JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Charles Weinblatt, author of Jacob’s Courage
Jacobâ€™s Courage chronicles the dazzling beauty of passionate love and enduring bravery in a lurid world where the innocent are brutally murdered. This is a tender coming of age story of two young adults living in Salzburg at the time when the Nazi war machine enters Austria.
The historical novel presents scenes and situations of Jews in ghettos and concentration camps, with particular attention to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. Follow lovers Jacob and Rachael from their comfortable Salzburg homes to a decrepit ghetto, from there to a prison camp where they became man and wife.
Revel in their excitement as they escape and join the local partisans, fighting their Nazi tormentors. Finally ride the crowded, fetid train to the terror of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Stung by the death of loved-ones, enslaved and starved, they have nothing to count on but faith, love and courage.
From desperate despair, to unforgettable moments of chaste beauty, Jacobâ€™s Courage examines a constellation of emotions during a time of incomprehensible brutality.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the idea and inspiration to write Jacob’s Courage?
Charles Weinblatt: Iâ€™ve always had an interest in the Holocaust. As a child, I was the recipient of some verbal and physical anti-Semitism. By the time I reached adolescence, I realized that had I been born nine years earlier, in Europe, I too would likely have been a permanent victim.
My 100-year-old mother experienced virulent anti-Semitism in the form of pogroms against her Russian village as a child. She still recalls it vividly. For a long time, Iâ€™ve known that members of my maternal extended family had perished in the Shoah (Holocaust). What I did not know was who they were and how many of them vanished.
While I was writing the first portion of Jacobâ€™s Courage, my mother received a package of information from a cousin in New York. This package contained the names of almost two entire generations of her family who vanished into Nazi camps. They were never heard from again. This intensified my inspiration and motivation.
I have also had a voracious appetite for Holocaust books and films. These have instilled within me a deep-seated motivation to educate about the Holocaust. If we do not teach our progeny about the dangers of genocide, they might easily fall victim to it again. Considering Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, it appears that we have failed to learn from the horror of the Holocaust.
Unfortunately, my disability prevents me from accomplishing the intensive on-site research and interviewing necessary to produce a work of non-fiction about the Holocaust. Therefore, my only choice was to write a fictional account. In the words of philosopher and writer George Santayana, â€œThose who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.â€ Education might be the only way to avoid another Holocaust. Jacobâ€™s Courage is my donation to that educational process. That desire came to at least partial fruition when I discovered last year that Jacobâ€™s Courage is required reading for high school students in Ohio.
JP: What aspect of the holocaust does Jacob’s Courage explore that readers familiar with this event have not experienced yet?
CW: Jacobâ€™s Courage is, above all, a coming-of-age love story. I wanted readers to comprehend the most beautiful and the most terrifying aspects of the human experience. Here, readers will find the ecstasy of mutual first love, followed by years of persecution, imprisonment, forced labor and extermination.
I imagined myself as a seventeen-year-old student in Austria, deeply in love with another Jewish student. These two young people (Jacob and Rachael) became my protagonists. From the Nazi invasion of Austria (the â€œAnschlussâ€) in 1938, to the end of World war II and beyond, Jacobâ€™s Courage follows our star-crossed lovers from their comfortable homes in Salzburg, into Jewish ghettos where they were imprisoned by their Nazi captors; from there they were sent to the concentration camp Theresienstadt, where Jacob and Rachael were secretly married.
The lovers escape through a tunnel (this actually happened at Theresienstadt) and join the local partisans, fighting against their Nazi captors. Jacob was recaptured and sent to Auschwitz with his parents. I believe that the element of powerful young love is at least somewhat unique in this sub-genre.
Most books about the Holocaust are memoirs or non-fiction. As such, they can be a rather dry interpretation of history. Fiction offers a much more rich framework of contribution, leading the reader to become more personally involved. I believe that basing my book upon the experiences of young lovers is unique and original. It offers readers a chance to view genocide via a different and wider perspective.
Powerful infatuation and tender love also existed during times of horror and despair. So did a deep commitment to faith and God. Beneath the veneer of terror and brutality of the Holocaust churned the alluring beauty of passionate love and the driving power of religious devotion.
Nazi Germany could remove every article of wealth and freedom from the Jewish people, but not their love of family, wisdom, dedication and devotion to Judaism. At the very end, naked and cold, Jews had only their history, tradition, thoughts and feelings; and those were a tapestry of ancient wisdom, coupled with ritual devotion and a fervent need to connect with each other meaningfully.
