Book Review: Jacob's Courage
Jacob’s Courage by Charles Weinblatt is an eye-opening story about two young people in love during the Holocaust. The story is gripping, frightening and heartfelt, all at the same time. Weinblatt’s writing is powerful and would appeal to those interested in Holocaust history or those simply interested in a passionate love story. However, this story is extremely graphic because of its topic and is not for the faint of heart.
I was lucky enough to get to interview author Charles Weinblatt. Here’s what he had to say…
WE: How long have you been writing? Has it always been a passion of yours?
CW: I began writing as a child. I’ve always loved it. As a child and adolescent, I wrote short stories and dabbled in poetry. Today, I write primarily novels and short stories (and I still occasionally dabble in poetry). I completed a children’s book in November and I’m finishing a science fiction novel now. Writing has probably been my only skill. I’m terrible with math and dangerous with tools! So, I communicate with stories. Of course, I haven’t always had time for serious writing. I was a university administrator when I had to retire because of disability at age 51, in 2004. I’m now forced to be horizontal virtually all of the time. So, I write. And, because I write for pleasure rather than for a living, I can write what I want and when I want. I’m grateful that I can still do something rewarding. It’s an honor to know that many people have read my book.
WE: What made you decide to write a book about the Holocaust?
CW: My mother (who is currently a spry 100) was born in Russia in 1909. She witnessed brutal attacks (pogroms) upon her family as a child. She can recall seeing her grandfather tortured by Cossacks, only because he was a Jew. Fortunately, she and her immediate family escaped to America in the 1920s. Later, almost two entire generations of her family were murdered in the Holocaust. Men, women and children vanished into the fires of Nazi genocide.
When I was an adolescent, I realized that had I been born just 9 years earlier, in Europe, I too would have murdered as a Jew. This thought remained latent in my mind. For more than 30 years, I was too busy with my career and raising a family to write about it. Finally, in 2004, when I was forced into retirement, I had the time to give this thought some careful analysis. I decided to start writing. My first thought was to tell a story about the experience of a fictional Austrian Jewish family during the Holocaust. The characters would be fictional, yet each place that they were sent would be completely realistic. I ended up using the real names of streets in Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The names of German SS officers are at times real names. This was very important to me.
I also wrote the book to promote tolerance. I had hoped that someone might use the book as required reading in a high school or college. This would enable my book to become a part of Holocaust education and a value for diversity. At the same time, whenever we stand up to those who deny or minimize genocide we send a critical message to the world. As we continue to live in an age of genocide, bigotry, racism and ethnic cleansing, we must repel the broken ethics of our ancestors, or risk a dreadful repeat of past transgressions.
Museums and mandatory public education are tools to dispel bigotry, especially racial and ethnic hatred. Books, art, films and presentations can reinforce the veracity of past and present genocides. They help to tell the true story of the perpetrators of genocide; and they reveal the abject terror, humiliation and degradation resulting from blind hatred and prejudice. So, it’s important to teach about the brutality and horror of genocide, combating the deniers’ virulent, inaccurate historical revision. We must protect vulnerable future generations from making the same mistakes. A world that continues to allow genocide requires ethical remediation. We must show the world that bigotry is wrong; and that tolerance is our progeny's only hope. Through such efforts we reveal the true horror of genocide and we promote the triumphant spirit of humankind to overcome prejudice.
WE: Your book is obviously very detailed and graphic. What made you decide to write the book in a completely raw way?
CW: Every author of historical fiction deserves respect if they represent the veracity of history accuracy. I admire authors who place the reader at ground zero of an overwhelming event and then leave the reader breathless. I enjoy books that make my heart pound. So, I’d say that realism is my most important criteria. What purpose is served by whitewashing the Holocaust? I wanted people to not just understand the Holocaust; I wanted them to FEEL it. I wanted to tell the true story the six million. According to my reviews, the reader can “see, hear and smell the Third Reich.” It was called “Gut wrenching and heart rending.” Another reviewer said, “And I cried…” So, I apparently hit a button. That’s what historical fiction writers desire – to elicit strong feelings in the reader for the characters.
What does it feel like to read the sentence, “Six million people were killed by Nazi Germany because they were Jews?” We read, react and then we move on. It didn’t happen to the average reader. It happened to some Jews a long time ago in a far away place. In order to change that, to make it real, I wanted to place the reader into ground zero of the Holocaust and in a way that made them feel very comfortable with the role. So, I created a fictitious seventeen-year-old boy named Jacob, who was deeply in love with a gorgeous seventeen-year old girl named Rachael. Who cannot relate to the passions of adolescence? These innocent young people were thrown into the cauldron of humiliation, degradation, torture and death. It happened. It happened to my family. Yet, they had the love, faith and courage to survive. They had to survive for each other. I know that this happened.
