Next week — January 27th — is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Senior U.S., Canadian and Israeli officials are taking special steps to remember the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis and to remind the world what happens when evil rises and the free world does not take decisive action.
I would encourage you to do something to mark the day and teach your family and friends, as well.
If you can, visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Or watch a Holocaust-related film, like Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List of Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful. Or read a good book on the subject, like Night by Elie Wiesel, or The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, or William Shirer’s masterpiece, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Spend the day in prayer for those who survived the Holocaust. Pray for their families and friends. Pray, too, for the peace of Jerusalem and for the Lord to protect Israel and the Jewish people from those who seek to do them harm again.
I wish my new novel, The Auschwitz Escape, was already published. Unfortunately, it does not release until March 18th. But this is going to be a very important year in Holocaust education, with notable anniversaries of major events, including D-Day and the 70th anniversary of the escape of several actual heroes from Auschwitz, which inspired the novel. My hope is that this novel will be deeply moving for you, and teach you a great deal, a book you’ll want to share with a friend and sit down and discuss over a cup of tea or coffee.
As more time goes by, fewer and fewer people have really learned much about the Holocaust. We are in danger of forgetting history and its lessons.
Thus, I’m very encouraged that several major Western leaders are focusing on the Holocaust themselves and drawing attention to it at this time.
Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader and highest ranking Jewish official in Congress, “will travel to Auschwitz-Birkenau on International Holocaust Remembrance Day next week, taking part in an unprecedented event with Israeli, Polish and Russian officials,” reports the Jerusalem Post.
“Cantor will be joined by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Patrick McHenry (R-NC) at the mega-event with the Knesset’s largest-ever delegation abroad, even though it will take place on January 27, the day before the State of the Union Address,” the Post noted, adding that 64 Members of the Knesset will be attending the special ceremonies along with 30 Holocaust survivors.
“This is a priority for [Cantor],” a source said, explaining the Majority Leader’s willingness to attend the event despite the tight schedule. “He’s never been to Auschwitz before.”
Today, senior Canadian leaders have been visiting Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial and research center.
“Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid his respects to Jewish victims of the Holocaust during a visit today to Yad Vashem memorial on the third day of his Middle East tour,” reported the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). “He was joined by his official delegation, which includes Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers. According to the CBC’s Terry Milewski, Harper’s note in the memorial’s guestbook reads, ‘They are remembered always, in our hearts, in our prayers and most importantly in our resolve. Never again.'”
Here are more details on The Auschwitz Escape for those not yet familiar with it.
Unlike any other novel I’ve written, this is a work of historical fiction. It was inspired by two sets of true and deeply-moving stories from World War II.
The first involved a small group of German Jews, members of the underground, who made it their mission to rescue their fellow Jews, and sabotage the Nazis at every turn, until they were discovered by the Gestapo, arrested and sent to concentration camps.
The second involved a small group of Protestant Christian pastors and their families in a small town in south-central France who also made it their mission to rescue Jews escaping the Nazi nightmare, and until they, too, were discovered by the Gestapo, arrested, and sent to the camps.
After visiting Auschwitz in the fall of 2011, I became intrigued with reading everything I could get my hands on about these two groups of people, talking to Holocaust experts, tracking down out-of-print books, meeting with Holocaust survivors, watching old documentaries, and trying to understand who these folks were, what they did, and why they did it.
What I would come to discover were stories of such pain and heartbreak inside the death camps, but also stories of such courage and hope and unbelievable heroism. Until I set out on this journey, I had no idea that an entire town in France was awarded “Righteous Among the Nations” status by the Israeli government for their efforts to rescue Jews fleeing the Holocaust. I had no idea that over 800 people tried to escape from Auschwitz, and that a handful of them actually succeeded. I had no idea that some of those who escaped did so not only to save their own lives, but to tell the Jewish communities of Europe, the Allied leadership in London and Washington, and the free world of the terrible atrocities being committed in the death camps, and to urge the world to act decisively to liberate the death camps before it was too late. Yet the more I learned, the more intrigued I became and the more determined I became to somehow convey their profound stories.
This spring will mark the 70th anniversary since those men — long-since forgotten by the world, if they were ever known at all – made their daring, spectacular, indeed miraculous escapes from the world’s most infamous death camp. This year will also mark the 70th anniversary of the release of their eyewitness account, known as “The Auschwitz Protocol,” as well as of D-Day and the Allied effort to liberate Europe and end the Third Reich once and for all. And next January — 2015 – we will mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and shortly thereafter the fall of Berlin, the death of Adolf Hitler, the Allied victory and the end of World War II. Thus, I decided if there were ever time to write such a book and try to help people remember this history, to be drawn into it, to experience it emotionally and even to draw lessons from it for our time, it seemed like this was the moment.
While The Auschwitz Escape is a work of fiction, it is based on several years worth of research, including meetings with scholars at Yad Vashem. It is a very different book from anything I’ve ever written before, and was by far the most difficult novel I’ve ever attempted. But whether you’re Jewish or Christian, of another faith, or no faith at all, I hope you’ll find this journey into the heart of darkness and back again as compelling as I have. What’s more, I hope you’ll find this book to meditate on and discuss with others. Above all, my hope is this book will inspire you to press in and learn more about the real men and women whose lives inspired me, and ask yourself what you would do if darkness fell and evil rose and all that you knew and loved was swept away in a breath-taking, heart-stopping instant of time.