Royalties from downloads and page reads of Touching the Wire during Holocaust week will be donated to US Holocaust Memorial Museum At the end of 2014, I published my first historical novel, Touching the Wire, a tale of courage, hope, and love set partly in Auschwitz, a place where courage was essential, hope was a luxury few could afford, and love was a rare shining beacon of compassion in a world dominated by the capricious brutality and hatred cultivated by Nazi Germany.
Much has been written about this heinous episode in modern history that informs and shocks. We like to think that it never happened before and that it could never happen again, but man’s inhumanity to man seems part of our genetic code, and we must be constantly aware of systemic racism, elitism, and religious bigotry that runs in the veins beneath the flawless surface of mankind’s common skin.
The power of Hitler to subvert and subsume the minds of the German people in his ‘final solution‘ for the Jews, Romanies, Homosexuals, and political agitators of the pre-war years is mind-boggling. How could one man turn an entire nation against another people and their religion? By exploiting an issue of concern, promoting fear, and inflaming it to the point of contempt and hatred. The power of words, of language, of personality, of aggressive persuasion, and beguiling, insidious madness should not be underestimated.
A reviewer highlights this power when he says ‘I don’t think anyone who reads Rebecca Bryn’s Touching The Wire will leave the same way they’ve entered, as I would put this book as one of the most powerful and thought-provoking books on this most-unfortunate and tragic event…’ Amazon quote.
My inspiration for Touching the Wire was a television report of some ten years ago about Nazi war criminals. I admit to being shocked and wondered how I would feel were I in another woman’s shoes. Could I forgive? This was a question that took the whole of the book to answer and a year of harrowing research that gave me nightmares. All the time I was writing it, my concern was am I doing these people justice? Am I belittling their suffering? What makes me think I, an unremarkable daughter, mother, and wife, have the right to tell their story? When finished, several major rewrites and three title changes later, I hesitated to publish. The last thing I wanted was to upset survivors or relatives of victims of the Holocaust. Again the question was, what gives me the right?
I pondered this for a while. I have no courage, it has always been one of my greatest flaws, certainly not the courage that enabled three women to stay silent, while enduring rape and torture, rather than betray the camp resistance and to stay courageous, shouting out their defiance, even as the chairs upon which they stood were kicked away, leaving them dangling at the ends of ropes. I have never lost all hope of surviving, or not entirely, though I’ve felt the urge to end it all on occasion: it is at times like these that their courage has upheld me. For the men and women of Auschwitz, touching the wire was their only way of escaping yet few did. They clung to every breath with a determination and resilience that is astonishing. And I have those I love around me: I don’t breathe in their ash, wash with soap made from their fat, or walk on pale paths crushed from their bones.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was my fear, my broken heart, and the unbearable pain of loss that empowered me. Though our circumstances differed vastly, I have an inkling of their emotional suffering. Their courage shamed me: they wouldn’t have hesitated to tell their story to a disbelieving world, indeed, one thing that shone clearly from my research was the victims’ sincere hope that their story would be told and believed.
This story is fictional, as are the characters apart from known Nazi war criminals: the events that take part in the women’s camp at Auschwitz/Birkenhau are not. These things happened and it is very likely that all the children in the photograph above perished in the gas chambers mere hours later; one passage in the novel that always makes me cry is the account of children passing by the women’s camp on their way from the train to the gas chamber with only a dropped toy to show their passing.
I spare you no horror for they were spared none. I’ve tried to give these women the voice that was denied them. I’ve tried to conjure real, ordinary, flawed men and women: fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives taken from those they loved, knowing those they loved had been starved, gassed, or shot and that they would surely be next, any day now, any minute, and living every day as if it were their last because it very well might be. How did they live like that? What incredible courage that must have taken.
I make no apology for having cried my way through the writing of this book, and no apology that you might find yourself doing the same reading it. If the story gives you nightmares and haunts you forever, join the club. If we can’t talk about this and give these men and women a voice, who will hear them or know they ever existed? What is their legacy? Who will remember them? If we can’t weep over the deaths of millions of innocent men, women, and children who asphyxiated or starved in the most horrifying manner, what are we? Are we human? I hope I am.
You’ll hear about International Holocaust Remembrance Day – Yom Hashoah – that commemorates the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on 27th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, and Holocaust Memorial Day that commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27th 1945, and they may not mean much to you.
There was a time when I understood little of what happened in the ghettos or behind the electrified wire of Nazi concentration camps and knew nothing of the March of Death across Poland in minus twenty degree temperatures that immediately preceded the liberation of Auschwitz. The more I researched, the more first-hand accounts I read, the more convinced I was that this story had to be told; my characters demanded I pressed the button marked publish. My tale is not a conventional take on the subject simply because I was trying to answer my own question – Could I forgive?
Your question is, can you?
My own, personal answer was perhaps it is not so much what you are able to forgive so much as whom you are willing to forgive. If you love someone unconditionally, you will forgive them anything.
Reviews for this tale have stunned me, and I cried when I received a letter from a survivor who thanked me for writing Touching the Wire and said that for the first time in seventy years she could begin to contemplate the possibility of forgiveness. A tiny step but a huge leap. That one woman has made my entire writing career worthwhile. It’s appropriate perhaps that in 2018 the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘The Power of Words‘.
Touching the Wire is dedicated to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and to the memory of Professor Schaeler, a gentle Polish Jew, who taught me botany and zoology in the early sixties and who lost all his family in the Holocaust. The pain I witnessed daily in his eyes took on new meaning as I researched and wrote this novel.
During Holocaust week, royalties from the sale of Touching the Wire will be donated to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to help further Holocaust education. It is a small tribute to the courage of those who suffered and still suffer the hand of tyranny.
Please download it at Touching the Wire – It’s only £1.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited – Royalties from KU page reads are also donated. Thank you.
If you wish to know more about the Holocaust, the museum’s educational work, or donate directly visit https://www.ushmm.org/
In the words of Estelle Laughlin, Holocaust survivor and US Holocaust Memorial Museum volunteer, who remembers the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising seventy-five years ago, ‘We must be reminded of the unthinkable consequences of hatred, but also of the power of individuals to make a difference.‘