The Hamsa
Bronislaw Czech

“The final kilometers cross level ground. Antonín and I trade places one time, but ski side by side as we approach the finish line at the Stadium.  I move as fast as my tired body allows me.  I watch Antonín from the corner of my eye and wonder if he is trying as hard as he can, or does he defer the finish line to me because I stopped to help him?  I slow to see what he will do.  He slows when I slow, and increases his speed when I increase mine.  His objective is no longer a secret to me.  Strange, yet wonderful, the power of friendship and the way it moves men to react in such noble ways.  After all, what will matter most in an old man’s life?  The medals he’s won or the friends he’s made and preserved through the best and worst of times?  Can a man who has friends be called a failure?”

Bronek in The Hamsa

The Olympian, Eighth and Final Movement

The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas.  A film treatment in eight movements.

theagenes statueEighth Movement – The Exile Welcomed Home: Simonides completes his narrative.  The Thasians are humbled and now understand that it is indeed Theagenes and his statue that the Oracle refers to as “the exile that must be welcomed back.”  A year has passed and the old man returns to the island, thasoswhich has regained its beauty after the statue as been recovered from the sea.   “Thasos is once again a beautiful place … Theagenes’ place in history will be preserved…”

The Olympian, Fifth Movement

The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas.  A film treatment in eight movements.

The OlympianFifth Movement – The Olympic Games: Simonides tells his new friends what the games are like, the rituals, the ceremonies.  He relates the stade, the opening race, a 200-meter sprint, but focuses on the pyx, the boxing competition.  The Pyx is brutal and lasts the day.  Theagenes meets the previous champion Euthymos in the final match.  Theo destroys him in a brutal way.  That night, Simonides encounters Theagenes as the boxer steals his olive crown.  When confronted with his crime, Theo tells the poet that he will take the crown to Thermopylae where he will challenge Lampis to the fight Theo believes he was robbed of.  “When I find him,” Theo says, “we will fight on his terms before the army he has fled to join.”

The Olympian, First Movement

The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas.  A film treatment in eight movements.

oracle of delphiFirst Movement – On his annual pilgrimage to the Oracle of Delphi, the poet Simonides meets a contingent of travelers from the island of Thasos.  This is their second visit to the Oracle where they hope to learn what they need to do so that the gods will lift the famine that has gripped their island.  Simonides is convinced that the Oracle’s direction to “welcome back all exiles” makes direct reference to the fact that the Thasians have taken the statue they raised to their champion – the Olympic boxer Theagenes – and tossed it into the Aegean Sea.  Simonides explains that if they return the statue to its proper place of prominence, the gods will show mercy and end the famine.  The Thasians agree to let Simonides return to Thasos with them so that he can explain why the return of the statue is the only thing that satisfy the Pythia’s instructions to please the gods.

“Night” and “The Hamsa”

Elie WieselI just concluded reading Night by 1986 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.  I read it in preparation of May’s ‘Seeds of the Word’ monthly book club discussion at the Redemptorist Renewal Center at Picture Rocks, Arizona. Having written a ‘Holocaust’ novel, The Hamsa several years ago, some readers are curious that I have never read Mr. Wiesel’s powerful account of his years in the Nazi concentration camp system.  The fact is – until this afternoon – I have not.  My interest in the Holocaust began one rainy afternoon at the Berkshire County Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  I loved the library and frequented it daily between school and basketball practice.  On this particular afternoon, I came across Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.  I will never forget that day or that book.

Berkshire County
The Berkshire County Athenaeum, Pittsfeld, Massachusetts

As I prepare for May’s discussion, I have reviewed several reading guides.  One question in particular stays with me.  I do not intend to discuss it at the meeting, but I have to answer it here.  The Hill and Wang Teacher’s Guide asks

“Does the genre of historical fiction ultimately help or harm the nightmarish actuality of the Holocaust?”


The Last Jew in Vinnitsa

In 2007, I first saw the photo commonly referred to as “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa.”  It still haunts me.  I continue to stare at the expression of the ‘victim.’  His face exudes faith and confidence … he is not afraid.  When I look at the expression of the executioner, I see doubt and guilt … his eyes are filled with fear. Shortly after viewing that picture, I discovered the “Report by Witold Pilecki” who volunteered to go into Auschwitz and who successfully escaped three years later. The photo and the report evolved into The Hamsa, which incidentally is about neither. Back to the question:  “Does the genre of historical fiction ultimately help or harm the nightmarish actuality of the Holocaust?” When I first began writing The Hamsa, I lived in a small town in the heart of Missouri wine country,The Hamsa Defiance, Missouri about 50 miles west of downtown St. Louis.  St. Louis is blessed with an excellent Holocaust Museum and Learning Center (HMLC).  As I researched my manuscript, I made an appointment with the director and visited the museum.  Included in its exhibition – at least in 2008 – is a large image of “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa.” My conversation with the director ended rather abruptly.  When I explained to him what I was doing, he emphatically stated, “There is no room whatsoever for the Holocaust in historical fiction.”  As his case in point, he referred to the recently released film “Defiance” starring Daniel Craig that recounted the activity Daniel Craigof the Bielski brothers who saved over 1,200 Jews by hiding them in the forests of Poland.  “That film is not accurate,” he adamantly stressed and repeated, “There is no place for the Holocaust in historical fiction.” I listened patiently and respectfully.  His statement rang in my ears for the 40-minute drive back to my home in Defiance.  I made a point of seeing the film “Defiance.”  It was a good film.  More importantly, it occurred to me that if only 2 million people saw the film [the actual box office is reported at $56 million], then 2 million more people have some idea of what the Jewish communities in Poland faced during WWII.  Thanks to the Bielski partisans, there were 1,200 fewer people in Hitler’s concentration camps. With that thought in mind, I committed myself to The Hamsa. Do I exercise ‘artistic license?’  Absolutely.  One reviewer, Paul Knott referred to a technique I implied throughout the narrative

