These Jews were not criminals. They had broken no laws. They represented a threat to no one – but were instead a valuable resource for their societies. For countless generations, Jewish men served and died in the German armed forces. German Jews were counted among the leaders of business, government, education, science and the arts. However, because of the way they served God, millions Jews were systematically murdered. The elderly, frail women and children were often first into the gas chambers. Able-bodied men and women were kept barely alive for their value as forced labor. Those able to work were employed as slaves for the benefit of the military and German industrialists. Some German companies that used Jews as slaves exist today. When there was no more work to perform, or when the brutalized prisoners became sick and frail, they were gassed and burned, like bothersome pests.
My mother experienced vile anti-Semitism as a child in Russia. I heard many stories about vicious Cossacks who persecuted Jews in the Ukraine. She and her sisters survived and later flourished in America. Most of the remaining family, however, perished in the Holocaust. So, you see, the Holocaust is close to my heart. I bear it as a cumbersome stone attached to my soul - a lifelong burden of significant proportions. My ancestors cry out for justice. They lost everything that they treasured - their homes, valuables, jobs, freedom, relatives and finally – their children. They want you to comprehend the unspeakable evil that utterly destroyed them. I wonder what their precious progeny might have accomplished, had they been allowed to live. What lost treasures were burned with those tender, young bodies? Might one of them have cured cancer or discovered a swift end to global warming? Those innocent children deserved a chance to live, to love, to learn and to share their faith. Rather than a danger to society, they represented its best hope.
I cannot tell this story without revealing the Holocaust, in every possible way. To gloss over the devastating brutality of the Nazi genocide, or the overwhelming psychological demoralization, would inflict yet another injustice upon my relatives. The only way that I can tell this story is with the truth. But, tales of shocking violence are not everyone’s cup of tea. In essence, I had to tell a story that no one wants to hear. Why would anyone yearn for a novel about the Holocaust, when they can tune out the world’s problems with their iPod or dismiss the fabric of cruelty with light-hearted movies and television comedy? Yet, the death of six million innocent people MUST be told. If not, there would be nothing to prevent more genocide, and then more after that! Everyone must hear this tragedy. Otherwise, we might one day again embrace the worst of human nature.
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 both. We are attractive and hideous, comforting and horrifying, vicious and compassionate; we worship and we loathe. We are not clouded by delusions of morality, but governed by them. So, when will we stop ostracizing people because of the way they praise God, or by virtue of the color of their skin? When will we learn to value the differences among us rather than fear them? We’re better than that. We must be better than that.
Perhaps above all, Jacob's Courage is a powerful and passionate love story. In 1939, seventeen-year-old Austrians Jacob Silverman and Rachael Goldberg are bright, talented, and deeply in love. Because they are Jews, their families lose everything; their jobs, possessions and money, contact with loved ones, and finally their liberty at the hands of the Nazis. Jacob and Rachael "grow up" during the Holocaust. As teenagers, they survive the beatings, rapes, and murderous acts of the Nazis, enjoy the physical and spiritual pleasure of being in love and are able to become husband and wife in the Theresienstadt Ghetto, before being imprisoned in Auschwitz. Eventually Jacob and Rachael become Partisans to fight the Nazi enemy. Theirs was a love for the ages. Stung by the death of loved-ones, enslaved and starved, they have nothing to count on but faith, love and courage.
Holocaust survivors were forced to examine every aspect of life, while they endured the unendurable, waiting for a slow, torturous death. This horror led some to curse God, even while others continue to praise God. Within this impenetrable abyss, many Jews continued to live out their faith, to practice the religion as best they could. The managed to summon the courage necessary to continue living, to suffer the intolerable. They refused to allow the foundation of their society to be destroyed. Within the Nazi camps, Jews created their own schools, orchestras, political leadership and medical clinics. On the road to certain death, they found a way to teach their children how to fulfill their religious commandments. This is profound courage not seen elsewhere in history, except for those brave Jews at Masada. Some of the most ardent examples of constructive human nature can be found in these terrifying Holocaust stories.
We must always tell the stories of the Holocaust. They represent the devastatingly worst and the extraordinarily best examples of the human spirit. These stories instruct us to recognize the inherent evil of humanity, lest it never be used again. As long as we teach our progeny about the Holocaust, there is hope for the future.
By Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob’s Courage