffeted by the rising tide of Nazi ascendency.

***********************     “Haunting echoes of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. . . “  

- US Review of Books

***********************

“. . . a strong, affecting novel . . . a story of immense human failure and touching redemption . . . it stands among the finer recent portrayals in fiction of the most troubling era of modern history.” 

- Jay Parini

Independent Press Award - 2017 WINNER!

I'm thrilled to announce that I've received national recognition through the INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD®! This award recognizes excellence from small presses and independent publishers.

The INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD gave 1st place honors to BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN, in two categories – General Fiction and Historical Fiction. The competition is judged by experts from all aspects of the book industry, including publishers, writers, editors, book cover designers and professional copywriters. They select award Winners and Distinguished Favorites based on overall excellence.

In 2017, we had worldwide participation, from London to Australia, from Portugal to Hong Kong, and are so proud to announce the winners and favorites in our annual INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD. Independent publishing is alive and well, and continues to gain traction worldwide.
— Indpendent Press Awards sponsor Gabrielle Olczak

About the Book:

BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN, by Jack Mayer is based on the true story of a fascist assassin, Ernst Techow, and his complex and harrowing redemption. The novel is also a consideration of how Germany’s Weimar democracy became the Third Reich – a cautionary tale. How ordinary Germans became complicit in extraordinary crimes. Ernst Techow’s history is also the tender story of his inextinguishable passion for his first love, Lisa. Scholars of German history and the Holocaust have vetted the historical accuracy of BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN.

“Haunting echoes of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. . . “  US Review of Books

“. . . a strong, affecting novel . . . a story of immense human failure and touching redemption . . . it stands among the finer recent portrayals in fiction of the most troubling era of modern history.” – Jay Parini – Novelist, poet, essayist and D.E. Axinn Prof. of English and Creative Writing, Middlebury College – author of The Last Station.  

For more information about the award please visit: www.independentpressaward.com

The History of Weimar and the Rise of the 3rd Reich Matters:

 
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
— George Santayana (1863–1952), Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist
 

Santayana enjoins us to recognize the echoes of painful history and do what we can to prevent its recurrence. History is cyclical but we can never anticipate how recurrences will manifest. It’s never identical.

It is our unfortunate nature to project evil onto others as if we are not capable of it ourselves. In considering the history of Nazi Germany we do so at our peril. The Third Reich rose to power in Germany during the Weimar democracy that followed World War I. Germany, the nation that brought us Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Goethe, Bertold Brecht, Thomas Mann, Schiller and others, an enlightened society with free elections and the rule of law, also brought us Hitler and the Nazis. A plurality of Germans voted for Hitler’s party and he became Chancellor in 1933 through legal parliamentary processes.

As Jochen Bittner noted in the New York Times (May 31, 2016) there were four conditions that cleared the path for the fall of the Weimar democracy and the rise of the Third Reich – economic depression, loss of trust in institutions, social humiliation and political blunder. I would suggest that these conditions exist again today. 

In a time of economic stress, Hitler and the Nazis pledged to “make Germany great again.” Ordinary citizens responded to the appeal of demagogues who used fear, populism, xenophobia, nationalism, bigotry and scapegoating, and the promise that an authoritarian ideology would save Germany from its decline. 

Hitler’s campaign was one of violence against individuals and groups, dependent on fear, and utilizing inaccurate historical analysis and outright lies to mobilize a vulnerable population. They demonized the press and developed a propaganda campaign of savage efficacy. They threatened the judiciary and the press. Few could envision the horrific outcome.

BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN, as historical fiction, animates and illuminates the history of Weimar and the rise of the Third Reich as a cautionary tale for our time as well. It is the story of how ordinary citizens, people no different than ourselves, became complicit in extraordinary crimes. Scholars of history and the Holocaust from Middlebury College and the University of Vermont Center for Holocaust Studies have vetted the historical accuracy of BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN.

Three themes informed my writing:

  1. How did Germans in a constitutional, democracy with free elections and the rule of law choose Hitler and the Nazis
  2. the unfathomable forgiveness of Frau Rathenau’s letter and its consequences, an inquiry into the complexity of redemption
  3. the inextinguishable love of Ernst and Lisa, buffeted by the rising storm-tide of the Third Reich

BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN tells the stories, real and imagined, of individuals embedded in this history. As a writer I use the particular to focus a larger reality.  History has the quality of fractals - similar patterns recurring at progressively smaller scales.  We glimpse a larger whole through examination of quotidian details, the ordinary lives we can relate to, that are the sub-atomic particles of history.

