Not a person to poke my head above the parapet, it was with some trepidation that I published my Holocaust story, Touching the Wire, and this was the review I’d been dreading ever since. It arrived on Amazon some months ago, was one-star, and the abuse flowed – I’d obviously struck a nerve with this poor woman. The Holocaust is rightly an emotive subject and when tackling such subjects one should be prepared to duck the flack.
As an atheist, for me the question of religion is simple. Either God exists or he doesn’t, and if a person chooses to believe, then how they worship is a matter between God and themselves and shouldn’t be of any concern to anyone else. But belief is a tool that has been used by the bigoted to control vast swaths of the population, and this has been true for many centuries. Those purporting to be followers of God have subverted religion for their own political purpose – how else can you explain the wars and pogroms religion has sparked in the name of God?
Which brings me back to the Holocaust and my one-star review. Had I not had messages from victims of the Holocaust thanking me for writing the novel, and saying that it had helped them to begin to contemplate forgiveness after seventy years, that review would have ended my writing career. The thought of upsetting my readers would have made me take the book down and never write another word – yes, I am that sensitive. As it is, Amazon removed the review, for which I was grateful, but not before I’d communicated with my reviewer and argued my case – I know, an author should never respond to one-star reviews, but this reader had bought my book in good faith and was genuinely upset and furious, and I hoped to persuade her I intended no slight on the Jewish people – indeed, if you’ve read my blog ‘My Grandfather’s Nose’, you’ll know that I almost certainly have Jewish blood myself and originate from Western Europe. In another life, I may well have been a victim of the Holocaust myself.
The Jewish people have been targeted on more than one occasion for mass extermination and not just by Nazi Germany. And they’re not the only people to suffer so. Britain exterminated the native inhabitants of Tasmania and had a good go at other native peoples across the globe. Writing a story that explores forgiveness does not mean I have Nazi sympathies – far from it; part of the royalties from Touching the Wire support Holocaust education each year. I merely asked a question, posed by a TV report about Nazi war criminals living incognito after the war, and left it to the reader to supply their own answer. I still struggle to find mine.
I wept writing this novel. I can’t begin to tell you how the research affected me and how many times I had to walk away to breath fresh air and find some sanity in the world. How could people, who were surely normal human beings at some point, be moulded into such savage, capricious, murderous, and apparently conscienceless killing machines? What happened? Take Josef Mengele, to name but one – he was a married man with a son, family he surely loved, yet he carried out the most abhorrent and inhumane medical experiments on children and calmly chose those women and children who were to be gassed.
What sort of propaganda turns a race of people, the Jews in this instance, into fodder for medical experiments or the gas chambers? That they were successful and therefore unpopular, a fact to be used, grabbed at, and twisted. Rumour that they were less than human, that they were dirty, and carried disease. It beggars belief, doesn’t it? But it happened. The power Hitler wielded over the minds of the German people and the Nazi party during the Second World War is frightening.
Yet the conditions are ripe for such a thing to happen again. Fear, driven by over-population, struggling economies, and the lack of understanding of different cultures, rears its head and is fed by those who wish to enflame matters and send out young radicalised and brain-washed men to commit terror attacks in the name of God. ‘Dieu Defend le Droit’ – God defends the right – How often has that been used as an excuse for murder and war? The underlying mistrust is there beneath the veneer of our cultures. If I were religious, I would pray for a global religion that allows individuals to worship their ‘One God’ as they please as long as it isn’t to the detriment of others. As an atheist, I can only hope for a deeper understanding of all cultures and religions. Maybe, one day, there’ll be no need for books like Touching the Wire to challenge our powers of forgiveness. One can live in hope.
http://mybook.to/TouchingtheWire – the women of Auschwitz – a fictional tale inspired by a terrible truth. Should I be ashamed of writing it? I don’t think so, but you can judge. I’ve poked my head above the parapet again, haven’t I?