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"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies," said Jojen. "The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Guest Post & Giveaway with Lawrence Kaplan, author of House of Ghosts

Please join me in welcoming to Chick with Books, author Lawrence Kaplan! His novel House of Ghosts is an important historical mystery which "grew out of his interest in World War II and the Holocaust, but was also shaped by a personal connection- his mother-in-law, Irene Lederer, was deported from Hungary along with nearly 1 million other Hungarian Jews and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944." And now onto our guest....

The Truth Within The Fiction of House of Ghosts

House of Ghosts is an historical mystery novel. It was originally planned as a non-fiction book about an event that didn’t happen in World War II history. By that I mean that I set out to discover the reasons why U.S. Air Force bombers who flew over Auschwitz on a series of missions in 1944 never once let loose their bombs.

Deine freunde sind droben haute was the phrase that drove me. It was the taunt made at my mother-in-law, Irene Lederer, by an SS guard when she was an inmate in the hell of that camp. It means, “Your friends are overhead today.” And yes, they were overhead. Often. In 1944, American bombers flew directly over the camp on their way to bomb the I.G. Farben synthetic rubber and oil plant that was being constructed -- by the inmates at Auschwitz -- only four miles away.

By this time, the world knew of the murders taking place. Why didn’t those bombers attack to stop the genocide? The question haunted my mother-in-law, who was one of the lucky few to survive. It haunted me. So, I set out to find out why.

I spent thousands of hours researching at the Firestone Library at Princeton University. I conducted personal interviews. I learned that the bombers who flew over Auschwitz were members of the 15th U.S. Air Force based in Italy. They flew an astonishing forty plus missions in that same section of Poland. No attack was ever made; no attempt mounted to save the 700,000 Hungarian Jews who suffered there, awaiting the ultimate outcome - death, either from gassing, beatings, hanging or starvation.

The official story that I found again and again in my research was that neither the U.S. brass nor the pilots knew what lay beneath them as they flew to their bombing destination. But, then I read Sir Martin Gilbert's Auschwitz and the Allies. An inscription under one photograph claimed that it was taken at 22,000 feet by a B-17 bomber on one of the runs against the I.G. Farben plant. I was stunned. Surely, that was a mistake. I began contacting veterans' groups in an attempt to interview some of the men who flew these missions.

Pilots and crew were either deceased or wouldn't talk. Only one retired Air Force general was willing to share information. As a young captain, he flew a B-17 in the 15th Air Force during the war. His group was the 2nd Heavy Bombardment, based in Foggia, Italy. They flew missions over Germany, France and Poland. And yes, he said, the Poland runs took him over the death camp. The bombardier used the chimneys of the crematoria in Berkanau as landmarks to begin the bomb run. They flew as low as 12,000 feet and could see the trains unloading prisoners at the camp. He confirmed my worst suspicions, stating in no uncertain terms that they knew what they flew over. The massive complex with the crematoria stacks which belched smoke and ash into the sky was no amusement park, and everyone knew it.

But pilots follow orders. And no orders were ever given to drop a bomb -- not one -- on the camp. One 500-lb bomb would have been enough to stop the murder.

How could this be? I wanted to understand the United States and its social and political climate during this time. What influenced America's reactions? Why didn't the United States lift a finger -- not only to bomb the camp, but to help the helpless gain entry into the country? Why, instead, was immigration stifled, specifically that of European Jews? And where were the voices of American Jews?

In the U.S., organizations like the America First Committee, with a membership that peaked at 800,000, were stridently non-interventionist. They pressured legislators not to become involved in another war. One of its most prominent members was the aviation hero, Charles Lindbergh. Established in 1940 by a Yale University law student, AFC members included fellow students future President Gerald Ford, Sargent Shriver and future Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart. The AFC merged with another more left-wing group, Keep America Out of the War Committee whose donors and contributors included many of the current-day captains of industry. One donation was sent by future President John F. Kennedy with a note saying, "What you are doing is vital." And, just in case you think that this sort of thinking, in retrospect, would be reviled, I can tell you that in 2004 conservative commentator Pat Buchanan praised America First, saying, "By keeping America out of World War II until Hitler attacked Stalin in June of 1941, Soviet Russia, not America, bore the brunt of the fighting, bleeding and dying to defeat Nazi Germany." (Pat Buchanan (October 13, 2004), HYPERLINK ""The Resurrection of 'America First!', The American Cause, retrieved on 2008-02-03)

And what of the American Jewish community? My research entailed interviews with Jewish NYU alumni from the class of 1942, the same class in which my character, Paul Rothstein, would have graduated. Their words were riveting, revealing a detachment from the horrendous news coming from Europe concerning their Jewish brethren being systematically reduced to ghettos and resettlement to parts unknown. Adding to that sense of detachment was the American Jewish community's concerned with an effuse anti-Semitic climate. Another overriding focus was to avoid being labeled communist, or a communist sympathizer. Lindbergh’s anti-interventionist speech in Des Moines, Iowa in 1941 where he threatened Jewish Americans with reprisals for advocating action against Hitler did move the NYU Jewish students to action. They held with a massive counter demonstration outside Madison Square Garden where Lindbergh brought his souring act. But much more, certainly, could have been done.

