This is not Zev’s first time as a
guest on the Scribbler and we hope it won’t be the last. He shared an excerpt
from one of his novels – Bernie Waxman & The Whistling Kettle. Check it out
Zev and his artist wife, Nicole
Tremblay, were also guests on a joint posting. Please go HERE to see it again.
This week he will share the Story
Behind the Story with his latest work.
Zev Bagel lives in Shediac, where he
can look out of his window onto Shediac Bay – an inspirational setting. His
short stories and poems have been published in several anthologies, and he is
the author of four novels to date: Bernie Waxman & the Whistling Kettle,
which was shortlisted for the Atlantic literary awards, Secrets, Solitary,
winner of the David Adams Richards Award, and his latest, The Last Jew in Hania.
As Warren Redman, he has published seventeen books of non-fiction, including
the Canadian award-winning The 9 Steps to Emotional Fitness. Many of his poems
are inspired by the work of his wife, artist Nicole Tremblay.
Title: The Last Jew in Hania.
Synopsis: May 29th, 1944. The last of the 2,300 year old
Jewish community of Hania is rounded up. Nazi soldiers load them onto a cargo
ship, their final destination Auschwitz. They don’t get far. Just off the
coastline of Crete, the vessel is torpedoed and sunk. Every one of the Jewish
community is lost. Except for one young woman, Olympia Surmon, and the baby she
rescues. The synagogue, Etz Hayyim (Tree of Life), is left in ruins for over
fifty years. The Jews are forgotten. Olympia is a lost soul. The baby grows up
not knowing who she is.
In January 2010, Judith Hamilton arrives in Crete from
her home in Canada, determined to trace the roots of her family, in time to
witness an arson attack on the local synagogue. She uncovers the dark truth
about the lost Jews of Hania, and becomes embroiled in a mysterious plot that
threatens her own survival. Based on real events, The Last Jew in Hania brings new life to a community that perished
apart from one survivor.
The Story behind the Story: When my wife and I visited Hania in
Crete some years ago, we came across an old synagogue which had been recently
refurbished after a fire, and discovered the incredible history of the Jews of
Hania. The story stayed with me. Apart from some archival material and the
briefest of information about the tragic events of 1944, I could find nothing
substantial that had been written. It was a story that had to be told. We
returned to Hania for a longer visit, when I delved more into the atmosphere of
the place and its people, and the book gradually emerged. Wanting to bring the
Jews of Hania to life, rather than simply relate the tragedy of their loss, I
invented a baby, and a contemporary Canadian character, Judith, who returns to
Hania to search for the roots of her family. The result is a historical
fiction, which I hope serves to honour and celebrate the lives of the Jews of
Hania, as well as brings to light the terror of the Nazi regime and the crimes
committed in its name; the kind of crimes that, sadly, are being committed to
this day in other contexts.
question before you go Zev:
Can you tell us about the perfect setting you have, or desire, for
your writing? Music or quiet? Coffee or tequila? Neat or notes everywhere?
The setting I write in is perfect for me – it’s like being on a retreat
every day. Not that I write every day, or have a specific time that I set
aside. It’s whenever the urge (and the inspiration) impels me. I jot down notes
on bits of paper that litter my desk. I keep little treats in my desk drawer
and nibble away when tension mounts. Sometimes I use the App Coffitivity, which
brings up the sounds of a coffee shop, so it’s as though I’m surrounded by
other people. Seems to help feeling that others are watching me work!
Here’s an excerpt:
Hania, Crete, Monday, May 29th, 1944
clattered on the street below the rabbi’s bedroom window, breaking into his
fragile sleep. His small house shuddered as fists beat upon the door. A
bombardment of shouts burst upwards. The rabbi began to recite the Shema, the
He heard his
daughter Roza, already a widow, go down the creaky stairs. He heard the door
open. He heard the contempt in her voice.
“What do you
want? Can’t you leave us alone?”
Osmos stirred his bones from his narrow bed. He dragged on his robe,
straightened the yarmulke on his head, and opened his bedroom door. Squinting
down from the top of the stairs, he saw the German officer looking up at him.
Behind the Nazi, Roza clutched her gown around her slender body. More soldiers
stood just outside the door.
was pleasant at first; almost apologetic. He sat at the kitchen table, his hat
with its shining insignia placed at a right angle in front of him, explaining
that he had been instructed to collect the list of names of all the Jews in
records, you understand.”
will you do with the names?” asked Rabbi Osmos.
“I am simply
instructed to collect them for the record.”
refuse to give them to you?”
arrest every Jew I can find and ask them myself. It’s not too difficult; you
all live together in this hole.”
“It is not so
easy to gather all the names. Where do you expect me to begin? It will take
old yid, don’t play games with me. You have everyone’s name written down
somewhere. I’ll tear your house down and then the synagogue until I find what I
Bile rose in
the rabbi’s chest. He fought back the bitterness. He had been abandoned to
this. The community leaders had left him to face these invaders alone. Rabbi
Osmos had done his best to placate them. Only a few weeks ago he had attended
the funeral of the Nazi consul.
swallowed hard and opened his mouth to speak, but the German beat him to it.
“And then I
will start shooting Jews one by one until you give me the names of every Jewish
man, woman, and child in Hania. I will shoot the woman here first. You will be
the last. I will start this morning. You have one hour.”
stood, replaced his cap, clicked his heels, and flung out his arm.
sharply and strode past Roza, who was flattened against the wall. The rabbi
finally exhaled. Two soldiers remained in the house.
went to his desk in the corner of the room. He opened the lower drawer,
extracted a book. There was one newborn whose name he had not yet entered. He
gestured to Roza, who sidled over to him. He whispered urgently.
Revekka Elhais. Tell her to hide the baby. Tell her the Germans are coming for
was barred by one of the soldiers.
must go to find the register with some of the names I do not have. She will be
only five minutes.” He turned to Roza.
he said. “You will find the book under the bimah.
Be back here in five minutes.” He prayed she understood.
Visit the GMRD website and check out his profile and website.
Thanks for being our guest this week,
Zev. And for the excerpt. Wishing you continued success on your writing
And thanks to you, our visitors and
What is the one book you
would never do without?