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 The Olympian was still in the hands of an agent and unpublished, and when I saw that photograph a story began to emerge, a story of courage in the face of the worst imaginable odds possible, worse even than what the 300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
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.
Roots grow deep. I was raised a Catholic. My father’s best friend, Louie Green was a Jew, and I remember attending the Seder Supper at Louie’s home during Passover when I was a young boy. Because of Louie Green and several boyhood friends including Bobby Sandler and Marty Shindler, things Jewish were not foreign to me, rather, I was greatly interested in them, primarily from a biblical perspective. I began reading Leon Uris novels [Exodus, Mila 18, etc.] as a teenager, and one rainy afternoon, I discovered Dr. Viktor Frankl’s volume Man’s Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankl’s book inspired a life-long interest in Jewish things that evolved into an intense awareness of the Holocaust.
In 1976, I penned — and I mean literally wrote with a pen on paper — my first novel manuscript and titled it The Messiah. It was set in a concentration camp. The handwritten manuscript remains unpublished and in a closet. Thirty years later in the mid-oo’s, I came upon a picture titled “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa.” I will never forget that photograph. Stories exploded from the image louder than the impending blast from the soldier’s gun. I had recently completed The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas, and I was preparing to write my second novel, this one about human dignity. I believe the depth of human dignity was tested no more strenuously than it was for the Jews in WWII.
Several months later, I learned of the Polish patriot Witold Pilecki, who reportedly volunteered to be captured by the Nazis and incarcerated in Auschwitz. I was able to locate a copy of the report Pilecki wrote after he escaped after surviving nearly three years in the death camp. I enjoy research, particularly historical research, and I pursued name after name as I delved deeper and deeper into Pilecki’s report. One name led me to Polish Olympic skier Bronislaw Czech, the 349th prisoner to enter Auschwitz. Czech and Pilecki
were in Auschwitz at the same time. The more I read about Bronislaw Czech, the more convinced I was that I found the protagonist for my next manuscript. My working title was Into the Heart of Darkness, and I would use Czech’s story to tell a tale of human dignity.