Romancing the Holocaust: A Look Inside the Controversial, Award Nominated, “Nazi Romance”

Posted on Aug 7 2015 - 12:15pm by Sera Pisani

Just when romance readers thought their beloved genre had reached a new level of embarrassment with E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey… And just when we thought romance novels, as a whole, had published every bit of controversial and explicit content it could allow… Christian imprint Bethany House Publishers gives you, For Such a Time by Kate Breslin.

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 Just to give you a bit of background on this novel, here is the author’s Amazon description:
 
In 1944, blonde and blue-eyed Jewess Hadassah Benjamin feels abandoned by God when she is saved from a firing squad only to be handed over to a new enemy. Pressed into service by SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the transit camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, she is able to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller. However, in order to survive and maintain her cover as Aric’s secretary, she is forced to stand by as her own people are sent to Auschwitz.
Suspecting her employer is a man of hidden depths and sympathies, Stella cautiously appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp. Aric’s compassion gives her hope, and she finds herself battling a growing attraction for this man she knows she should despise as an enemy.
Stella pours herself into her efforts to keep even some of the camp’s prisoners safe, but she risks the revelation of her true identity with every attempt. When her bravery brings her to the point of the ultimate sacrifice, she has only her faith to lean upon. Perhaps God has placed her there for such a time as this, but how can she save her people when she is unable to save herself? 
 
To summarize, it is essentially a retelling of the biblical story of Esther with a Jewish heroine who falls in love with a Nazi SS Officer “hero”. There is a very detailed outline and plot review on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, about the problematic aspects of the book. To further amplify the horror of this novel, the annual Romance Writers of America conference, held a few weeks ago in New York City, announced it was nominated for not one, but two, RITA awards, the genre’s equivalent of an Oscar. Since then, there has been a disgusted outcry from the Jewish, romance, and literary community. Sarah Wendall of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books wrote a bold and important open letter in which she laid out all of the atrocities presented by this book and its acknowledgement by the RWA board. In the letter she states:
 
But the fact that this book was nominated in two categories is deeply hurtful, and I believe creates an environment where writers of faiths other than Christianity, not just Jewish writers, feel unwelcome. It certainly had that effect on me, because I don’t understand exactly how so many judges agreed that a book so offensive and insensitive was worthy of the RWA’s highest honor.
 
Her denouncement of the novel is not alone. Romance writer, Katherine Locke also wrote an explanation of why she feels the novel is insensitive and hurtful towards the Jewish community on her tumblr page. She writes:
 
There are multiple factors at play here. First, the author, Kate Breslin, co-opted the horrific, unimaginable tragedy that happened within living memory to other people to promote her own agenda (evangelical/inspirational Christianity). Second, her agent, her publisher, and multiple RWA judges, not to mention the HUNDREDS of reviews on retail sies and Goodreads, did not think this was problematic. Third, the way we, across religions, have begun to approach the Holocaust is problematic and dangerous.
 
Rose Lerner of Smart Bitches also compiled a list of the most absurd Goodreads reviews she could find, collectively creating a satirical “5 star review” for the novel on her tumblr page. What all women bring to the surface of this issue, is not only the problematic Christian imperialism, but an abhorrent misrepresentation and fictionalization of the Holocaust. In addition, the novel embodies a fetishization of the Jewish community, especially the women. To approach these issues one must consider all Holocaust literature, but there is a certain approach to the fictionalization of historical events, especially ones involving the extermination of 6 million Jews and 5-6 million other victims of varying identities, that we simply cannot condone. What makes this novel such a disgrace is that it was not only condoned, but rewarded. In Locke’s post she states:
 
The Holocaust is more than a single story. It is more than a book read in a classroom or Schnidler’s List. It is millions and millions and millions of stories extinguished. That we will never know. That’s what the Holocaust is. Not was, but is. History is present tense for some things.
Writing about the Holocaust is not something to do lightly.
 
Rewriting and “romanticizing” history is not something that is completely unheard of. In fact it is done often. Many times victims of crime, abuse or violence, are advised to rewrite their experiences in order to regain power over their life and their narrative. There are times when rewriting a narrative is positive and empowering to the people who have been victimized by it, but there is also a distinguished line that discourages unaffected persons to politely not contribute their perspective. This is exactly what Kate Breslin has done with her novel. By glorifying a high ranking nazi, fetishizing and reducing a female Jewish protagonist to her blue eyes and blonde hair, and reducing the Holocaust to a mere and almost mundane historical backdrop, she has stolen a narrative and gravely slandered an historical event that is still very much alive in today’s world.
About the Author

Intern at Riverdale Ave Books. Student at Manhattan College. Studier of human motivation. Currently in a committed and helplessly romantic relationship with words.

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