Yet, in a larger sense, genocide can happen again if we do not teach our progeny tolerance. So, I wrote Jacob’s Courage not only to tell the horrific story of my people, but also to educate the reader about the importance of tolerating others who are diverse. We must not hate people who are dissimilar. We must learn how to value their difference.
WE: Jacob's Courage is filled with history and details. How much research went into writing this book? Was the research mostly primary or secondary?
CW: Well, I was totally fooled by the research. I thought that perhaps two or three months of research and I’d be ready. That turned into almost three years! I was primarily driven by the love story. This is a coming-of-age love story; as much spiritual as physical. This was a love for the ages; passionate yet cerebral, mature and profound. Yet, their dreams were destroyed by Nazi Germany and their supporters. They were more than destroyed. My protagonists, Rachael and Jacob, move from home to a ghetto, to a worse ghetto, then to Theresienstadt and finally, to Auschwitz. They watch as their loved ones die. This was a very common occurrence in the lives of Austrian Jews. Each time they moved, I had to research the place that they moved to. I wanted this story to be accurate enough that the street names were the same as in reality. So, in a sense, the research was endless. Perhaps that is part of the reason for the book’s length. It was six long years of one’s life, slowly falling apart, physically and emotionally. On the one hand, there is passionate love, the potential for a beautiful life. And, then, there is the certainty of captivity, forced labor and death. Such was the fate of Holocaust Jews. And, not just for themselves; but also for their parents and children. The entire family was murdered. This compelled me to make the novel as realistic as possible, no matter how much research it required.
WE: Was this book difficult to write considering your cultural and religious connection?
CW: Yes, it was very difficult to write. The research brought me to tears on more than one occasion. And, because the characters were based upon those close to me, it was dreadfully difficult to write. At times, it seemed absolutely barbaric and thoughtless. How could humans do such things to other humans? How could a witness know what is happening and turn away? Why did these people deserve to die? What made them an animal, instead of a human being? These were my people, my family. But, their story had to be told. If just one person reads the book and acquires tolerance, then the entire effort will be worth it. And, it’s a love story with a rewarding ending. The Jewish people have been persecuted, exiled, forced into slave labor and annihilated in virtually every generation. For more than 3,000, the world has tried to destroy this tiny band of Hebrews. Yet, each generation of the Jewish experience has survived. Perhaps something about this plucky group of people is special, everlasting and perhaps even divine. Despite the world’s continuous attempts to exterminate them, they continue. Why?
WE: Who is this book targeted to? Who is the ideal reader of Jacob's Courage?
CW: This novel crosses genres. It is historical fiction, a novel, a love story, coming-of-age fiction, literature (I hope) and religious. That’s why I had hoped to attract a traditional publisher. This book should appeal to a wide variety of people, from history lovers to love story aficionados to Jewish book lovers to those who enjoy a thriller; this novel has it all. Jacob’s Courage is required public high school reading in Ohio. It is certainly appropriate for college and all adults.
WE: What advice do you have for those who are interested in writing?
CW: If you love to write, never stop. Anyone can be a published author. Write from your heart more than from your mind. Spare nothing on character development. It captures your audience. Never fade from your dreams. Write about your feelings more than your actions. Layer dialog as you imagine it happened if you were there. Be honest to reality. Place yourself in the character and then ask, “What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel or smell or sense? Describe this and you will be successful. No matter what happens, keep writing. Never destroy a promising effort; instead, come back to it a year later. You might be surprised with its adaptability. Try to write at least a little every day.
Learn how to create a terrific book publishing proposal. If you write fiction, seek a traditional (trade) publisher. If you can sell books on your own, think about self-publishing. Learn how the process works before you try to get your book published. You don’t need an agent to be trade published; but it can help. You don’t need an agent at all if you self-publish. Accept that you will need to spend time marketing your book, even if you are traditionally published. Learn how to accept rejection. Never take it seriously. Know that there are thousands of small specialty publishers. One of them will publish your book and pay you royalties for your effort. Your job is to find that publisher. It happens every day. It happened to me. Be willing to contact hundreds of publishers. It’s easier than you may think it is with electronic submissions. Create an author platform for yourself. This constitutes web sites, blogs, reviews of your books, video book trailers, published articles on the Internet, social networking marketing and all forms of electronic communication. Today’s publisher seeks an author with a platform. The bad news – it takes time to create. The good news – it’s mostly free.
WE: Thanks so much, Charles. I've learned so much from your book - and interview!
To find out more about Jacob’s Courage, please visit:
Jessica Lawlor is the Travel and PR Editor at Wandering Educators