“If there is any ‘trick’ to the narrative, it might be Bronek’s meeting such historical figures as Franklin Roosevelt, Sonia Henie, and Heinrich Himmler, a la Forest Gump, but these meetings are plausible and serve the story line.”

The final 80 pages of The Hamsa are specific to the protagonist’s — Bronislaw Czech (Bronek) — experience at Auschwitz.  I was committed to historical accuracy, and I stand firm that those pages accurately reflect what happened in that hell on earth.  I am not a Holocaust survivor and do not pretend to know what it was like.  Elie Wiesel did survive, and I hope that what I have written in The Hamsa does justice to those like his friends and father who did not survive. I believe that those thousands who have read The Hamsa have a better understanding of the era and errors of the times.

Driving with Simonides and Flapjack

As we approach vacation time in the northern hemisphere, think about those long, dreary and weary drives you are apt to face as you travel cross-country.  WAIT!  Here’s an idea.  Check out The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas and The Sixth Day: A 17,175-Word Novella About Creation and Prizefighting at Audible or Amazon.  At eight hours, The Olympian is good for an entire day for most folks.  At 1.5 hours, The Sixth Day is so good, you’ll want to listen to it four times a day.  Each is a special story in its own genre, and Alistair McKenzie brings both to fascinating life.  Enter the world of the ancient Greeks, or come of age with Flapjack and his brothers.  You’ll be glad you did.  They are great company for that long drive [or those days when rush hour traffic becomes intolerable].


The Sixth DayThe Olympian 

The Man in Tennessee

As singer songwriter Dave Loggins crooned in his beautiful ballad “Please Come to Boston,”

“I’m the number one fan of a man in Tennessee.”

As we approach the halfway point in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games and the halfway point in our Hamsa Giveaway to celebrate the games, a man from Tennessee is forging ahead and clearly set on winning the book and the GI issue Hamsa that comes with it.  It is still not too late to catch him, and remember there will be an international winner as well.  If you haven’t entered, it’s not to late; if you have, you can accumulate more points by taking additional action every day … just like the man from Tennessee.

Click here to enter and win.

By the way, because I consider Loggins’ 1974 ballad one of the most beautiful songs ever written and because tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, I decided to include the song with the post.  You can listen to it while you enter the contest.


The Last Jew in Vinnitsa

As a young, Catholic boy, I was frequently exposed to Judaism by my dad’s best friend, Louie Green.  Louie inspired my interest and my deep respect for ‘things Jewish.’  My interest became intense in 2007 when I first saw the photograph “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa.”  The Olympian was still in the hands of an agent and unpublished, and when I saw that photograph a story began to emerge, a story of courage in the face of the worst imaginable odds possible, worse even than what the 300 Spartans faced at Thermopylae.

Before I set pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard –, I encountered the 400+ page report – written in Polish — of Witold Pilecki, the only person who volunteered to go into Auschwitz.  Pilecki was deliberately captured and sent to Auschwitz in 1940 and escaped in 1943.  As I read his report, I researched every name I encountered.

“Not only gun butts of SS men struck our head.  Something more struck them also.  All our ideas wee kicked off in a brutal way …. They tried to break us mentally as soon as possible.”

Witold Pilecki, 1940

When I learned about Winter Olympian Bronisław Czech, I set the course to write The Hamsa.  The working title, by the way

The Hamsa
Olympic skier Bronislaw Czech

was Into the Heart of Darkness.  I was taken by this man who regarded his athletic accomplishments as meaningless when measured against the things that really count in life.

Czech and so many like him were men of courage who refused to bow before the onslaught of Hitler’s Wehrmacht as it rolled into Eastern Europe.  He became the focus of my story.

As the 2014 Winter Olympic Games continue in Sochi, Russia, I invite you to enter our contest to win a copy of The Hamsa.  The winner will receive her choice of a physical book or an electronic edition for Kindle.  Learn about Bronisław Czech and enter here to win my interpretation of his life.

Enter The Hamsa Giveaway