Sunday, January 7, 2018

Considering these facts: Amending Fiction for the Sake of Truth

“There is no such thing as a New Year;
only a new snowfall, a new rainfall, a new leaf fall --
and a new you after every season’s fell.”

I have not found any evidence that I am the same man that I was a year ago. In fact, I see lots of evidence that suggests otherwise.

That includes my writing.

I am no longer comfortable with it.

Specifically, I am making an executive decision today that I could not have even fathomed in 2017. I will not publish my World War Two historical fictional romance in its current form.

I have mentioned in many posts on this blog my story that details the lives of two gay, young men in the Hitlerjugend who live in Berlin, 1941.

Gauthier is a Frenchman and former art student whose desperation to rescue his mother incarcerated by the Germans has led him to the join the HJ under the protective custody of his secretive and uncomfortably paternalistic Bannführer, the Austrian Orlin Steinach. Both Gauthier and Orlin are homosexual; yet only Gauthier admits to his nature and often regrets his love for Orlin. And to his drama, Orlin’s fear of being discovered by the SS is not enough to keep him from risking everything to protect Gauthier from his unrealistic desire and his inherent ignorance to danger – if not his own love for Gauthier?

While the premise and even the plot maintains integrity, the rest of Gauthier and Orlin’s story cannot remain as written.

First, I will remove the ‘historical’ that precedes ‘fiction’ in genre classification. Secondly, I will significantly revise the story to heighten the sheer misery of my characters’ plights – and expose the foolishness in their false security. Why do this?

Because, over the Christmas and New Year breaks, I discovered a truth that was not so evident to me.

Yes, over the last five years, I read and bookmarked dozens and dozens of websites that revealed facts and movies and interviews of World War Two experts, events, and survivors. I dug deep into both old and new World War Two history books that detailed life in Berlin during the war or Paris during Occupation or Hitlerjugend activities, ranks, and codes, etc, to exhaustion -- due to my debilitating fear of making errors.

I have bookmarked a hundred digital pages and dog-eared hundreds of paper pages – and I still missed a very important fact:

Before the start of the war and during Hitler’s purge, thousands of homosexuals were removed, imprisoned, beaten, raped, and/or killed across Germany and other European countries.

Of course, I was aware of the thousands of homosexuals removed, imprisoned, beaten, raped, and/or killed during the war. I was aware of the concentration camps and the pink triangles and the ‘Extermination through Work’ crimes – of course. Yet, the widespread persecution of gays that occurred in certain European countries before the war was never mentioned in my research sources. I did not know that homosexuals were hunted down in otherwise modern societies in Europe - before-the-war.  

Shamefully, I have learned recently that the SS and the KAPO (and the Paris police during Occupation) were much more effective in ‘cleansing’ their ranks and the citizenry of their gays -- or anyone they considered having undesirable behaviors or traits.

'Effectiveness' of those crimes is key.

The gay purges happened. Having this knowledge now, after years of off again, on again writing a story that takes place post-purging instantly shames me for writing of things that I do not know. These pre-war purges were real to those effected; and, in regards to my story, the purges effectively turn my characters and settings into pure fantasy, as opposed to historical fiction. The purges of gays hamper my main character’s exposure and knowledge to them – as in, his innocence of not knowing about them. In other words, Gauthier could not have not known about gay persecution whilst going to school in Paris; or even growing up in or visiting his hometown of Strasbourg. Thus, this unknowing of misery for gays in Europe pre-1938 is a major error on both my part and Gauthier's, for it exposes us to new realities that cannot be ignored if we wish to not subvert a universal truth.

Gauthier and I have a lot of work to do.

In addition to Gauthier's new reality, there is also the reality of 1941, Berlin.

Much of what I learned of the gay persecution came from survivors’ accounts, such as Heinz Heger’s incredibly frightening and stomach-tightening experiences in a concentration camp (which inspired ‘Bent’), and Gad Beck’s amazing and hair-raising account of his survival in Germany. Especially, Gad Beck. I re-read some more of his plight and watched an interview. Interesting to me, Gad Beck remained in Berlin -of all places! and survived as a ‘Mischling’ resistance fighter during most of the war. Somehow, I allowed myself to focus more on a Gad Beck historical account and subconsciously set all other historical accounts as footnotes; that the possibility of gays surviving in Berlin was not just possible, but probable.

This was never the case. I should have left history to the historians.

In addition, I relied heavily on the merely human fact that there had to have been gays in the SS – albeit, hiding under many layers of lies -- and even more layers of lies. This latter assurance by man’s nature alone is what fascinated me into writing my story in the first place. In the face of all the atrocities, I wanted to know how – and to learn how to hate my fellow gays among the SS and the Hitlerjugend who could beat up or arrest or call out a fellow gay on a Tuesday afternoon, and by Tuesday evening engage in sexual liaisons with other men fully aware of all the associated risks; and, apparently could do so with little emphatic connection to their previous crimes inflicted on their brothers.

How in the Hell?

