Local author to discuss HolocaustWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
“How would you feel, if at age 17, the government removed you from school, evicted you from your home, looted your bank account and stole all your family’s possessions?” asks author Chuck Weinblatt. “How would you feel if ruthless police prevented your parents from working, then deported you and your family to a concentration camp run by the most brutal of taskmasters? How would you feel if you lost contact with everyone you know and love, if you were sent to the most frightening place in history, and you were forced to perform unspeakable acts of horror in order to remain alive?”
Weinblatt takes readers through these historical atrocities in his novel “Jacob’s Courage,” which will be the focus of an Oct. 27 presentation at Monroe County Community College (MCCC).
Weinblatt, 57, a lifelong Toledo-area resident who lives in Sylvania, is a University of Toledo graduate and retired UT administrator. He said health problems forced his retirement six years ago, which provided him an opportunity to research and write.
“I wanted to write a novel about the Holocaust and dedicate it to my family,” Weinblatt said in an Oct. 19 phone interview. “I had always known that members of my mother’s family disappeared in the Holocaust, but I did not know who they were until I began writing the book. I was sent a family tree that showed almost two entire generations of my family were wiped out in the Holocaust.”
The family tree Weinblatt referred to shows that of Menashe and Fayge Volk’s six children — Hya, Laya, Pesil, Aaron, Hanah and Avrom — all but Avrom died in the Holocaust; eight of the Volk’s grandchildren were also murdered in concentration camps or prisons.
“Avrom lived because he left Kovel, Russia, and came to the United States in 1911,” Weinblatt said. “He settled in Columbus and sent for his family about a year and a half later. That is how my mother and her sisters came here. If I had been born just nine years earlier, in Europe instead of the United States, I most likely also would have been a victim of the Holocaust.”
Weinblatt said he chose to write a love story that followed two adolescents through the Holocaust. While his characters are fictional, they, like the title character in “Forrest Gump,” are exposed to true historical situations.
“I decided that the events surrounding my characters, Jacob and Rachel, would be real; everything that happens to them happened to real people,” Weinblatt said.
“Jacob’s Courage” follows the young couple from the forced ghettos to the concentration camps and beyond, with several harrowing twists and turns that allow Weinblatt to illustrate the myriad tragedies Holocaust victims faced.
“The camps were pure torture,” he said. “There was rampant typhus; people survived on a few hundred calories a day. There was no medical attention; people just started dying by the thousands, their corpses piled up like cordwood.”
In the novel, one of Jacob’s terrible dreams becomes a living nightmare when he is forced into a sonderkommando, where in real life, Jewish prisoners were forced to aid in the process of burning the bodies of Jewish victims.
The book contains graphic passages that do not shy away from the worst of the Holocaust atrocities, but Weinblatt said his intent was to demonstrate the resilient nature of mankind.
“I wanted to describe for people the most beautiful moments in life — falling in true love for the first time, making love to one’s soul mate for the first time, all of life’s triumphs that were experienced by the Jews who were prisoners of the Nazis,” Weinblatt said. “But then they experienced the most terrifying, horrifying brutality before they were shot and killed.”
Some of Weinblatt’s first-person research was conducted in Toledo. He said at one point, hundreds of Holocaust survivors lived in the Toledo area. There are now fewer than two dozen. One of those is his friend Philip Markowicz, an Auschwitz survivor. Markowicz was scheduled to appear at MCCC with Weinblatt but has canceled due to family illness. After narrowly escaping a lineup being held against a wall by Nazi machine guns, Markowicz moved to America, settled in Toledo and operated Phil’s TV and Appliances on Sylvania Avenue for almost 40 years. Markowicz wrote of his experiences in the book “My Three Lives.”
“Phil won’t be there, but I will read sections of his book at the presentation,” Weinblatt said. “He was born to a rabbi in Poland, and all he wanted to be was a rabbi. The Nazis sent his family to a concentration camp, and he lost his father to cold and starvation; his mother, sister and a nephew were sent to the gas chambers.
“He survived six different camps, including Auschwitz, and married a woman he met in one of the camps; they were married until she died in 2004.”
Weinblatt said “Jacob’s Courage” will be the focus of the evening, but he will also take audience questions.
“I want people to see that even in moments of terrible desperation, the Jews of these concentration camps lived, loved, observed all of their religious rituals,” Weinblatt said. “They found a way to keep the spirit of humanity alive.”
Weinblatt will appear Oct. 27 at Monroe County Community College at 7 p.m. in Whitman Center Room 4, located at 7777 Lewis Ave., Temperance. The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information on the presentation, contact the Whitman Center at (734) 847-0559.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Call him at (419) 241-1700 or e-mail him at email@example.com.