Jerry Amernic writes about how he conducted his research for his latest book The Last Witness. It makes for an interesting read!
My novel The Last Witness is about the last living survivor of the Holocaust in the year 2039. The central character, Jack Fisher, is a 100-year-old man whose worst memories took place before he was 5, but he’s caught in a world that is abysmally ignorant and complacent about events of the last century.
Of course, a writer can research any historical event to his heart’s content and read everything about it. But for a subject like the Holocaust I thought it best to actually sit down with former child survivors. And I did.
A group meets regularly in Toronto where I live. I attended some of their meetings and also visited several of them in their homes.
Miriam, now 79, was one of only two dozen children who were found alive at Auschwitz when the place was liberated by the Red Army in 1945. She was nine. She told me about the trains that carried Jews to the death camp – with no windows or place to relieve yourself. She told me about old people who became corpses on the trip. She told me about seeing murders every day.
Gershon, who was only 3 at the time of liberation by U. S. troops, doesn’t remember much. Today he’s a grandfather and has been married to the same woman for decades. But he told me that throughout his whole life he has always been claustrophobic in tight quarters, and he also lives with this fear that those who are closest to him – even his wife – will leave him one day. Because everybody else did when he was little.
Imagine carrying a burden like that around with you.
So, through people like them, I learned something about what it was like to be a child survivor of the Holocaust.
I also made a point of meeting notable people. Like Sir Martin Gilbert. The official biographer of Winston Churchill, Mr. Gilbert is an eminent historian and author of some 70 books, including The Holocaust. He was most helpful and kind.
But most of my research involved finding specifics about what I needed, which meant reading. For example, my character Jack was born in the Jewish ghetto in the city of Lodz, Poland. He was a hidden child because if the Nazis found him, they would have taken him from his family. I learned how little children sneaked into the Aryan side of the city to steal food for their family. I learned about families living in the sewers below the streets to try and avoid detection. Indeed, I read whatever I could find about that Jewish ghetto and about Auschwitz – where my flashbacks are based.
It was an experience and a journey, and I only hope this novel is the same for my readers.
About the book
The year is 2039, and Jack Fisher is the last living survivor of the Holocaust. Set in a world that is abysmally ignorant and complacent about events of the last century, Jack is a 100-year-old man whose worst memories took place before he was 5. His story hearkens back to the Jewish ghetto of his birth and to Auschwitz where, as a little boy, he had to fend for himself to survive after losing all his family. Jack becomes the central figure in a missing-person investigation when his granddaughter suddenly disappears. While assisting police, he finds himself in danger and must reach into the darkest corners of his memory to come out alive.
Note from the Author
My research included spending time with real-life, former child survivors. To illustrate the point of this novel, we produced a video and went around asking university students in Toronto where I live what they know about the Holocaust and World War II. The level of ignorance out there is incredible. Have a look here.