Novel on Auschwitz shines light on atrocities – with a twist
06/01/2014 10:32 PM
08/08/2014 10:24 AM
“The Auschwitz Escape” by Joel Rosenberg (Tyndale House Publishers, 461 pages, $26.99)
Joel Rosenberg’s story about a planned escape from the Nazi extermination camp in German-occupied Poland is not a first. Numerous authors have shined the light on the horrors of Auschwitz and the successful and failed attempts by its captives to escape from what can only be described as hell on earth.
What sets apart Rosenberg’s story – a fictional account though based on factual elements – is that he is a Jew who became a Christian. His grandparents and great-grandparents were Orthodox Jews who fled Russia in the first part of the 20th century and came to America. His father married a Methodist, though both were agnostic. A constant search for deeper meaning to life eventually led them to a little church in the western part of New York. She reaffirmed the Christian faith; in time, he affirmed belief in Jesus as the Messiah.
With a Christian upbringing, Joel Rosenberg decided in high school to affirm a belief in Jesus. Yet, his Jewish heritage drew him to learn and study more about it. As a family, they celebrated Passover and studied the Hebrew Scriptures together. Rosenberg, an evangelical, went to Israel, where he studied at Tel Aviv University and visited the country’s ancient sites. His love of the land of Israel compelled him to write about it.
His first novel, “The Last Jihad,” published months before the 9/11 attacks, focused on terrorism and biblical prophecy, the latter of which is a key component of evangelical teachings. The novel was a New York Times bestseller for 11 weeks. Since then, he has written seven more novels, including “The Auschwitz Escape,” and five nonfiction books. He’s been interviewed in newspapers and on television and radio by such conservative political commentators as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. In his latest novel, Rosenberg, a communications advisor in Washington, D.C., tackles the daunting subject of the Holocaust.
The story begins in Sedan, a small town in northern France where a family birthday celebration is interrupted by an explosion outside. It was the first of a pounding artillery attack in May 1940 by the German army as it crossed the Meuse River toward Sedan. Pastor Jean-Luc Leclerc, known as Luc, who was at his niece’s birthday celebration, and several others in the town narrowly escaped the invading Nazis.
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Jacob Weisz experienced the increasingly tight restrictions that all Jews in Germany faced. Stripped of citizenship and denied the most basic rights, he and his family had been forced to leave their home outside Berlin and were living in Siegen, southwest of Berlin. Those in the town generally ignored the family and other Jewish residents. But shunning led to taunting that eventually turned violent. In one virulent incident, Jacob’s sister Ruthie was killed by a mob.
The story traces the lives of Jacob and Luc as they shift from victims to resistance fighters to concentration camp prisoners. With the clandestine aid of a camp nurse, Abby, their escape is planned. The urgency is even more acute because they learn that trainloads of Hungarians Jews are expected to be rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. By escaping with a few others, they hope to warn the leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community and, if all goes as planned, recount to American officials what’s really going on in the so-called work camps in German-occupied Poland and Germany.
While the story is a grim account of the struggles and atrocities of the time, it also raises the always bewildering questions about the silence of God in the face of evil. Jacob, who thought little of God, begins to ask: “How much longer must the innocent suffer? If God had really chosen the Jews as his special people, where was he now?” Luc and Abby speak at times from an unwavering Christian belief in God’s providence, though one might expect that in the midst of such horrors faith might be a bit more rattled than it apparently is.
As for Jacob, the main character, he moves from agnosticism to anger to doubt to a belief in the God of Abraham. Nothing more is revealed about his beliefs. Is he reaffirming the faith of his parents and ancestors, or is his faith a Jewish Messianic version of Abby’s? Rosenberg leaves the door ajar, just as he appears to have done with his own life.