Tag Archives: Nazi

A taut thriller conjures huge neo-Nazi threat

“Hitler’s Silver Box,” by Allen Malnak. Two Harbors Press.  328 pages. $16.95.

“Every family has a secret, but Uncle Max’s could wreak havoc on the world.” Such is the official product description for this exciting thriller. Indeed, everything is at stake. What can an overworked young physician do about it?

 Dr. Bruce Starkman’s responsibilities as chief ER resident at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital are interrupted by the news of his uncle’s mysterious death. Uncle Max, the owner of a small book store, would seem to have died of natural causes, but there are some suggestions of foul play. Who would wish to murder this seemingly innocuous senior citizen? 

Readers know what’s up long before Bruce finds out, as the first chapter of the book lays out a situation in which Max is threatened and tortured by neo-Nazis who ask him for a special box. Max’s refusal to give them what they want or tell them where it is leads to his death.

What arouses Bruce’s suspicion? Well, that his Orthodox uncle is cremated (against Jewish law) and that something is not right about the funeral home paperwork. As Bruce attempts to settle his uncle’s affairs, more questions come up and there is always a difficult path to partial answers.

Is it a coincidence that Bruce’s ex-girlfriend dies suddenly, a woman who might be considered Max’s confidante and someone who shared his suspicions? And who is the mysterious man who seems to have unsuccessfully attempted to save her – a man who suggested to Bruce that it would be best not to involve the police? And why was Bruce’s friend on the police force suddenly called away and replaced by a subordinate?

And how does Bruce himself become a suspect?

The answers, as one might expect from the title, have to do with events from Max’s life as a teenager during the Holocaust.

More specifically, the answers involve records from the Theresianstadt concentration camp and the mind-blowing contents of the silver box that, we discover, had been crafted under duress by a young prisoner, Bruce’s Uncle Max, who had later escaped and hidden the box.

Bruce discovers Max’s journal and with that discovery he commits himself to following through on foiling the neo-Nazi plot that demands retrieval of the box and its contents – detailed plans for the resurgence of Nazi power and world-wide domination.

Along the way, Bruce meets an Israeli security official, Miriam, who is perhaps a bit too much of a brazen, brainy, martial, and sexually magnetic stereotype Israeli babe. I imagine a somewhat younger Angelica Jolie in the movie.  They join forces in an attempt to find the box ahead of the neo-Nazi leaders and their thugs. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the Naples Florida Weekly for January 12, 2012 and other Florida Weekly editions (including the March 1 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition), click here: Florida Weekly – Malnak pdf 1. For Dr. Malnak’s story about the writing of the book, click here: Florida Weekly – Malnak pdf 2

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Novel Paints Nazi Plot

This review appears in the January 2010 Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County)

Clouds Across the Sun, by Ellen Brazer. TCJ Publishing. $14.95 (and available as an e-book)

What a premise! As WWII nears its end, Hitler devises a plan for world conquest through infiltration of the U. S. government and the governments of other nations. A select group of Third Reich henchman are commanded to marry well (racially and genetically speaking), make their way to the U. S. and elsewhere, program their children as Nazi operatives, and maneuver them into positions of influence and power. In two or three decades, the super-reign will begin to take hold, and world domination will be at hand.

When we meet eleven-year-old Jotto Wells, an intelligent and lovely girl living in pre-boom Naples, Florida, the process is underway. Her father, Hans, is one of those whom Hitler has selected, and Hans has readily accepted the mission. He is bringing up his daughter to be one of the stealth Nazis. Through hypnosis and other strategies, her future is being shaped.

Hans Wells is one of many Nazis who have found their way into the United States toward the close of the war and soon afterward. In its rush to gain a cadre of top-notch scientists and to accumulate information about the new adversary – the Soviet Union – the U. S. has turned a blind eye toward many suspected Nazi agents and sympathizers. Others have managed to keep their allegiance hidden.

Step by step, Ellen Brazer details the development of the plot along with the character of Jotto, who softens her name to Jo. Capable, beautiful, and yet with some kind of cloud hanging over her, the young woman excels in boarding school, college, and law school. She becomes a senator in the New York State government and the intended of a man being groomed for the presidency (in part by Nazi forces).  Along the way she is befriended by an older man, a famous and wealthy actor, one of several characters who affect Jo for the better. They function as alternatives to the parents and the uncle who continue to view Jo as a tool. Together with Jo, these friends attempt to thwart the Nazi scheme. At each revelation, the suspense thermometer shoots up a few stripes.

