Not every story needs to be universalist

Because this is the month of Yom HaShoah, and my current WIP is one of my Shoah books, I decided to do a series about a few issues which I’ve come to realize Gentile readers may see much differently than the Jewish community does. Topics covered will include:

The less than positive attitudes between Shoah survivors and the Gentile population.

How much did ordinary people in Germany (and the other occupied countries) really know, and could/should they have done more to protest?

The lifelong fear, hatred, paranoia, etc., many Shoah survivors bore towards Germany and the German people their entire lives, as well as the native populations of their respective host countries.

The specifically Jewish nature of the Shoah, and why I can’t get into the contemporary trend to try to universalize this unique event in Jewish history.

The attitudes of people in the occupied countries, both as active and silent collaborators, and how it related to prevailing, established attitudes which wouldn’t have been seen as hateful or prejudiced by the masses.

How did the suffering of the Gentiles in the occupied countries compare against the suffering of the Jewish community?

All but one of the planned or in progress books in the interconnected series about my Shoah characters focuses on Jewish characters. The only Gentile I plan to give a book to is Wolfram, a German Catholic sent to the camps for violating Paragraph 175 (the anti-gay legislation which was shockingly on the books till 1994).

My third Russian historical, Journey Through a Dark Forest, tells the lesser-represented side of the story, as the characters caught up in the Nazi whirlwind are Americans Darya and Oliivia, the Kraków branch of the Zyuganov family, and the Polish farm family the Kumiegas. I’m definitely sympathetic towards Poles who feel like their nation’s suffering under the Nazis is downplayed and that they’re depicted as having all been violent anti-Semites.

I always have several Righteous Gentile characters in each book, to show not all Gentiles were anti-Semites, active collaborators, or indifferent witnesses. However, my stories have a specific focus, and I can’t sacrifice historical accuracy and intellectual honesty for the modern-day trend to try to universalize the Shoah and downplay the uniquely Jewish aspect. Neither does it make sense for the typical survivor to have any good things to say about the Germans. When would they have had the chance to see examples of anti-Nazi attitudes if they never lived among the common people?

The same thing goes for my Russian novels. Those characters are Russian Orthodox, with some Estonian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Georgian, and Armenian characters who also follow various branches of the Orthodox Church. Even the atheist characters from the Soviet Union started life in Christian families, either Orthodox or Greek Catholic. I was about 19 when I discovered Russian Jewish history is a lot different from mainstream Russian history. Each side has its own narrative and truth, and doesn’t always like or agree with the other.

Do you like your stories to have a universal message and cultural relativism? Do you like to see other perspectives addressed in books focused on one particular group?

P.S.: I really appreciate all the positive, intelligent, constructive comments I got on my recent 12-part gender-critical series. I was really worried I’d get lots of hate comments, threats, and abuse, and spent so much time tweaking each post to make sure it was just right.

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4 comments on “Not every story needs to be universalist

  1. I like reading stories from historically accurate points of view. I admire that you don’t plan to twist it to fit modern sensibilities. I don’t think we should glaze over history, no matter how horrible it can be. I love seeing different perspectives!

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  2. Chrys Fey says:

    I must admit to not knowing anything about all of this, so I’d have to take your word for it. Haha. I like that not all of your characters are different. Although they are Shoah or Gentile, they’re not all going to be the same, think the same, like the same, etc.

    I don’t really read books on these subjects, time frames or with these characters so I’m afraid my opinion on a universal message or cultural relativism is lacking.

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  3. Arlee Bird says:

    I don’t know that an absolute universal is ever possible as there is always some disagreement other than regarding the most basic of human needs. Each group has its own slant on how they view the world. If a story is true to the nature of the values contained with in it then that I think is the main thing.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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  4. Ed Hoornaert says:

    The raised a few thoughts. First, it’s interesting paradox in fiction that the more specific a story is, the more universal its appeal. Anne Frank touches us much more than a history of German atrocities.

    Second, among my dad’s family anti-German feeling was rife. My father was born in December 1914 on a battlefield, just a few weeks immediately after the First Battle of Ypres. Somehow part of the family, including my dad, made it to the Allied lines and eventually landed in Canada; the Brits didn’t want all those messy foreign refugees cluttering up the homeland. The older brother didn’t make it out, though, and grew up under German occupation, with nothing good to say about Germans. WW II solidified that sentiment. My dad was semi-crippled from serving in the RCAF during the Battle of Britain.

    All this is a roundabout way of saying that no matter how specific the Shoah is to Jews, the emotions of suffering, persecution, and hatred/fear of the enemy are UNIVERSAL emotions.

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