My hope is that by animating this history, readers will recognize the capacity inherent in each of us for unspeakable horror and remarkable goodness – our devils and our better angels.  We, too, have choices to make.  

 

The burden of the Holocaust inspired my deep-rooted mission for social justice

Jack, age 5

Jack, age 5

I was born in New York City in 1948, where German was my first language. My parents had narrowly escaped the Holocaust. My mother was from Mainz, my father from Munich. Some of my family did not escape. I grew up with the ever-present, but largely unspoken burdens of the Holocaust. My parents, my brother and I lived in the Washington Heights section of New York City, where German–Jewish survivors settled after the war. We lived in a street level tenement apartment with my grandmother, “Granny”, and Uncle Fred on Fort Washington Ave and 164th Street. (My father’s parents, Omi and Opi. Also lived in Washington Heights.) Everyone in the neighborhood spoke German. Business was conducted in German, at the butcher, the dairy, the fish store. Our newspaper, the local German language paper, Aufbau (German for "building up, construction"), a journal targeted at German-speaking Jews, a journal that was read around the world, had been founded in 1934. Hannah Arendt, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, and Stefan Zweig wrote for the publication. My Granny leaned out the window watching over my brother and me playing on the sidewalk with our German-Jewish friends. 

On those rare occasions when the adults spoke of the horrors they had witnessed and endured during the war, it was in hushed whispers, meant to be kept from the children. The Holocaust was the elephant in our cramped apartment, huge, but unacknowledged, at least to my brother and me. I could feel the ponderous weight of sorrow all around me. It was not articulated, yet it was everywhere; it was the atmosphere. 

When I was five years old and ready to start school, my parents, brother and I moved into an apartment of our own in the Marble Hill Projects seven subway stops uptown on the IRT subway line, in the Bronx. That’s when I learned to speak English and determined that I wanted to be an American. I shunned anything European – anything that suggested the “old country”. My parents’ accents irritated me – embarrassed me in front of my new American friends. Except with Granny, who refused to acclimate to her new country, I refused to speak German. She and Uncle Fred were orthodox Jews who prayed every day. Uncle Fred rocked back and forth – davening – and mumbling Hebrew prayers for everything. We visited every Friday night for Shabbos, and Granny obsessively blessed me and my brother in Hebrew with the Priestly Blessing. It was with pure love that she placed her soft, challah-dough hands on our heads.

"The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; 
the Lord turn his face toward you and grant you peace."

We bent forward to reluctantly accept her blessing, then went off to play again. 

In elementary school I was a behavior problem – the class clown. Every week the teacher sent a note home to my mother reporting on my conduct. I was a mediocre student, but one thing I really loved to do was write stories. My older brother helped me with math, science and grammar. I finally became a serious student in 7th grade, after being inspired by my music teacher, Mr. Gardner, to play the trumpet. I was a really good trumpet player, (1st chair in the all-Manhattan Jr. High School Orchestra) and I learned that I didn’t have to be the class clown to distinguish myself. 

The Holocaust lay dormant for me for many years, until at the age of 16, while on a teenage camping tour of Europe, I visited Dachau concentration camp. I was shocked by what I saw and I remembered the hushed conversations of my relatives about the Holocaust. When I left Dachau I wrote in the visitor’s book at the exit, with adolescent irony, “Never Again???” I was to learn more about Dachau five years later in a most remarkable fashion.

 

In the '60's, I became an anti-Vietnam war activist in medical school at NYU. I joined the Medical Committee for Human Rights, MCHR, a social justice organization of medical people - medical students, residents, leading physicians, academics. I advocated for anti-war causes and cared for people at anti-war demonstrations. In 1969 I was arrested as a medic at a Chicago anti-war riot. 

Jack and wife, Chip 1978 Enosburg Falls, VT

Jack and wife, Chip 1978 Enosburg Falls, VT

My legal case was eventually argued before the U.S. Supreme Court (Mayer vs. City of Chicago, 1971). It established the right of indigents wishing to appeal a misdemeanor conviction, to have their court costs paid by the state. In an article in the New York Times, an Illinois Supreme Court Justice marveled that in the United States a medical student could be legally considered an indigent. Yet, I owned nothing except a microscope and textbooks, and had medical school debts to repay (although small compared to medical student debt today). 

