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Friday, March 6, 2015

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Novel focuses on life after World War II: you can’t go back

Tags: Books and Authors
Martin Fletcher and Masada Siegel

I shared a coffee with NBC correspondent Martin Fletcher at a Herzliya beachside café in Israel a couple of years ago. During our conversation, he mentioned that he was going to write his first novel, but was searching for a story that compelled him. He tossed around ideas, but had not found the one.

With this in mind, I recently asked him how he chose his topic for his gripping new book, Jacob’s Oath.

His reply: a friend asked him, “Why would a German Jewish Holocaust survivor decide to stay in Germany?” He thought it was a great question.”

And that’s how his new book came to life.

Fletcher, an NBC News special correspondent, has won five Emmy Awards, a Columbia University Dupont Award and five Overseas Press Club Awards. He also served as the former NBC News bureau chief in Tel Aviv for many years.

He is a masterful storyteller, whether on the front lines of a war with a camera crew or sitting in front of his computer creating a cast of characters from his imagination.

Jacob’s Oath is set in Germany at the conclusion of World War II, and the characters jump off the page directly into the reader’s heart with their emotions and struggles to return to the life they lived before the war.

“Not much has been written about the aftermath of World War II,” Fletcher said. “Novels are usually about the more dramatic periods of the buildup to war, the war itself, and then the new world after the war. What fascinates me about the first few months after the end of the war in May 1945 is the period of anarchy, the transition, the bewilderment of 20 million refugees clogging the roads of Europe trying to go home; yet ultimately, there is no home. Refugees can’t go home because there is no home. Everything has changed. What was that like? That’s what interests me, partly maybe because my reporting career was so much about that, in wars and disaster zones across the globe for 35 years.”

Fletcher understands the emotions of people experiencing war and devastation because, in his news stories, he often focuses on human suffering. In Jacob’s Oath, he’s applied real-life emotions to his characters. One of their most powerful characteristics is their will to survive, despite enormous tragedies.

He explained that often in life the human spirit survives tragedy, not by great achievements but rather by taking one step at a time forward into the future.

While Jacob’s Oath touches on a topic similar to that in his last book, The List, this is his first foray into historical fiction.

“My family is from Austria, although my mother was born in Germany and moved to Vienna when she was nine… I wrote my last book, The List, about the experience of Jewish refugees in London. In this book, Jacob’s Oath, I researched the period and the place, but my own family history was not part of it.”

He added, however, that “coming from the kind of background I come from, the Holocaust is always present, and as I wrote in the acknowledgements, the story sort of wrote itself – it sprang from somewhere deep inside me, especially the development of the characters. I felt I had been there.”

Fletcher also brings to light the little-known but important actions of the Jewish Brigade’s unit known as the Tilhas Tizig Gesheften (commonly known by its acronym TTG).

The TTG was formed immediately following World War II. Under the guise of British military activity, this group of the Jewish Brigade helped assassinate Nazis and facilitate the illegal immigration of Holocaust survivors to Palestine. These assassination squads killed former SS and Nazi officers who had participated in atrocities against European Jews.

Jacob’s Oath is a thriller filled with twists and turns, telling the story of love and revenge as two Holocaust survivors try to find their future while dealing with the destruction of their past lives. The characters tug at your heartstrings and shed light on a time period that is filled with chaos and uncertainty.

 “It’s my first venture into pure fiction, but fiction based on a very authentic story, time and place, based on massive research,” Fletcher said.

Masada Siegel, author of Window Dressings, can be reached at


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