Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Historical fiction, holidays, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—A promise of hope in the coming year


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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Happy New Year! To mark the holiday, I’m sharing the middle of the three sections in the last chapter of Movements in the Symphony of 1939, “Farewell, Nineteen-Thirties!” In Part II of the book, we’re introduced to a subplot with a Polish family Cinni’s father has been trying to bring to America. Though most of them managed to escape before the borders closed, the five people left behind were sent to Stutthof in the early days of the occupation.

Hans, the one who wrote this letter, is a mysterious young Luftwaffe pilot who provided many of them with travel visas and got them onto trains permitted to leave Poland before the country officially surrendered. He has a secret crush on Emma.

In the bitter cold of Stutthof, Emma shuddered under the thin wool coat she’d come with. The cold season had already begun creeping up on Poland at the end of September, but it hadn’t been cold enough to merit fur. Emma, her aunt, and her three uncles had left their best clothes hanging in their closets and wardrobes back in Warsaw, along with their best boots, all their Judaica, their fine linens, the beautiful tableware they’d entertained with a lifetime ago, all their books, their family photographs, and all their other personal mementos. Emma wondered if they’d ever see their home again, if any of their dear ones had gotten out of Poland safely, and if the Robleńskis were still alive. Most of all, she wondered where Dawida was.

“There’s a package for the blonde,” one of the guards announced, throwing a lump at Emma. “Happy New Year.”

Emma pulled off the thick outer layer of paper and found several slices of bread, smoked meat, some kind of crackers, a few cooked potatoes, and sliced raw carrots. Before September, she would’ve laughed at the thought of this feeding five people for more than one pathetic meal, but now it was a veritable holiday feast. At the bottom of the package, she found a handwritten note.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

Dear Emma, Zofia, Aleksander, Borys, and Paweł,

Happy New Year. I can’t promise anything certain, let alone so far in advance, but you must believe I’m coming to get you, not all at once, but as fast as I can. I haven’t forgotten you, nor the necessity of rescuing you from the terrible things I see coming. Never lose hope. By next year at this time, you’ll be in freedom again, maybe in your own home, and with as many of your former possessions as possible. Please believe I’m your friend and have your best interests at heart. Your redemption and rescue can’t come overnight, but they will happen. Hope never dies, even when it seems impossible.

Your unlikely friend,

Hans

Posted in Historical fiction, Writing

The struggle between historical accuracy and perpetuating false information in historical fiction

Something many historical writers may not have considered is the sensitive balance between being historically accurate and avoiding the perpetuation of false information which was widely believed at that time. Should you address this in a note in the front or back matter, include a dissenting voice among your characters, or just present the view as-is?

Take the corset, a supportive undergarment which was an important, matter-of-fact part of every woman’s wardrobe for centuries in various forms, but which is now widely seen as a deforming torture device. That definitely wasn’t the view of most women who actually wore corsets!

Believe it or not, only a small minority of women tight-laced, slept in their corsets, or began wearing corsets as small children, and the women who did do that were looked upon as foolish, ridiculous, and odd. These were also wealthy and upper-middle-class women. Working-class and poor women didn’t have time for that nonsense.

It’s also medically impossible for internal organs to be displaced by the wearing of a corset.

However, women who came of age in the twilight of corset history were genuinely glad to be free of them. Late Edwardian corsets were extremely uncomfortable, since they covered the thighs, changed the position of the hips, and made it very difficult to walk. Corset production halted during WWI because the steel was needed more for the war effort, and bras and girdles replaced the corset.

Then the misinformation mill took over, and before long, popular culture had convinced everyone corsets were akin to foot-binding and that almost every single woman had a freakishly tiny waist, crushed ribs and organs, and constant fainting from tight-lacing. They were well within living memory, but corsets were seen as an embarrassing relic of a dinosaur age. In every generation, people love laughing at their “unenlightened, inferior” elders and ancestors

I’m planning a whole series on writing about corsets in historical fiction and debunking persistent myths about them.