Finally, who was the person who did not, and I venture to say, would not, authorize the bombing of the gas chambers? It was Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, the most powerful person never elected in the U.S. government.

He was privy to the building of the atomic bomb, instrumental in the construction of the Pentagon, served as Governor General of the American sector in Germany, served every president including Jimmy Carter, and was second in command of the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of JFK. As Governor General, he pardoned up to 40,000 Nazis.

Many might call him an anti-semite. I think he saw himself as a pragmatist. By August 1944, the war in Europe appeared to be weeks away from an Allied victory. But McCloy believed that the next conflict would be between the U.S. and Russia, and that they would face each other in the Middle East. If that occurred, the U.S. would need aviation gas; and, the only source of that was Saudi Arabia. The Saudis were militantly against the Jewish immigration into Palestine prior to 1939. It is my belief that McCloy didn't want any survivors of the camps flooding into Palestine to drive a wedge between the U.S. and the Saudis. And, to put it bluntly, the fewer survivors, the less risk of that happening.

This is the story that unfolded through my research. But I felt that my lack of a PhD in History would make it hard for me to move a non-fiction version of the book into publication. Besides, fiction would give me more latitude to present my findings to a broader potential readership. Putting these horrifying pieces of information into a form that made it more available to the general reading public had its benefits. I hope, however, that the power behind the story I tell in House of Ghosts holds the believability of truth -- because truth is what it's made of.

About the Author

Lawrence Kaplan is a 1979 graduate of New York University School of Dentistry, runs a dental practice in New Jersey, and lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and menagerie. House of Ghosts is his first novel.

If you'd like to find out more about House of Ghosts, you can follow this link to Lawrence Kaplan's website. The author also did a 2 part interview on Radio WDIY in Bethlehem,Pa. If you'd like to listen, here's the link : Radio Interview .

Larry Kaplan is giving away a signed copy of his book, House of Ghosts, to one lucky tour visitor! Go to: Larry's book tour page, enter your name, e-mail address, and this unique pin, 3613, for your chance to win. Entries from Chick with Books will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. Giveaway open to US Residents ONLY! No purchase is required to enter or win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on Larry's book tour page next week. Good luck!


Unknown said...

I know this probably sounds strange but I collect books on the Holocaust so this has been added to my must read list. Now having said that...
I had read somewhere before about the bombers flying over to bomb locations near the camps and not dropping bombs on the camps themselves but the explanation that was given was that the bombs not only would have destroyed the camp but also the prisoners within those camps. I wouldn't want to have to make the decision to kill prisoners. Until the camps were liberated I don't think anyone knew of the actual horrors that were taking place.

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi Kathy,
Do you have family that was touched in some way by the Holocaust? This books does sound so interesting. I myself had never heard about the bombers flying over, but yes, what a horrible decision. The taunt that the authors' MIL received from one the guards, " You're friends are overhead today." was so gut wrenching.... Thanks for your insights and sharing with us here what you have learned yourself!

Heidi V said...

Thank you! Thank you for the number to enter into the giveaway...

Lawrence Kaplan said...

Not that I'm snooping around, but...
I would like to address Kathy's question of the world not knowing what was going on in Auschwitz until it was liberated by the Russians in January 1945. In Aprill 1944 two Poles and two Czechs escaped and made their wa to Czechoslovakia. There testomonies were sent to Switzerland and then on to the United States. The two Poles managed to get to Switzerland and to the United States where they made the rounds of government. Yhe United States knew full well what was transpiring.

Yes, bombing the camp would have killed the innocent, but by doing nothing, 300,000 additional Hungarian Jews met there deaths. They were innocent too.

Thanks for your interest,

Larry Kaplan
Author of House of Ghosts

Suzanne Yester said...

Thanks for stopping by Larry and adding an interesting point of fact. I look forward to reading your book! Isn't it amazing that there are still people to this day who deny the Holocaust ever happened....

Lawrence Kaplan said...

Within a few years, none of the survivors will be alive. History revisionists and deniers are licking their lips. Tell the lie over and over and some will believe it and the "big" lie can take hold and become viral.

Ella Preuss said...

Hi Suzanne! I'd like to read this book, so if I'm eligible for the giveaway, please enter me!

ps: I'm awarding you with the Let's be Friends Award! Come over to my blog and get it!
xo, Ella

itsamystery said...

Thank you so much for the wealth of background information! It will certainly shed a clearer light on the book for me. I'm intrigued - to say the least! Thanks for the giveaway option too - great idea!

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi Ella! Sorry I just checked the giveaway site and it's says US Residents only... I made sure I included this in the information on the blog now...
AND THANK YOU for my award! You are sweet! I'll stop by to your wonderful blog today!

Shelley said...

This sounds intriguing. Haunting cover!

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi itsamystery! Yes, Larry did extensive research & on his book and even in his post we can feel the horror of the situation and the history behind the times.... Thanks for stopping by!

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi Shelly!
I was intrigued by the story too. And the cover is definitely haunting. I can't imagine being a prisoner, looking up and seeing what could be my rescuer flying overhead and continuing on... Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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