Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Zion Covenant Series

As part of teaching me about my heritage as a child, my parents purchased many books about the Netherlands for me. These included some books about the Dutch resistance during World War II and about how the Holocaust affected Dutch Jews, even though my Dutch ancestors had all immigrated to the United States by 1885. As an older child and especially as a teen, I enjoyed reading both true stories and fiction about the Allied Resistance during World War II, especially when it involved hiding Jewish people from the horrors of the Holocaust. As a young woman, I heard about a new historical fiction series called the Zion Chronicles, set in Palestine in the late 1940s. This series was written by a husband-and-wife team, Brock and Bodie Thoene (TAY-nee) and chronicled the struggle to create a Jewish homeland by survivors of the Holocaust. However, I really didn't read any of the books in that series until much later, when I stumbled across another series of theirs, the Zion Covenant.

The Zion Covenant series was written after the Zion Chronicles series, but went back in time with the same characters to the era of World War II. This series really defined the heart of the Thoenes and the passion they had to bring the horrors of the Holocaust to the world to remind us that we can never let this happen again. Brock Thoene was a professor of history and also has a degree in education. Bodie Thoene "began her writing career as a teen journalist for her local newspaper. Eventually her byline appeared in prestigious periodicals such as U.S. News and World Report, The American West, and The Saturday Evening Post. She also worked for John Wayne’s Batjac Productions (she’s best known as author of The Fall Guy) and ABC Circle Films as a writer and researcher. John Wayne described her as 'a writer with talent that captures the people and the times!' She has degrees in journalism and communications." Their telling moment came one day while sitting in a park and seeing a woman with a numbered tattoo on her wrist. Striking up a conversation with her, they discovered that she was a Jewish survivor of a concentration camp in Europe. This conversation in turn led to research and the eventual writing of many historical fiction books (45 as of this date) that stemmed from this encounter and eventual friendship with the Holocaust survivor.

As I said, I did not appreciate the Thoene books until I discovered the Zion Covenant. Most of my reading about World War II and the Resistance was set in cities of Western Europe. The Zion Covenant series has nine books, five of which are set in major Central or Eastern European cities. The characters at the center of this series are all Jewish musicians. Some have been able to conceal their heritage because of their Aryan-looking features, while others must go into hiding because of the threat of the Gestapo. Through it all, the Thoenes weave the rich history of each of the cities into the story line, focusing on the architecture, art, historical figures and events that shaped each community, as well as how each dealt with the effects of the Nazi terror.

I learned so much about these places and times that unfortunately have been ignored or passed over for larger events or Western cities in the history books. Some of the facts that were blended into the story lines included discovering that many Jews fought for Germany in World War I and were awarded medals for their service. These individuals were then stripped of their credit, their dignity, and eventually their lives during the reign of the Third Reich. Another tragedy was the loading of ships with Jewish passengers escaping German-occupied countries, hoping to find sanctuary in Western countries during the early part of the war. Turned away at many ports--including American ones--by governments in fear or apathy of "getting involved" before being swept by necessity into the war, these ships crisscrossed the Atlantic, avoiding German submarines and running low on fuel, food, and fresh water, before being destroyed or being forced to dock at unfriendly ports and having their passengers arrested and deported to concentration camps. Probably most compelling was learning how some who survived the Holocaust either by out-lasting their enemies in concentration camps or by spending the War in hiding, ended up being killed in Palestine by terrorist attacks as they tried to create a peaceful homeland after the War.

While it's definitely important to read history from original documents and non-fiction texts, sometimes reading historical fiction written by those with great knowledge and passion for history helps frame it in a comprehensive and comprehensible way. From this vantage point, it becomes easier to understand more complicated non-fiction texts as well as understand current events that have been shaped by past ones.

If you enjoy historical fiction, I know you will enjoy these books. One pleasant surprise has been how the Thoenes have woven the same family and heritage into each of their seven major series, so family historians will appreciate these as well. This series is available online or at major booksellers.

Written for the 15th Edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy - "History Books".


Abba-Dad said...

That was a great post. I never knew this series existed. But then I am no literary guy so I am not surprised. The idea of reading fiction intertwined with real facts is interesting to me. But right now I am going through a phase of non-fiction. On my nightstand I have "The Lost" which if you haven't read yet you should immediately order. I will write a book report about it when I am done because it has a lot of implications on my own life, thoughts and research. Next up is "Defiance".

Great post.

JoLyn said...

I had never heard of these books, but on Sunday a friend also told me about them. To run across your explanations of the books was a real find. I love this period in history and am anxious to read these. Thanks for your post!

Miriam Robbins said...

Amir, thank you for your recommendation of The Lost and Defiance. I'm always looking for new books to read.

JoLyn, I think you will enjoy the Thoene books immensely!

Thanks to both of you for dropping by and for your kind comments.