Another myth that refuses to die is that our Neanderthal cousins were knuckle-dragging, unintelligent, grunting brutes. Until the last decade or so, this was widely believed on account of misinformation dating all the way back to the discovery of our extinct cousins. In the 19th century, scientists couldn’t conceive of the notion of our species having different branches, and so assumed Neanderthals had to be a cruder, earlier race completely unrelated to us. There were also some individual skeletons which appeared to be deformed, which was taken to mean all Neanderthals looked like that.

Now we know Neanderthals buried their dead, had an early form of religion, cared for sick and injured members of their tribe instead of leaving them to die, understood medicinal herbs, were egalitarian (women participated in face-to-face hunting of dangerous animals just like men), produced artwork on cave walls, cooked their food, made and wore jewelry, played music, wore clothes, made stone tools, used language, and even made boats and sailed to other lands.

We also know now that Neanderthals and early modern humans interbred, and that everyone in our species has a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA.

Memorial to 200 Hungarian victims of a death march, Copyright Haeferl

Then we have the Mengele trope, which very likely arose because Shoah survivors wanted to put a name and face to such evil, and Mengele was one of the few names they knew. Everyone was selected by Mengele, despite multiple other “doctors” working the ramp; he was seen at Auschwitz even before he came there; he was doing 5-6 different things in different places at the same time. This POS was repugnant enough without assigning him supernatural powers!

There are also other Shoah urban legends which even survivors themselves believed, like the claims about lampshades and soap made from people. Scientific investigation has shown 99.999999% of Nazi lampshades were made of leather. There was also never any soap made from humans.

Because of Shoah denial and the horrific rise in antisemitism, it’s extremely important to always be one million percent accurate when writing about the Shoah.

There are so many other examples of historical urban myths and misinformation, like how it was widely believed Titanic sank in one piece instead of splitting into two; Julius Caesar was born by C-section (his mother was still alive when he was an adult, and C-sections were 100% fatal in that era); people in the Middle Ages never bathed; everyone stank before deodorant was invented; people dropped dead at 35 and most girls married at all of 13 until the modern era; millions of people were burnt at the stake as witches; there was a mass panic over The War of the Worlds radio broadcast; surnames were routinely changed by incompetent clerks at Ellis Island (immigrants did that themselves, and the vast majority were Jews who wanted to escape systemic, institutionalized antisemitism); the entire film industry switched to talkies overnight after The Jazz Singer, and no silent actors survived the transition; Vietnam vets were routinely spat on and beaten up after returning home.

Ask yourself why you want to include this myth. Is it important to the storyline or character development? Does a character really need to make a sniping comment about corsets, Neanderthals, or Medieval people? Is that relevant to a scene? Could s/he be corrected by, e.g., a tour guide at a historical museum? And if it truly fits into your story, how can you make it clear this is misinformation?

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—Precious protection

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Ráhel and Dániel Kovacs, eight and four years old, escaped from a death train under cover of night and found shelter in a nearby convent. They’ve been put in a hidden room upstairs, and a doctor performed a tracheostomy on Dániel, who has diphtheria.

After being assigned the Polish names Liwia and Fryderyk, the Polish forms of their middle names, a nun asked where they got the rosary and scapular they arrived with.

“A very nice lady gave them to us before we got off the train. She taught me four Catholic prayers, and taught my brother a very easy prayer for little children. Her parents converted before she was born, but the Germans thought she was still Jewish.”

“Oh, good, you already know some prayers. Some of the other people we’ve hidden didn’t know anything. What’s your dolly’s name?”

“Ambrózia. My sister bought her in a big store in Budapest. She came from France.”

Dr. Kaczka smiled.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene (and chapter).

“Well, let’s hope she’s your ambrosia and confers the same kind of protection on you as it did on the Greek deities. No one can live forever, but living a long life is good enough.”

