The Crate: A Story of War, A Murder, And Justice weaves together two true stories: a murder in Muskoka, Ont. and a narrative of Holocaust survival.
Both stories are personal for novelist Deborah Vadas Levison.
In July 2010, Levison’s brother discovered a wooden crate in the crawlspace of their parents’ cottage in Bracebridge, in the heart of the summer resort area of Muskoka.
Inside the crate they found the body of a woman whom the police later identified as Samantha Collins, 29, a Bracebridge resident. She was living with her boyfriend and son in the area until 2007 when she went missing. The story became major news when a suspect was arrested and convicted of her murder four years later.
“The book is the intertwining of two stories. The discovery of the crate, the murder investigation, the trial and resolution, but it’s also about my parents’ Holocaust experiences, and also mine as a second-generation child of survivors,” Levison said.
Her parents arrived in Canada as refugees in 1956. Her father survived three concentration camps, and her mother survived the war in the Budapest ghetto.
They built the cottage in the 1970s and were adamant about its upkeep because it symbolized their family legacy. The cottage was more than a hideaway in Muskoka, it signified their victory over the Nazis. Every summer, the entire family visited in August.
“The discovery of the crate really traumatized my parents. Not only had the discovery defiled what we thought of as our private little sanctuary in the woods, but my parents are Holocaust survivors and…never thought they would have to confront evil or violence again in their lifetime,” Levison said.
After Collins’ body was found, Levinson and her husband weren’t too keen on spending the rest of the summer at the cottage. But Levison’s parents had an opposing mindset. She remembers her mother saying, “Of course we’re going to the cottage, we’ve been through nightmares before.”
This comment triggered the conception of The Crate and provoked a realization for Levison: beyond the shock her family felt when their cherished cottage was violated, was the grief the Collins family was experiencing. For the first time, she saw the connection between the Muskoka murder and her parents’ Holocaust narratives. Despite their differences, they all fought for survival.
Levison was determined to pay tribute to her parents’ and Collins’ stories. She worked arduously for two years to get in contact with Collins’ mother and sister in order to ensure the depiction of their loved one was genuine. She wanted to give Collins the voice she lost.
“What it boils down to is the story of two people who survived unspeakable violence and one person who didn’t.”
The Crate published by Wild Blue Press is an International Book Awards 2018 finalist and has received the Readers’ Favourite 5 Star award.
Levison was an editor at the Connecticut Jewish Ledger and won the Award of Excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists for a feature story she wrote on the SS St. Louis. She was born in Toronto, but moved to Connecticut in 1996 where she continues to reside.
Deborah Vadas Levison will be at Indigo Richmond Hill, located at 8705 Yonge St., this Sunday with her friend K.J. Howe, author of The Freedom Broker, to discuss true crime versus fiction. Levison will continue her book tour in Muskoka and elsewhere in August.
To learn more about The Crate and Levison’s upcoming events visit http://debbielevison.com.