The world is seldom really seen in black and white, or even shades of gray. During the Holocaust, in the midst of terrible anguish, beauty existed. That beauty was surrounded by despair. Lovers met fervently. Secret weddings were held. There were even some births, hidden from the SS for as long as possible.
Here, deep within the dread of impending murder, surrounded by the sickness, death, brutality and murder of family, we find love, compassion and faith. Repugnance, despair and darkness exist within human nature; just as love, compassion and devotion also exist there. We learn nothing about ourselves if we do not examine these vastly disparate portions of our psyche.
Holocaust survivors lost everything, but perhaps gained something as well. Certainly an honest examination of the Holocaust must reveal torturous cruelty, violence and death. It’s fair to say that Holocaust survivors lost most or all of their loved ones. However, despite the starvation, forced labor, inhuman conditions, sickness and malice, the incarcerated Jews of Europe continued to practice their religion. They continued to teach their children and to love one another. Here, among the ashes of vast genocide, one can feel hope for the survival of the human spirit.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that lead to Jacob’s Courage gaining a global audience?
CW: I must give much of the credit here to my publisher, Mazo Publishers (Jerusalem, Israel). Within days after the book had been printed, my publisher had it distributed and marketed on virtually every continent. I believe that this, along with editing and graphic art capability constitutes an important reason to use trade publishers.
They are the experts at garnering persuasive reviews and with global marketing. And, Mazo Publishers are experts in publishing Jewish and Holocaust-related books. They have deep connections into Jewish-related reviewers and retailers. I was also published in 1986 for a non-fiction book (again with a traditional publisher) and I had an author platform, which Iâ€™m certain also helped.
Mazo Publishers conducted fax and e-mail blasts, promoted the book via catalog publication and represented Jacobâ€™s Courage at key international book fairs. Mazo also enabled two critical reviews for the novel, with Jewish Book World and with The Association of Jewish Libraries. Reviews from compelling sources sell books.
I also took on the authorâ€™s marketing responsibilities without hesitation. I blog, and I write on other peoplesâ€™ blogs. I write published articles, and I have created several of my own web sites for Jacobâ€™s Courage. I contracted to have a video book trailer made, and I fabricated my own video trailer teaser ad â€“ all of which circulate virally on the Internet.
I have done public speaking, and I have been published in newspapers and magazines. Iâ€™ve also been interviewed by many local and international organizations. Social networking is important, and I have done a lot of work with Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Goodreads and many other valued Internet sites.
In essence, whatever success Jacobâ€™s Courage has experienced can be traced to a talented writer (I hope!), a marketable book, the efforts of my publisher and my own willingness to learn how to market as an author. For a novice author today, global success can be attributed to many different and converging factors, not the least of which is learning where your targeted audience is and finding creative ways to reach them there.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take for you to start and finish Jacob’s Courage?
CW: Jacobâ€™s Courage is an epic novel. At 524 pages (more than 286,000 words), this represents a long, difficult and tedious process. From start (research) to finish (marketing the printed book), three years of daily effort were required. I researched and/or wrote each day.
Writing is more a hobby than a vocation for me. I am a happily retired university administrator. Were I doing this to earn a living, I have no doubt that my pace would be significantly accelerated. Nevertheless, since completing Jacob’s Courage, I have finished a childrenâ€™s book and most of a science fiction novel.
I set aside time each day for research and writing. Sometimes, when Iâ€™m exceptionally focused, I will write for many non-stop hours. As all writers know, focus is intermittent. Marketing, which is far less mentally demanding, can be accomplished at any time.
JP: What’s next for Charles Weinblatt?
CW: I am interested in writing a sequel to Jacobâ€™s Courage or perhaps another Holocaust novel. The childrenâ€™s book was a necessary distraction from the emotional demands of writing about the Holocaust. Writing and publishing YA and childrenâ€™s books is an entirely different world.
I feel more comfortable with historical fiction and science fiction. I also love horror fiction. One thing is certain, as long as I have a laptop computer and time, I will always be writing. It is arguably my only skill. Iâ€™m terrible with math and dangerous with tools. So, I write.
I hope that the public enjoys my writing. But, I am in the envious position of being able to write as a hobby, rather than as a vocation. Without giving too much away from the ending of Jacobâ€™s Courage, there exists an opportunity for our protagonists in a sequel. Stay tuned!
Charles Weinblatt’s biography is listed in the Marquis Whoâ€™s Who in America and Whoâ€™s Who in American Education. He was also the recipient of the 2004 Douglas Frasier Swift Award.