March 25 – 31: “Why do you think we’re always returning to the Holocaust during World War Two in books and movies?

thriller-roundtable-logo5The Holocaust during World War II is a recurring theme in books. This week ITW Members Jerry Amernic, Martin Roy Hill, Ellen Butler and J. H. Bográn will investigate why we’re always returning to that era in books, movies and stories in general? Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along!


Jerry Amernic’s first novel was Gift of the Bambino, about a boy and his grandfather and how they’re bound by baseball. His research on Babe Ruth led to BABE RUTH – A Superstar’s Legacy, the first book ever about the legacy of the man. His novels include The Last Witness about the last living survivor of the Holocaust in the year 2039, and Qumran about an archaeologist who makes a dramatic discovery in the Holy Land.


José H. Bográn is a bilingual author of novels, short stories and scripts for television and film. He’s the son of a journalist, but ironically prefers to write fiction rather than facts. His genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. As a freelance writer, he has several articles published in a wide range of topics. Currently divides his time as Resource Development Manager for Habitat for Humanity Honduras, teaching classes at a local university, and writing his next project. He lives in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with his wife, three sons and a “Lucky” dog.


Martin Roy Hill is the author of the Linus Schag, NCIS, thrillers, the Peter Brandt thrillers, and the award-winning short story collection DUTY, and EDEN: A Sci-Fi Novella. Martin’s short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, ALT HIST: The Journal of Historical Fiction and Alternative History, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Crimson Streets, Nebula Rift, Devolution Z, and others. His latest Linus Schag thriller, The Butcher’s Bill, was named 2017 Best Suspense Thriller by the Best Indie Books Awards, the 2017 Clue Award for Mystery and Suspense from the Chanticleer International Book Awards, 2018 First Place for Adult Fiction from the California Author Project, and the 2018 Silver Medal for Thrillers from the Readers Favorite Book Awards.


Ellen Butler is the author of Isabella’s Painting, the first Karina Cardinal mystery, and the award-winning historical spy novel, The Brass Compass. She writes critically acclaimed suspense and sassy romance. Ellen holds a Master’s Degree in public administration and policy, and her history includes a long list of writing for dry, but illuminating, professional newsletters and windy papers on public policy. Her experiences living and working in D.C. inspired the Karina Cardinal series.


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  1. I wanted to be a part of this discussion because, as an author who has written historical fiction, specifically WWII, I have been asked this exact question by both writers and readers. Tackling this question doesn’t have a simple answer, and I believe the reasons for our fascination with WWII and the holocaust are different for everyone.
    I’ll start with, why I wrote The Brass Compass, a WWII spy novel. The idea for the plot began a decade before I researched and wrote it, but my interest in WWII began even earlier. My grandfather was a cryptographer during WWII and was part of the team decrypting messages between Churchill and Roosevelt/Truman. That piece of information, obtained from my grandmother, after my grandfather had already passed, left a nugget of interest that started me on the course to write about WWII. Intelligence gathering and spy craft has always fascinated me, likely due to my grandfather, and the fact that I live in the Washington, D.C. where, according to the Spy Museum, one in every seventh person is a spy. WWII spy craft, “old school” craft, was even more interesting to me than modern day intelligence gathering. For me, writing about WWII was a way to connect with a time in my grandfather’s life. It also allowed me to engulf myself in the history of a world war which hasn’t happened in my lifetime.
    In addition to writing historical fiction, I provide a presentation about lady spies of WWII to museums, libraries, retirement homes, etc. People come out in droves to attend and, afterwards, speaking with them, there seem to be two main reasons for folks to come out. First, because spies are cool, and lady spies—often considered hidden heroes of WWII—are a novelty to most attendees. Second, I’ve noticed, a significant percentage of attendees at my presentations happen to be of the baby boomer generation. They come because I’m talking about their parent’s generation. They come to learn more about the lives their parents led during this traumatic time in history. They come to learn this from me, museums, books and other speakers, because so many veterans of The Greatest Generation never spoke about their time during the war. Veterans from WWII were basically told to, “go home, have babies, live your life.” So, they did. They were instructed not to dwell on the past. Several WWII veterans I interviewed informed me, I was the first person they’d told their story to. One of my contributors, a German Jew who escaped a Nazi work camp, gave me hours of his time, and at the end revealed to me, he’d never divulged this story to anyone else. Not his first wife. Not his second wife. Not his children.
    Today we know more about the wars happening today. Veterans are not only talking about the horrors and heroism, they’re making movies and writing books about it. If not for authors like Stephen Ambrose, and others of his ilk, so many stories of The Greatest Generation never would have been told. This was a time when our nation came together to fight against an attacker. To fight for a moral imperative. To fight for their lives. The only period in my lifetime where I’ve felt the coming together of our nation that somewhat mimicked WWII would be 9/11. The triumph over an evil like Hitler will always bring fascination. I for one am glad we continue to turn to this time in history. To scrutinize it. To evaluate it. To memorialize it. For we do not wish to repeat it.

