What inspired me to write Hitler’s Priest? I studied with Dr.Viktor Frankl who was a victim of the Holocaust, and wrote a profound best seller, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Through that experience and interviewing others who had been targets of the Nazi horrors the Holocaust became more than a statistical historical fact for me. I personalized it, rather than seeing it as a horrible period that happened to others a long time ago. It became the realization that these were innocent people, who through no fault of their own, were murdered. I began to imagine the pain of standing naked with my children in a gas chamber, or watching my parents be herded into a suffocating cattle car. Hearing these stories from survivors who had lost so much, left me with a sense of responsibility to write about their experiences. I wanted to memorialize my friend and mentor, and all those that suffered.
The impact that Viktor Frankl had on me and millions of others cannot be exaggerated. His teaching and friendship have had a profound influence on my life. His spirit has enlivened me since the first moment I met him. I felt his presence on my shoulder as I wrote this book. The other personal part of the journey is my relationship with the Pittellli family who struggled mightily and forged an outstanding and courageous family history. Stefano, by his courage and strength, enabled his family to survive. Severio, through hard work and dedication, despite his handicapping condition, went on to become the mayor of a town and one of the most significant jurists in Calabria.
There are many controversies that have never been resolved regarding the relationship between the Church and the German government during the Second World War. I would expect a range of reactions from my work. Some may be surprised to know that there were actually high level clerics who were supportive of Hitler, and wished the Roman Church and the Government to form an alliance that would benefit both. There were also countless clerics and nuns, heroes and heroines who at great personal peril, did all they could to alleviate the persecution of the Jews. I address the fundamental question “Did the church have a responsibility to openly speak out against the atrocities? There were and are strong arguments on both sides. I have attempted to be balanced and fair in the answering of this question.
Much of the story of “Hitler’s Priest” is based on a historical timeline, but some of the characters and their interactions are fictional.
Being a former Roman Catholic priest I have maintained strong bonds and friendship with many of my brother priests. They have been a great source of dialogue as I progressed through the work. Their input and suggestions have made their way into the final version. It was important for me to open myself to the diverse opinions within the catholic community. The questions are complex, and at times cause strong reactions pro and against the work. I am also blessed with deep friendships in the Jewish community, and have openly sought their help and assistance in this work. Two of the persons I have dedicated the book to Rabbi Sandy Hahn, and Rabbi Charles Kroloff, have been my moral mentors for years.
Doing the research for the book I realize now how little I knew about so many aspects. For example I had only a passing knowledge about the encyclical that Pius xi had commissioned which never saw the light of day after his death. The main thrust of the encyclical was to condemn the behavior of the Nazi’s toward the Jews. Also I hope the readers realize that not every German subscribed to the hatred that was spawned by Hitler and Goebbels. Some actually paid the ultimate price for their resistance and heroism.
The research for this book actually began forty years ago when I met Viktor Frankl, and through him other survivors. Their stories were always present in my mind and soul, but the last three years I have done exhaustive work trying to understand the historical timeline, and the incidents that occurred within the history of the Nazi regime. I literally have read hundreds of books, plus the endless materials available on the Internet.
I hope the reader will identify with the characters and see the human choices that they were called upon to make. It is a story about good and evil on a proportion that is overwhelming. If the work is successful, the reader will see beyond stereotypes to the struggles of conscience that confronted everyone in the novel. Some chose to be swallowed by evil for personal gain, while others were willing to sacrifice even life itself for others. Still some ignored those choices and instead remained on the sidelines in silence. Though impossible to answer, I believe that the readers may ask themselves, how would they have behaved in those circumstances?
My goal for the novel is that the reader will see and sense the evils of bigotry, and have a deeper realization that this horror could happen again and again. If you see yourself as a person who could be penalized beyond imagination because of your gender, race or any other diverse statistic, it may make you more aware to protect those being marginalized today by hatred and ignorance. I hope the reader will appreciate the implications of a virus like anti-Semitism.
I am working on a second novel which takes place during the same time period. I have given myself permission to change significant historical facts in this version.