Martin Fletcher explores the experiences of European Jews right after the Holocaust in Jacob’s Oath.
Is there a trend in Holocaust fiction that you perceive, and did that influence your choice of the story you told?
I don’t read Holocaust fiction. It’s too painful. And I don’t write it either. My novels have been post-Holocaust fiction, that is, my subject is what happened to survivors and refugees in Europe immediately after the Holocaust. Moreover, although that is my subject and time and place, the issues are universal. These are universal human dilemmas that maybe found their direst expression in the Holocaust, but speak for all mankind.
What about postwar Europe intrigued you?
So little has been written about the immediate postwar period. There are loads of books about the buildup to war, the war itself, and about the new world that grew from the wreckage, but very little has been written about the first months after the war, when 20 million refugees walking home clogged the roads and byways of Europe. I feel I understand their plight through my work as a journalist and my own family background. I want to bring their dilemmas back to life, as a way to understand our own world today. I suppose that’s the meeting point of my journalism and fiction.
Why did you make the switch to fiction?
I wanted to mine the extraordinary experiences I had collected as a frontline reporter, and to put this career into some kind of perspective, so my first two books were nonfiction. Understanding the experiences of others helped me to understand my own family’s experience in the Holocaust, something I had never wished to confront. What began to fascinate me was not to dig up what had actually happened to the more than 50 family members who were murdered, but to understand what it was like for the survivors when the killing ended. I became a novelist—one who believes that fiction is an extension of fact, that in fiction I can convey a character better than in nonfiction, which, like journalism, is limited by its need for the facts. Fiction has become another way of understanding the world around me. My goal as a fiction writer is to learn as much as I can about a subject, set up a premise, and to let the story begin to tell itself.
Were you able to speak with many German Jews?
I was surprised by the number of German Jews who remained in Germany after the Holocaust and agreed to talk to me: zero. Apparently, a certain stigma remains.