The novel has a broad scope, bringing us to Bolivia, several U. S. settings, Israel, and Lithuania. It also offers compelling intrigue, a series of romantic interludes, and a sophisticated presentation of the age-old question about the roots of identity. Which prevails: nature or nurture? Will Jo’s indoctrination prevail over her “better” nature? It will take a while for readers to understand how this question is complicated by the discovery that Jo’s true mother, thought to be dead, was the wife of the famous actor who had befriended her. And there are more surprises about this character. But my lips are sealed.

“Clouds Across the Sun” will engage readers with its the captivating story line, varied settings, and well-drawn characters. At http://www.ellenbrazer.com, one can learn more about the author and order the book. It is available as well at major online booksellers.

Ellen Brazer employs memories of her Naples childhood in her book. In the 1960s, her family belonged to the Jewish Community Center of Collier County, which later evolved into Temple Shalom. Her uncle, Garson Dinaburg, was the congregation’s first president.

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BOOK BEAT 60 – Bernd Wollschlaeger

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   December 26, 2007 – January 1, 2008

by Philip K. Jason

There is a Yiddish word – beshert – that means something like “destined” or “meant to be.” For Bernd Wollschlaeger it seemed “beshert” that he should find his way to an embrace with Judaism and to Israeli citizenship. The son of a German tank commander who was decorated for  serving his country faithfully and who turned a blind eye to Nazi monstrosities, Bernd Wollschlaeger walked a path that had little logic or predictable progression. At various steps along the way, a compelling spiritual energy urged him along. Dr. Wollschlaeger, who is now a family physician and addiction specialist in Miami, tells his story in “A German Life: Against All Odds, Change Is Possible.” 

The story is framed by a scene at the Bamberg cemetery in December of 2004. After estrangement and long absence, the Jewish Miami doctor visits the graves of his Catholic parents, graves curiously located near a wall that separates Christian from Jewish burial plots. Across the wall from where he stands are tall gravestones bearing the Star of David. It is Wollschlaeger’s fate to psychically hover above that wall, his identity in a complex flux of pain and joy, of historical and familial forces and deeply personal longings and choices.

The body of the book tells of a young boy’s curiosity about things that no one wished to talk about. Born in 1958 into a non-practicing Catholic family, young Bernd is driven to ask questions about Germany’s Nazi past. He finds what he comes to understand later as a collective, willed amnesia. His father is a classic case of the “just following orders” patriot, a man who seems haunted by repressed guilt feelings, but who nonetheless insists that he had done nothing wrong and who was proud of his war record. Still, the alcoholism and abusive outbursts barely mask deep-seated conflicts within the war hero turned civil defense administrator. There is a buried self-hatred that turns him into a cold, cruel, distant parent – one who cannot give or receive the love of his son and finally poisons that love. The truths Bernd seeks are ones that his father cannot face.  

His protective mother is generally ineffective in bring her husband and son together; she is also hiding parts of the past, though she is more open emotionally.

A turning point in young Bernd’s life is the 1972 Munich Olympics. He is attracted to the Israeli athletes and their national flag, saddened at their death by Palestinian terrorists on German soil, and outraged at the attitudes that his father and countrymen reveal. A year later, he is stirred by the Yom Kippur War. Bernd’s continued quest for understanding continues to alienate him from his father and, to some extent, from his German identity. The usual generational rebellion of a teenager is complicated by Bernd’s personal quest. In 1979, while a dentistry student at the University of Bonn, Bernd views the American television series on the Holocaust that is shown for the first time in Germany. At about the same time, he hears about and attends a peace conference in Koblenz featuring Arab and Jewish Israeli youth.

“Beshert” also means something like “soulmate,” the person with whom one is destined to unite.  A gorgeous young Israeli woman whom Bernd meets at this conference seems for a while to fill this role. Vered certainly becomes his muse, his inspiration, and when he finally decides to visit Israel, she is an important part of his motive and his education. But the country itself is really the soulmate, the beloved, and eventually – after serious self-questioning and extensive study leading to his conversion to Judaism – the man now known as Dr. Wollschlaeger (he had switched from dentistry to general medicine) makes aliyah (immigrates under the Law of Return) to Israel. The author details his experiences as a medical officer in the Israel Defense Force, and he records as well his complex and meaningful encounters with Israel’s Arabs.

The more recent years in Wollschlaeger’s life, including his two marriages and relocation to Miami, are handled in summary fashion, as the main theme of his personal transformation is largely complete when he adopts Israel as his spiritual and political home.

Though plagued by sloppy proofreading, “A German Life” (published by Emor Publishing) is a colorful, moving, and highly informative narrative. A spiritual quest rooted in contemporary history, it is an important contribution to the literature of self-creation.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.

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