    1. Ellen, your comments about the WWII generation not talking about the war are right one point. My father fought in Africa and Italy in the Army. I remember as a child sitting nearby while he and his friend talked about the war among themselves. Later, because I had an interest in military history, he talked to me about some of his experiences.

      Back in the Nineties, I was commissioned by a magazine to do a story on the Battle of Anzio. Since my dad was trapped on that beachhead for three months, I interviewed him. I also interviewed another veteran of that siege. When the story came out, I got a letter from the veteran I talked to thanking me for the piece. He said his children read it and were amazed to learn their own father and grandfather had actually seen combat in the war.

      My nephews read the piece, too, and were stunned to learn their grandfather had been in such ferocious combat. One of my nephews eventually honored my father’s wartime service by having of photo of Dad in his Army uniform tattooed on his arm!

  2. I spent years doing research before I started to write The Last Witness, a novel about the last living survivor of the Holocaust in a near-future world that is ignorant of history. Unfortunately, we are in that world today. People — young people, in particular — do not know history. Why? There are many reasons, but the first one is a school system with a curriculum that is sadly lacking. They just don’t teach history. Geography, grammar, what have you, are all for another discussion. When I look at history, the period of Nazi Germany always sticks out. If a modern, industrialized, educated country like Germany — even with the Weimer Republic and runaway inflation, even with the Treaty of Versailles and reparations from World War I, even with all that — if such a country can perpetrate a crime like the Holocaust, we owe it to future generations (indeed, we owe it to ourselves) to know as much as we can about the time that allowed this to happen. They say those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, and I believe that. For many people today books and films about the Holocaust are an introduction to this period. That in itself is a sad commentary about the world we live in.

    1. Jerry, I agree with your comments. It is sad too many people today don’t understand what happened in the Twenties to Forties. I have always said everyone in a democracy should read at least the first half of William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to understand how such evil can rise up in an otherwise civilized country.

  3. I think there are a couple reason writers—thriller authors or movie scriptwriters—return to the Nazi-era of the 1930s and 1940s for story lines. One is the fact that the evil manifested by the Nazis was so horrifying and insidious, it left an indelible scar on our psyches. The horrors they wreaked on Europe—the death camps, the mass murders, even the wholesale theft of art and culture from the occupied nations—was so blatant that, unlike wars before and afterward, the Nazis represented a clear and, to most people, undeniably malevolent enemy. It was black and white, good vs. evil.
    The phrase “most people” in the last paragraph is the key to the second reason I think we return to the Nazi-era for inspiration. Not everyone believed, or wants to believe, the Nazis were as evil as they were. That was recognized by Allied leaders during WWII, and was one of the reasons General Dwight Eisenhower wanted as many people as possible to witness the liberated death camps so there could be no denying the hideousness of the Nazi monster. Even back then, there was a fear there could one day be a resurgence of Nazism and fascism.
    The fear was well founded. In the 1930s, pro-fascist sentiment was widespread in Europe and the United States. The 1930s in America saw brown-shirted, jackbooted thugs of the German American Bund—essentially the Nazi Party affiliate in the U.S.—marching proudly through American streets. There were pro-Nazi Silver Shirts training in secret forest camps in California and elsewhere. It was an America where pro-German business groups openly shut down Jewish businesses, and where Father Coughlin spewed Jew-baiting, pro-Nazi propaganda in national radio broadcasts. It was a time that included an attempt by wealthy pro-fascist Americans to overthrow the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, the so-called American Putsch.
    All this inspired Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, about a populist fringe candidate who becomes president and turns the country into an armed camp. The same period in history inspired Phillip Roth’s alternative history novel, The Plot Against America, about anti-Semitism in the United States after a pro-fascist Charles Lindbergh defeats President Franklin Roosevelt. Arthur Miller’s 1945 novel, Focus, was also inspired by the rise of American fascism and anti-Semitism in the Thirties.
    Some of my own work was inspired by the events of the 1930s. For instance, in my Paul Klee series of alternative history short mystery stories I visualize a defeated United States occupied by the German military helped by pro-Nazi Americans. Klee, a former police officer and OSS spy, is forced to work for the Nazi SS. Through these mysteries, the reader is exposed to a dark period of American history not taught in schools today.
    Unfortunately, today we again see the rise of nationalism, racial scapegoating, anti-intellectualism, and anti-science, the comingling of religion and politics, and corporate influence over government—all major components of fascism—not only in Europe and Latin America, but here in the United States as well. I believe this is also causing writers to look back to the Nazi era for plots that can mirror the politics of today.
    My current WIP, for instance, was inspired by the work of researchers who maintain that while Germany surrendered in 1945, the Nazi Party did not. Instead, they believe much of the Nazi leadership escaped Germany to parts unknown to continue the party’s quest for world domination—this time through politics and economics rather than open warfare. It will be the third in my Peter Brandt series. The plot involves a gruesome murder that leads Peter to uncover a decades-old plot to re-establish the Nazi Party and a new Fourth Reich.