After Dr. Kaczka and the nuns had gone, Ráhel leaned over and whispered the Sh’ma and its first paragraph in Dániel’s ear, just as Mirjam had commanded. She also added the last paragraph, and then repeated it in Hungarian, adding the concluding line of the Our Father afterwards.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these words with which I charge you this day. Teach them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Bind them as a sign upon your hand, and let them serve as a symbol before your eyes; inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Thus you shall remember to observe all my commandments and to be holy to your God. I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God. And deliver us from evil. Amen.”

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—New names

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Ráhel and Dániel Kovacs, eight and four years old, have escaped from a death train under cover of night and taken shelter in a nearby convent. They’ve been put in a hidden room upstairs, and a doctor performed a tracheostomy on Dániel, who has diphtheria.

Now they’re asked about their names, and Ráhel provides their middle names like her older sister Mirjam told her to do.

The nun who’d answered the door touched Ráhel’s hand and addressed her in Esperanto. “What are you and the boy named?”

“My name is Lívia, and my brother’s name is Frigyes.”

“Freed-yesh? Is there another form of that name? You’ll both need Polish names when our orphanage school starts in the autumn.”

Ráhel thought for a few minutes about her history lessons in school. She knew Dániel’s middle name was in honor of a famous emperor from a long time ago.

“Frederick!” she said excitedly. “My brother’s English name is Frederick!”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“I should’ve guessed that. The Polish name is Fryderyk. Your name will be Liwia. We’ll call you Liwunia, and your brother Fredzio. If you have Jewish names, please don’t tell us. It’s best if we don’t know.”

“Do you feel sick too?” Dr. Kaczka asked.

“No, I had torokgyík last year.” Ráhel took a drink from the new glass of water on the nightstand. “Thank you very much for being nice to us. My mother and sister will give you money after the war.”

“We don’t need money for doing the right thing,” a very young nun said. “For now, the most important thing is to get some rest. We’ll take very good care of you, teach you Polish, and protect you from the Germans. Where did you get that scapular and rosary from?”

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—Tracheostomy

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Ráhel and Dániel Kovacs, eight and four years old, just escaped from a death train through a hole in the floor, under cover of night, and ran to a nearby building for shelter. They were greeted by nuns, who showed them to a hidden room upstairs and gave them food and the chance to bathe. Now a doctor has arrived to help Dániel, who has diphtheria.

The doctor’s surname means “duck” in Polish.

Source http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/38/73/d7c3216a583a0abf51b860ae5509.jpg

“We’re members of the International Union of Catholic Esperantists and the Polish Esperanto Association,” one of the women in brown said. “We’re also Carmelite nuns. This is Dr. Kaczka, a member of the local underground.”

“We can’t risk going to any hospitals,” Dr. Kaczka said as he opened his bag. “I’ll have to perform an old-fashioned procedure here. I thought diphtheria was gone after last year’s epidemic.”

Dr. Kaczka injected a numbing agent, cleaned Dániel’s neck, draped it with a big gauze square, and made several cuts to reveal the outer wall of the trachea. Ráhel watched, fascinated, as her brother’s neck was cut into and blood gushed forth. One of the nuns daubed up the blood with more gauze. Once the worst of the bleeding looked contained, Dr. Kaczka cut an opening in the trachea and guided a small silver tube inside.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

He then closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and sucked out the grey pseudomembrane which had been causing Dániel’s neck to swell up and cause so much croupy coughing.

Dániel’s skin went from blue to pink, and the dazed expression in his deep brown eyes lessened. He looked around in confusion, but he no longer looked as though he were fading.

“Praise God. That old trick still works.” Dr. Kaczka smiled down at Dániel, then addressed the nuns in Polish. “Sisters, you’ll have to leave the tube in his throat until the worst of the illness passes and you’re sure he’s on the mend. It shouldn’t adversely affect his drinking, eating, or breathing, though he might not be able to speak normally for a few days. If he puts his hand over the tube, he’ll probably be able to speak better. What’s the boy’s name?”

**********************

P.S.: Happy seventh birthday to my rook piercing! It’s the curved barbell with lavender opals, and it’s always been one of my favorite piercings of my collection to date.