Posted in Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

IWSG—Who shall live and who shall die?

In loving memory of Keith John Moon, the greatest drummer ever, who left this world 38 years ago today.


The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of the month. Participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

This month, the IWSG question is:

How do you find the time to write in your busy day?

Like a number of the other folks in my local writers’ group, I tend to focus more and be more productive when I’m out of the house. There aren’t a dozen things to distract me when I’m in the library, a coffeehouse, or a diner.


As I mentioned in last month’s post, I began having serious second thoughts about my long-established but never written storyline in the flashback Part II of my current WIP. I’m really glad I not only decided to do almost all of Part II as a flashback, but also before I finished what remains of Parts IV and V.

Part II is appropriately called “Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?,” which is of course one of the most famous lines from the High Holy Days prayer U’Netaneh Tokef. As it so turned out, I myself didn’t know who all lived and died. As I began getting to know these characters, I liked some of them too much to condemn them to such tragic, early deaths.

My original intention was to show a stark contrast between my Polish and Hungarian characters. Almost all of my Polish characters (two entire families, including many children) have miraculous, unlikely escapes and rescues, while the story of my Hungarian characters was meant to show the more realistic side of the Shoah. I also wanted to bring home how just how devastating the Shoah was for Hungarian Jewry, such a high body count in such little time.


Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Thanks to all the testimonies I’ve listened to from the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, and the reference volumes I’ve read, I’ve realized how off the mark I was, not to mention unnecessarily cruel. What was the point of killing off THAT many people, for no other reason than to prove some kind of point? It didn’t feel like a natural story, just a parade of macabre deaths, with barely anyone left standing.

I’ve always focused on the positive in my Shoah stories. For me, it’s about celebrating hope, love, life, loyalty, bravery, compassion, not reveling in some cliché litany of horrors. Another issue was how some parts were more strongly based on certain memoirs instead of being my original creation working with the existing narrative.


I changed the girls’ second camp from Hochweiler to Breslau–Hundsfeld, which manufactured aeroplane parts and had very decent living conditions. I had to make sure it was evacuated to Gross–Rosen before starting in other directions, so I wouldn’t have to change even more details.

The boys are moved to Jawischowitz in October 1944, and two characters whom I grew to really like remain behind during evacuation. Another character stays behind at Mauthausen.

A number of characters were transported in the autumn. Four successfully slip away during death marches. I feel these new developments paint a much more realistic, humane story, while still accurately depicting the tragedy of Hungarian Jewry and the higher death rate among men.

I’ll be sharing more details about how I do my historical research on the Shoah in Friday’s post, such as reference books and how to get the best results with the Visual History Archive. It also bears reiterating, stay far away from Scrapbookpages! It’s a well-disguised Holocaust denial site.


I started reading at three (my first book was Grimm's Fairy Tales, the uncensored adult version), started writing at four, started writing book-length things at eleven, and have been a writer ever since. I predominantly write historical fiction family sagas/series. I primarily write about young people, since I was a young person myself when I became a serious writer and didn't know how to write about adults as main characters. I only write in a contemporary setting if the books naturally go into the modern era over the course of the decades-long stories being told over many books. I've always been drawn to books, films, music, fashions, et al, from bygone eras, and have never really been too much into modern things. If something or someone has appeal for all time, it'll still be there to be discovered after the initial to-do has died down. For example, my second-favorite writer enjoyed a huge burst of popularity in the Sixties and Seventies, but he wrote his books from 1904-43, and his books still resonate today, even after he's no longer such a fad. Quality lasts for all time.

9 thoughts on “IWSG—Who shall live and who shall die?

  1. It is good to hear that you can write in a diner and coffee house. I can also, but the best place in in my office. I have taken over the three rooms in my basement and they are where my world takes place. It is also good to see that you are making progress on your WIP and especaially on the parts that deal with the backstory.
    All the best.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat Garcia


  2. “I’ve always focused on the positive in my Shoah stories. For me, it’s about celebrating hope, love, life, loyalty, bravery, compassion”
    Two of the most uplifting books I know of sprang from this horrible era: The Diary of Anne Frank and Man’s Search for Meaning.


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