  4. As the Roundtable Coordinator I try not to participate often, except when I feel my contribution to the topic may have some value.

    That is the case this week as my recent novel, Heir of Evil, deals with World War II albeit on a tangent. The novel is set in the year 2000, but the setup occurs during the last moments of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun in the Bunker. The Russian cannons can be heard nearer every day, everybody walks with cyanide pills in their pockets, as a last result to avoid capture. The bleak atmosphere turns out to be the ideal time-space to offer a ray of light for the Nazi plans, and thus I preserve Hitler’s bloodline via Eva Braun’s recently discover pregnancy. That also would explain the weird true-life fact that they married just moments before committing suicide. I don’t think their intention was to counter the statistic that married people tend to live longer than single ones.

    In any event, the World War II, the Holocaust, and all other events are pretty much in the collective memory of the new generations, even after 70 years. Countless films, books, documentaries, et al, have been made, and are being made nowadays.

    We have to be careful, though, as to not to romanticize the era just as we had with the pirates of the Caribbean. Both Nazis and pirates were the filth of the planet in their own timeline.

  5. WW2 is still relevant to many people. My dad was in a reserved occupation but being of German background was interned for 6 months while he was investigated despite having grown up in Australia. His mother’s family emigrated in about 1912.

    Good friends, Jewish, escaped Europe as children with their families in about 1936/7, he from Hungary, she from Czechoslovakia. Her family came via Casablanca, a staging post for many refugees.

    My Dutch mother-in-law was a young girl in Rotterdam. Her family somehow survived the total destruction of the city and she tells stories of riding her bike with messages for the resistance fighters hidden in the handlebars. She and her husband brought their 3 young boys to Australia in 1954 when many Dutch migrants arrived here.

    Not surprisingly I suppose, my husband, who remembers post war Rotterdam from before they left, is fascinated by those Hitler history programs on TV and enjoys books set in the cold war era. That war destroyed and changed lives in far reaching ways.

  6. Jerry, your comment about history repeating itself is so true. Not holocaust related but relevant to that point, we went to an exhibition today of Australian political cartoons starting with some of the earliest after the colony was founded (late 18th century)to the present. It’s staggering how many issues are the same and showed up over and over again. Greed, power, ruthless grabs for wealth and position, ignoring the plight of the poor, shutting out certain migrant groups and mistreating the indigenous population.

    I guess the holocaust is what happens when all those factors come together under a strongly opinionated charismatic leader who can use certain sections of society as scapegoats for whatever is wrong at the time. My Dad was in Germany staying with relatives in about 1933 (he was 11) and he heard Hitler on the radio and said he was an extraordinary speaker. It didn’t happen overnight it took years of insidious undermining by Hitler and co so people didn’t really understand what was happening. (Frog in hot water principle). If we keep in mind that there was only radio and print to inform people once he took control of those he could say what he liked. Bit harder these days one would imagine with so much access to information.

    Writers play an important role in reminding people what can and has happened even if they don’t learn it at school. Books and movies can fill the gap.

  7. I am always astounded at how little young people today know about history. But I don’t think it’s their fault. As said before, I blame the schools and the politicization of curriculum. This is a big problem in Canada where I live, and also in the US, UK, and elsewhere. Schindler’s List was an important film, and in many ways was an eye-opener for my own kids when they first saw it. In fact, my son who wasn’t quite 20 at the time, said it was the best film he had ever seen. Another grave problem today is that people seem to read less and less. Not everyone, of course, but society in general. As an author of historical fiction, it sometimes makes me wonder about writing future books for a world that doesn’t know and maybe doesn’t even care. Now that is frightening!

  8. Then of course the Holocaust is an extraordinary source of material that covers the whole range of human emotions and brings out the very best and the very worst of humanity–great courage and great depravity. Think Sophie’s Choice, Europa Europa, The Pianist, Schindler’s List (Ark), The Boy In Striped Pyjamas, The Diary Of Anne Frank, Black Book.

    Horrifying and riveting because it hits us all deep inside.

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