Dr. Jack and his office staff - 1981, Enosburg Falls, VT

Dr. Jack and his office staff - 1981, Enosburg Falls, VT

In 1976, after my pediatric residency at Stanford University and the University of Vermont, I established my first pediatric practice in rural Vermont, on the Canadian border, in eastern Franklin County,. Mine was the first established pediatric practice in the county. In the 1980's I was an anti-nuclear activist and a New England delegate to Physicians for Social Responsibility. I gave lectures and wrote about the medical consequences of nuclear war, protested in favor of arms limitation treaties and against nuclear power plants. As I look back now, I believe my deep-rooted sense of mission for social justice, to repair the world, stems from the burden of the Holocaust that I carried without knowing it.

Silence and denial about the Holocaust is a well-described phenomenon that affected Jewish survivors, soldiers returning from World War II, Germans, Poles, and other Europeans who were occupied by the Nazis. The horror was such that a kind of national Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affected nearly everyone. The Holocaust was like the Evil Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter – “That which must not be named.” Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1961 punctured the abscess of silence. For the first time the testimony of survivors was permitted in court and became an archive of suffering and survival. Elie Wiesel’s “Night” was published. The stories continue to pour forth to this day. 

One evening, as a medical student at NYU, I came home for dinner with my family, something I did regularly. My Omi, my paternal grandmother sat at the table and, as the dishes were being cleared, she asked if I knew the story of my grandfather, Opi, and Dachau. I had never heard anything of this. She proceeded to tell the story of my grandfather being arrested on Kristallnacht in 1938 and imprisoned in Dachau. Omi went to high school with one of the administrative guards at the camp and was able to bribe him to secure my grandfather’s release after 6 months. I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. Why did I not know this family history? Many years later, in the 1990’s, my parents were interviewed as part of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Project and my mother produced her identification card stamped “Jew” and her nursing certificate from the Frankfurt Jewish Nursing School from which she graduated in 1938, stamped with swastikas.

My brother and I had never seen these long buried artifacts, which have further inspired my dedication to telling stories left untold. I finally understand my mission with regards to Holocaust history – to be a link in a long chain of storytellers who help us remember. As a pediatrician, I immunize against infectious disease; as a writer, I invoke memory as our best immunization against the atrocities humans inflict upon each other – an ethical immunization that fosters respect, love, and justice against the disease of intolerance, hatred, and violence. 

How I came to write BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN:

Jack, age 5

Jack, age 5

 In 1992 I attended a Yom Kippur service at Middlebury College. I am Jewish, but more secular than observant. As an adult I have made it my practice to at least attend some of the “high holy days” of the Jewish year, most particularly Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – the holiest of the holy days. As a child I had feared this day – it was the day that you prayed for God to “inscribe you in the book of Life” for the coming year. It was the day of reckoning when all my bad deeds from the previous year would be considered before a heavenly tribunal concluding with God’s judgment. If found wanting, I would die. Adding a physical dimension to my existential anxiety, I had to wear a suit, usually new wool pants in September, in New York City’s heat and humidity, that rubbed the insides of my thighs causing painful irritation. I bring some baggage to Yom Kippur services.

Jack, age 16

Jack, age 16

This particular service in 1992 was lead by Rabbi Fritz Rothschild, one of the founders and philosophers of the Reconstructionist movement of Judaism, a modern, progressive doctrine of Conservative Judaism. In his sermon, Rabbi Rothschild told the story of the t’shuvah – the turning from evil – of a young fascist assassin, Ernst Werner Techow, who participated in the 1922 murder of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau, the highest-ranking Jew in the Weimar democracy.

On this holiest day in the Jewish year, Rabbi Rothschild told the story of a young man sympathetic with the early Nazis. His redemption was so moving and powerful that I began to research this history with thoughts of a book to flesh out the three themes that emerged – the rise of the Third Reich, unfathomable forgiveness, and the complexity of redemption. In the course of my research I obtained transcripts from the Library of Congress of Techow’s arrest, interrogation and trial. This was all in German and I needed translation help, so I sat in the library every week with Marita Schine, a German woman and a dear friend, translating these transcripts and trying to understand Ernst Werner Techow. His character grew in my mind, but his historical trail was thin and eventually ran dry. I subsequently learned that his redemption, the substance of Rabbi Rothschild’s sermon, was a fable. And so, this story became historical fiction. As I was writing, I kept these two epigraphs of the book before me: 

Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth.” – Picasso
What are our stories if not the mirrors we hold up to our fears?” – Wally Lamb (This One Thing I Know is True)