The project started while taking a local fiction writing course taught by an outstanding novelist and previous short story editor of “The New Yorker,” Hollis Alpert. One of several topics for a short story was “A Silver Box.” Perhaps because my father’s entire Lithuanian family had been murdered by the Nazis, I wrote the story about a concentration camp prisoner who was forced to make a silver box as a birthday present for Hitler.
The teacher suggested it had the making of a novel, and I changed the protagonist to a nephew of the victim and while the silversmith’s experience in the camp is told in his journal, basically the historical thriller is about a search for the box and it’s horrendous contents with the young ER physician going up against present day Nazis, who are willing to torture or kill to get their hands on the silver box, which his uncle was able to bury near Prague as the Second World War was coming to an end some fifty years before the novel begins.
The emergency room scene as well as a road accident scene were based on my personal experience. Also I suffer from claustrophobia in tunnels just like Bruce in the novel. While the scientific information that would result in a worldwide Nazi resurgence is fictional, it’s based on many scientific endeavors actually ongoing during the war that Hitler counted on to eventually help the Nazis win.
My favorite chapter was Chapter 35. It was the climactic chapter, and Bruce was in a very tight spot with the odds stacked against him. Figuring out if there was a way out required a great deal of thought. Bruce was wounded, bleeding, unarmed and trapped in a room against a vicious armed opponent.
The most difficult chapters for me to write were the two that made up Max Bloomberg’s journal. Max is Bruce’s uncle and the silversmith who was forced while a prisoner in Theresienstadt concentration camp to make the silver box. Many aspects of Max’s fight for survival were gut wrenching. The provenance of the silver he had to use almost drove him and me mad.
I learned a great deal about life in Theresienstadt concentration camp and despite the fact that it was not literally a death camp, prisoners were treated cruelly and often died of starvation as well as many diseases such as Typhus. Many victims were transferred from Theresienstadt, the so-called model concentration camp, to a death camp and murdered.
I also needed to learn a great deal about the art and craft of silversmithing, since the production and vile contents of the silver box was at the heart of the story.
Naturally, as happens with every author of a historical novel, one learns and reviews a great deal more about the era than is ever used in the actual writing. For example, I’ve always been interested in the psychology of Nazi physicians who were involved in a great deal of planning and carrying out of the concentration camp murders, as well as undertaking experiments on prisoners that were more torture than of medical value. I studied more about this topic and even wrote Bruce’s reactions to it, but decided to totally remove it from this novel.
Despite what the world knows about the horrors of Nazi Germany, there still are in many communities of our great nation neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members wanting nothing more than to finish what Hitler couldn’t. Perhaps Hitler’s Silver Box will throw a little light on just how devoted to evil these types are.
Dr. Malnak’s father emigrated to the US from Lithuania when he was sixteen, leaving behind a large family. They were all subsequently sent to a Nazi death camp during World War II and were exterminated. As a result of that tragic familial history, Dr. Malnak developed a keen interest in the Holocaust and has read widely on the subject. He and his wife, Patricia, live in Florida with their whippet, Paige, and parakeet, Kiwi.Hitler’s Silver Box is his first novel.