So, through story, I wanted to hurt these backstabbing, indifferent, opportunistic gays. In so doing, I now fear that I am effectively hurting the innocent gays who did not survive their arrests and deportations and blackmail. Specifically, I am truly ashamed to not have known that more than one million gays were targeted in Germany before the start of the war and led to thousands of arrests, deportations, prison, and slave labor…even forced castration. And, while historical statistics involving homosexuals can be assumed biased -- for the record-keepers were ignorant -- the German SS’s own figures and projections clearly indicate a desire to continue their gay purges throughout the war ( Himmler Speech 1937 Homosexual ).

Considering these facts, I must assume that Gad Beck was an outlier, and not the mean. Artistically, this makes my current story and its settings and its romance an embarrassment to me; even a dangerous lie. In the very least, I must revise Gauthier’s plight to one shaped by real events. Or, at most, I need to make Gauthier’s goals painfully fruitless and agonizing in his attempts to reach those goals.

Gauthier should hurt because so did his brothers and sisters.

Thus, my World War II story is no longer historical fiction, but gay fiction – possibly fiction-fantasy, set at a time when actual millions of innocent men and women perished from a morally-corrupt and scientifically-flawed and self-consuming and self-destructive philosophy based on race and cultural purity. Frankly, I need to be careful and do my best to amend my fiction for the sake of truth.

Where am I now?

Until my shameful eureka moment, I had not given up on my World War II novel*. In fact, it was 95% finished and ready for critical review through the Indiana Writers Center workshop starting in February.

Not now. I need to revise heavily. Whatever will be written on Gauthier and Orlin and eventually shared must be made obvious to the reader that what I have created is a purely fictional and clearly fantastic story; and written by my own hand -- and from my own imagination -- and not by history.

I am not a historian.

I am a writer with a conscience. I feel that I should have no right to wield the power to distort reality on this very subject that results in a lessening of the agony inflicted on the very real people who experienced it. If I am to ever publish my World War Two story – and I don’t know if I ever will; then, I will have rendered a truer representation of the era, if not by hard facts, then by its sheer tragedy.

Tragedy is yet another key.

I owe my brothers and my sisters who suffered by the hands of ethnic and social cleansing during World War Two for the ‘crime’ of loving the ‘wrong’ human being the most respectful and attentive considerations when fictionalizing their lives. I owe them a story that is carefully crafted and will not romanticize their circumstances and, instead, will confirm the inevitable hopelessness of those situations by the hands of the Nazis. To my community, I owe you a clear indication that my story is fiction/fiction-fantasy and is not intended to create a new, historical enlightenment of the gay purges -- even gay survival during the War. And to everyone, I owe you an interesting story that entertains you and endears you to my characters, all the while having spent your precious time wisely. I wish for your emotional attachment; I hope you will think of Gauthier and Orlin for some time to come.

Yet, Gauthier and Orlin will remain forever fictional. Their unlikely security and odd freedom to experience love within a small matter of time under the Nazi cloud will forever be false and pure fantasy. Nevertheless, Gauthier’s and Orlin’s inevitable misfortunes will parallel with the truth; for no matter their works of fiction, their lives will have already been predetermined by the evil codes of a very real and extremely thorough all-knowing Reich.

WTGS excerpt: Le Baisser

     The Bannführer stretched his fingers on Gauthier’s arms like he was playing the piano, and then he reaffirmed his grasp. He was not going to let go anytime soon. But what happens next? Why do this now? The moment was so irresolute! What was to happen next? He just stares. Awkward and stupid to just stare like this. Say something!

     “You know…” Gauthier whispered, his voice still cracking, the Bannführer’s eyes still lit over Gauthier’s face like spotlights, “Had you any concern for me, then you would find a way to free my mother.”

     Did he truly just say that? And so calmly? So…indifferently? Yes. And so…masculine and calm? Qui. The Bannführer’s searing, wet breath went up Gauthier’s nose. Gauthier had anticipated the sour odor of vinegar, but he could smell nothing; only tasted the man’s scorching breath and burning salt.

     “Once again,” the Bannführer seemed to dictate, though his words soft as it used to be, in Paris, “When you are firmly established, Gauthier…when your mother’s court date is finally set…only then can we make our next move. Everything we do must be planned out. The more you grow into your German skin, the more German your voice will grow. The more German you become, the stronger you can make your mother’s case.”

     Of course, Gauthier had heard this all before. Only this time, it made sense. What was new, nevertheless, he could not keep himself from regarding the man’s lips as he spoke those words again. Shamefully, Gauthier wanted to feel them again -- but not like this. Not here. Not in Berlin. Not in these clothes and not when his mother is locked in the loneliest place in the entire world. Still….

     It had been so long since he was kissed at all.

*I will be adding the latest version of my ‘Strasbourg’ chapter to my dedicated page that I set up years ago to compare and expose my writing skill and flaws to the world in hopes of, 1) Receiving your honest criticism, and 2) Indicating my improvement in writing. I am happy with this chapter that details Gauthier’s lonely return to his vacated home in Illkirch – and meeting an old enemy. It fits the tragic mood of where I want to take the other chapters.

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