“Curiosity, Ignorance, and the Big What If”
My novels were born of my curiosity and my ignorance.
Books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen about Nazi Germany tend to focus on the war and the horrors inflicted on Nazi targets. These stories are typically told from the perspective of either the regime’s victims or the WWII victors.
Enter my curiosity. As a second-generation American of German descent, I wondered about the German experience. If my grandparents hadn’t emigrated, my parents would have grown up in Nazi Germany. Their school curriculum would have been Nazi-designed and approved. They would have been members of Hitler Youth, as was the law. They would have been bombarded with the regime’s version of news through government-controlled media. Perhaps they would have been caught up in the fervor of a torchlight parade or an enormous rally.
I knew the Nazis were good at brainwashing their citizens – they had spewed propaganda into German minds for six years before war broke out. But I wondered, what if a regular teenage German thought for herself? What if he was headstrong and independent and refused to go along with the crowd?
My curiosity led me to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. There, I bought a little brochure in their Victims of the Nazi Era line simply labeled “Handicapped.” As the sister of a developmentally disabled woman and as a practicing pediatric physical therapist, I was curious.
Then I was stunned. There I was, 50 years old, learning for the first time about a Nazi pogrom focused on exterminating people with disabilities. I had literally spent my entire life surrounded by people with disabilities, and yet I was ignorant of this T4 pogrom.
When I asked a few librarians, they spoke of titles that ‘may have mentioned it’ but knew of none that specifically showed people with disabilities as targets of Nazi aggression. Since I couldn’t bear the thought of readers missing that important piece of history, I wrote the YA novel Risking Exposure.
When it was published, I was satisfied that I’d told the complete tale of those characters. Some readers, including my own mother I should add, contacted me to say, “And? What happened next?” Although delighted that readers wanted to spend more time with my characters, I dismissed requests for ‘the rest’ of the story. I needed respite from the darkness of Nazi Germany.
A year later, and I tell you this in full trust that you won’t call the men in the white coats, I awoke with a grouchy old man’s voice in my head. Without knowing who he was, I stumbled to the computer and documented his words. About five hundred words into his dictation, I realized he was an unrepentant Nazi. After another five hundred words, I recognized him as the antagonist from Risking Exposure, but six decades older. The seed for his half of The Path Divided was sown.
When I revisited the character of the antagonist’s sister and found her still in 1938 (I’m not a time traveler, just a writer,) her story grew also. I interwove her historical narrative with his more contemporary one.
My research for The Path Divided turned up some lesser-known Nazi initiatives and events. My poor characters. I allowed her to get caught up in the crowd hysteria of the Nuremberg Rally. I made him participate in the systematic kidnapping of ‘Aryan’ children for the Lebensborn program. Those details not only create the backdrop for a historical tale that ‘could have happened,’ they also give a truer perspective of what it must have been like to be a teen caught in the insidious grasp of Nazi protocols.
I also learned that the Romany people were early targets of Nazi aggression, another seldom-mentioned group for the victim list. When some Romany characters presented themselves to me for inclusion in this novel, they brought their magic with them. How wonderful, I thought as I wove bits of magical realism into the novel, the Nazi era could have used a little magic.
To balance the need for historical accuracy (and a touch of magic) with my own need for hope and decent behavior, I was delighted that my research uncovered a seldom-mentioned effort called the Kindertransport. That international program created a safe means for the mass emigration of vulnerable children from Nazi Germany and its occupied lands. Ten thousand (yes, 10,000!) children who probably would have been killed by the Nazis during the war years were instead saved through this program. Legally and with the cooperation of the Nazi Party and the governments of the host nations, these children were identified and sent to foster homes in England and several other European countries. What an outstanding example of cooperation and kindness before the dark curtain of war fell across the world.
After a decade of research and writing, I can say with some confidence that I am no longer ignorant about the Nazi regime. My curiosity about that era is satisfied. As a writer, I’m done with the Nazis.
But then again, what if…
Because every choice has its consequence….
When a magical picture frame reveals the danger facing a teenage traitor, her best friend hatches a plan to sneak her out of Nazi Germany. Options are few. Choices are desperate.
Decades later, an aged Nazi hiding under an alias plans to die with his secrets intact. Confronted with his role in the fate of his sister and her best friend, he must decide: maintain his charade or face the consequences of the path he chose so long ago.
In this powerful conclusion to Risking Exposure, interwoven tales of guilt, sacrifice, and hope crack the divide between personal safety and loyalty to those we claim to love.
The author of Risking Exposure (2013,) Mikey and the Swamp Monster (2016,) and The Path Divided (2018,) Jeanne Moran reads and writes stories in which unlikely heroes make a difference in their corner of the world. In her everyday life, she strives to be one of them.
Find her at https://jeannemoran.weebly.com, or connect with Jeanne Moran, Author on Facebook or Instagram.
Thank you, Jeanne, for your post! What a great example of author’s thinking!