* Lew’s talk at the Key West Library … 2/24/15

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 24, 2015

 speech #1

I’ll be speaking today about …

  • my novel-in-progress
  • the blending of history & fiction
  • the blending of historical & fictional characters
  • how I keep track of all the research


  • my story begins in 1923 and ends in 1946
  • VOL I – today’s topic … begins with the Munich beer hall putsch in 1923 and ends when Hitler came to power in 1933       
  • VOL II – will cover the years from 1933 to 1946
  • there are going to be two volumes because …
    • after 3 years, I’m still in 1933
    • and already on page 491 


Why did Germans – and others – promote, facilitate or simply stand aside and allow Hitler to come to power?

  • There were so many opportunities to stop Hitler before he gained power
  • everybody has an answer, and most are right … but not complete

this novel requires research in many different topics …

  • German & Polish history
  • history of Jews and antisemitism
  • the Catholic Church’s relationship to Hitler
  • the Nazi Party
  • World War II
  • resistance in Germany & Poland
  • the Holocaust
  • Nuremberg War Crimes Trial

and for me, it requires a lot of research

Hitler village

  • books on my research list … 2307
  • books read (in whole or part) … 365
  • # research notes … 15,875
  • for me, the history has to be correct

the major characters in my novel are Berthold Becker & Anna Gorska

  • Berthold Becker … is a German Catholic boy who becomes a Nazi
  • Anna Gorska … a Polish Jewish girl, born in the shtetl where my grandparents lived
  • Anna comes from Ciechanow, where my grandparents lived
    • Pat and I visited Ciechanow
    • the Jewish section no longer exists; all the homes have been demolished
    • all of my family who stayed there were murdered
  •  this monument was constructed from recovered gravestones; the pre-WWII cemetery was also demolished

DSCN8353-Ciechanow cemetery

  •  Anna Gorska’s great uncle in my story is Edel Evantash – who was my grandfather

 grandpop & me

  • Grandpop Evantash worked in a shoe shop in Ciechanow … which we “saw”
  • he left Poland … family legend says he “walked” to London … never mind the English Channel along the way
  • then to America … Camden NJ … sent for my grandmother … became a successful home builder
  • I was fortunate to know him and wish I had asked him many more questions
  • BTW … that’s me in my grandfather’s arms … Nov 1941

one of the major challenges in a historical novel is to link fiction & history

  • what is true? … what is fiction?
  • next are some examples of how truth and fiction are blended in my story

 Dietrich Becker & the beer hall putsch

putsch march - cropped

  • Dietrich Becker is a fictional character … Berthold’s brother
    • Dietrich returns from WWI a bitter man, angry, unemployed … a perfect candidate for Hitler’s rhetoric … he becomes a Nazi and then Hitler’s driver
    • Dietrich marches with Hitler in the ill-fated 1923 beer hall putsch
    • I imagine him in the second row, behind Goering and Hitler
  •  FACTS …
    • after roughly 15 minutes, Hitler & his rag-tag group are fired upon
    • someone falls on Hitler and saves his life
  •  FICTION …
    • I make Dietrich Becker the one who saves Hitler and thus becomes a Nazi martyr
    • years later, Berthold, who finds Hitler despicable, becomes an unwilling Nazi hero radiating in his dead brother’s light

Marshal Josef Pilsudski 

pilsudski cover

  • Grandpop Evantash …
    • left Ciechanow in 1908 … apparently in a hurry 
    • So I made my grandfather a member of Pilsudski’s train robbing gang …
  • Josef Pilsudski …
    • was a Polish revolutionary in 1908
    • organizing guerrillas to fight the Russians
    • needing money to equip and train his men
    • he decides to rob a train carrying Russian tax money from Poland to Vilnius in Lithuania
  • The Pilsudski-Evantash connection
    • is a critical element in my story, as it many years later allows Anna to build a relationship with Pilsudski, who by then is the “de facto dictator” of Poland.
      • this relationship furthers Anna’s career as a journalist
      • and also allows me to have her learn many things not otherwise easily knowable

Ernst Franz Sedgwick Hanfstaengl … aka “Putzi”

putzi waving

  • Putzi was …
    • born in Munich
    • educated at Harvard, where he was friends with FDR
    • ran his family’s art store on 5th Avenue in NYC
    • returned to Munich and became enamored with Hitler
    • worked with Hitler for well over a decade
      • known as “Hitler’s piano player “
      • Hitler had Putzi install a piano on the train that ran between Berlin and Munich
    • when Hitler turned on him in 1937, Putzi escaped to Switzerland and then London
    • when war was declared, the British arrested him as an enemy alien
    • from prison, he convinced FDR he could be valuable to the American war effort
    • Putzi spent the war years in Washington DC listening to German broadcasts and providing his evaluations to Roosevelt
  • I created a fictional connection between Berthold & Putzi
    •  once Berthold becomes a Nazi hero, he comes to Putzi’s attention
    • for reasons that I won’t disclose today, Berthold works that relationship to get from Putzi an unending stream of information and delicious gossip

 Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber


  • Putzi is comic relief … now it’s time to get serious
  • Michael von Faulhaber was …
    • the revered archbishop of Munich from 1917 until his death in 1952
    • he wielded enormous influence over the framing of Church politics and also the shaping of public opinion in Bavaria and throughout Germany

 here’s what Faulhaber said in 1932 & 1933 before Hitler became Chancellor…

  •  he forbade Catholic priests to take part in the Nazi movement
  • he spoke scathingly about Nazi methods, radicalism and vulgarity
  • he was so outspoken about Nazi persecution of Jews that he was labeled the “Jewish Cardinal” by Munich university students
  • he called National Socialism a “heresy” that “cannot be brought into harmony with the Christian worldview”
  • Cardinal Faulhaber’s views were shared by an overwhelming majority of German Catholic bishops and Catholic voters

here’s what Faulhaber said a few months later

  •  After the signing of the Concordat between the Nazi regime and the Roman Catholic Church in 1933 Faulhaber sent a note of congratulations to Hitler
    • “What the old parliament and parties did not accomplish in sixty years, your statesmanlike foresight has achieved in six months.”
    • He ended his letter: “May God preserve the Reich Chancellor for our people”

 What happened in between?

  •  Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli is what happened in between, as Faulhaber and the other German bishops were pressured to change their tune about Hitler


  •  Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, has been fiercely criticized for his lack of resistance to Hitler during WWII and the Holocaust.
  • A decade earlier, he played a major role in bring power to Hitler.

Pacelli’s Concordat obsession

  • by January 1933, Cardinal Pacelli had been obsessed for a decade with the desire to negotiate a Concordat with the German state
    •  The Concordat was a treaty between the Vatican and the German Reich, spelling out the rules under which the Catholic Church would operate in Germany
  • Pacelli finally realized that the Catholic Center Party in the German parliament (Reichstag) could never assemble enough votes from the Socialist, Communist, Nazi and Nationalist delegates to pass a Concordat
  •  Hitler, however, if he achieved sufficient dictatorial power, would be able to deliver a Reich Concordat

significant events in 1933

  • on January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg
  • on March 23, 1933, an Enabling Act was passed in the Reichstag, eliminating civil rights in Germany and giving Hitler dictatorial powers
    •  the Catholic Center Party cast its votes for the Enabling Act, which would not have passed without those votes
  • on July 20, 1933, a Reich Concordat was signed between the Vatican and the Third Reich


  • did Cardinal Pacelli trade a Reich Concordat for the Enabling Act which gave Hitler dictatorial powers?
  • there is no known documentation to prove that
    • unless documents are still hidden in the Vatican archives
  • but most (not all) historians say … YES
  • I will write my answer over the next several months

 NEW TOPIC  … how do I use 15,875 lines of research notes?

  • remembering is clearly impossible
  • my system for finding what I need involves several large connected spreadsheets

 Research Sources

research sources for Jan 1933 scenes

  • these are the major sources for the scenes for 1 month – Jan 1933 – that I will begin writing tomorrow
    • some are broad histories … Evans, Kershaw, Fest
    • others are tightly focused … Turner’s history of Jan 1933
    • diaries & memoirs … Goebbels … Putzi … what can we believe?
    • archives … TIME, NYT, JTA

a few of the 15,875 lines from the RESEARCH spreadsheet

research notes by author & title-cropped

  • column headings … date … topic … notes … author, book, page
  •  having all this in one spreadsheet allows me to sort (say by date) and to search on any search term
  • so I can find anything I need in a matter of seconds

Scenes for Jan-Apr 1933 (not yet written)

scenes Jan-Apr 1933

  • column headings … Chapter # … Scene # … date … topic … location … characters
  •  the list changes frequently … scenes are added, dropped, and re-sequenced

 research & story line notes for 1 scene

research & S notes for a scene

  • research notes are assembled into scenes where they may provide relevant historical context …
    • sort/search items from RESEARCH spreadsheet
    • copy from RESEARCH spreadsheet to SCENES NOTES spreadsheet
    • story line notes (“S” notes) are my thoughts about what my characters might say and do

January 1933 was a strange and momentous month

 on Jan 1, Hitler’s rise to power was over

  • he had taken an “all or nothing” political gamble
  • and lost
  • the Nazis were fighting among themselves
  • they were broke
  • President Hindenburg had said he would never appoint that “Austrian corporal”
  • Hitler was not going to be Chancellor
  • he was talking about suicide

30 days later, Adolf Hitler was the Chancellor of Germany

I am ready to write the January 1933 scenes …

  •  the story unfolds mainly with Berthold in Germany, which is where the events take place
  •  but also with Anna in Poland where Marshal Pilsudski is the only European leader who seems to understand and fear the threat of Hitler and a rearmed Germany
  •  my challenge is to bring the reader inside these events

the first Jan 1933 scene begins with Putzi taking to Berthold

Putzi had the look on his face he always got when he was about to say something he knew he shouldn’t. But he was bursting to tell someone.

“I was with the Fuhrer at the opera the other day,” he began.

  •  and you are right there, inside the action as it happens

 Now we have a few minutes for Q & A

  • NOTE: feel free to ask your questions here on my author blog



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