Saturday 25 March 2023

The Story Behind the Story with Zev Bagel of Shediac, NB, Canada.


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 HERE.

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.






A 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


Boots 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 Hebrew prayer.

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?”

Rabbi Ilias 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.

The officer 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 Hania.

“For our records, you understand.”

“And what will you do with the names?” asked Rabbi Osmos.

“I am simply instructed to collect them for the record.”

“Suppose I refuse to give them to you?”

“I will 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 weeks.”

The officer leaned forward.

“Look, you 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 want.”

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.

The rabbi 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.”

The officer stood, replaced his cap, clicked his heels, and flung out his arm.

“Heil Hitler.”

He turned sharply and strode past Roza, who was flattened against the wall. The rabbi finally exhaled. Two soldiers remained in the house.

The rabbi 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.

“Go find Revekka Elhais. Tell her to hide the baby. Tell her the Germans are coming for us.”

Roza’s way was barred by one of the soldiers.

“My daughter 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.

“Be quick,” he said. “You will find the book under the bimah. Be back here in five minutes.” He prayed she understood.


 Zev is one of the Participating Authors at the Greater Moncton Riverview & Dieppe Book Fair on April 22nd, 2023. 10am - 4pm. 701 Coverdale Road, Riverview. He will be there with all his books.

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 journey.


And thanks to you, our visitors and readers.


What is the one book you would never do without?

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