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Ellie Midwood: On the Duty of Historical Fiction Writers

USA Today bestselling author Ellie Midwood discusses the timeliness and cautionary tale of her new historical fiction novel, The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz.

Ellie Midwood is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning historical fiction author whose works have been translated into 14 languages. She owes her interest in the history of the Second World War to her grandfather, Junior Sergeant in the 2nd Guards Tank Army of the First Belorussian Front, who began telling her about his experiences on the frontline when she was a young girl.

Growing up, her interest in history only deepened and transformed from reading about the war to writing about it. Other bestselling novels from Ellie include The Violinist of Auschwitz, The Girl in the Striped Dress, and The Girl Who Survived. Find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Ellie Midwood: On the Duty of Historical Fiction Writers

Ellie Midwood

In this post, Ellie discusses the timeliness and cautionary tale of her new historical fiction novel, The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz, her advice for other writers, and more!

Name: Ellie Midwood
Book title: The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Release date: September 13, 2022
Genre/category: Historical Fiction
Previous titles: The Violinist of Auschwitz, The Girl in the Striped Dress, The Girl Who Survived, The Girl on the Platform, The White Rose Network, The Wife Who Risked Everything
Elevator pitch for the book: Millions of people walked through Auschwitz’s gates, but she was the first woman who escaped. This powerful novel tells the inspiring true story of Mala Zimetbaum, whose heroism will never be forgotten, and whose fate altered the course of history…

Ellie Midwood: On the Duty of Historical Fiction Writers

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What prompted you to write this book?

I actually came across Mala’s incredible true story while doing research for my other books also set in Auschwitz. While reading survivors’ memoirs and historical accounts, I kept coming across Mala’s name and the sheer number of survivors who remembered her intrigued me.

As I dug deeper, I understood why: For many in Auschwitz, Mala was not only a savior who could bring the so much needed food, clothes, or medicine that could save an inmate from the gas chamber (most of the sick inmates were either sent there or were euthanized by camp doctors) but also was a symbol of resistance, the heroine who defied the Nazis till the end, and inspired the others to survive even if out of sheer spite, just to prove it to the Nazis that their spirit, despite all, was unbroken.

All of the survivors only had the fondest recollections of this incredible, brave woman and spoke with her with reverence and sometimes even awe, and yet there was no full account dedicated to her inspiring story. I felt it was my duty as a historical fiction author to tell it to the world and particularly now. Hopefully, Mala’s story will inspire many to fight for what is right, to be compassionate to the plight of others, and to fight against hatred so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

I must say, I was lucky with this particular manuscript as once I got the inspiration to write it, the words began to flow of their own and all I had to do was to type them. Mala and Edek were such inspiring, incredible people I felt like I truly knew them in person and that made the writing process super smooth and a delight to work on despite the heavy subject matter.

I think I ended up writing this particular story in the span of three short months. At the very end I almost wished it was fiction and I could change the ending, but since it’s a true account, no matter how much it broke my heart, I had to stick to the facts and recreate the real events from survivors’ memories.

Was it devastating? You bet, but the message behind it still makes one see the light in the darkest of moments and feel inspired by Mala and Edek’s heroic example.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Yes; I realized that I had to explain to the readers all the German terms that were used inside the camp and with which I became super familiar during many years of research in order for them to understand what I was talking about, haha!

Sonderkommando, Ausweis, Appell, Blockschreiber, Kapo, Pipel—all were just regular words for me, but my editor and proofreader kept reminding me that those would need to be deciphered!

Ellie Midwood: On the Duty of Historical Fiction Writers

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Definitely! For one, learning that Edek’s inscription of his and Mala’s names and numbers still exist in his holding cell in Auschwitz just like the locks of their hair that are on display in the same museum. I mentioned it in my note on history so that readers who travel to Auschwitz in the future could see these for themselves.

Also, I learned a lot about the complex inmate hierarchy and how Soviet prisoners of war had it very differently from Polish intelligentsia or, for instance, German antisocials or Jews. Not many readers are aware of the certain “privileged” inmates that existed in Auschwitz and to which Mala belonged due to her extensive knowledge of different languages, and which allowed the formation of the so-called camp resistance that resulted in the Sonderkommando uprising in the fall of 1944.

I did my best to share this complex world of the most horrendous concentration camp in history with my readers to truly bring them inside Mala’s nightmarish world.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

Inspiration to follow Mala’s example to fight for what is right, for freedom for all and not just privileged few; to stand up for their ideals; to refuse to give up the fight even when all hope is seemingly gone and, probably the most important thing, to remain a kind, loving person even in the worst of circumstances.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to dig in the deepest folds of yourself, extract the most disturbing emotions, and breathe them into your characters. It’ll be one of the toughest things to do, but I promise you’ll never make anything half as powerful as true fear, angst, desperation, or grief you personally lived through and are now sharing with your character.

In other words, write what you know, what you’ve lived through, what you’ve suffered through, and what inspired you to rise and keep fighting. Lend your characters that precious part of yourself you’re hesitant to share even with the closest family members or your therapist—I promise, those true words pulled out of the darkest depths will shake the readers to the core.

Historical Fiction

Join Donna Russo Morin to learn the definition of historical markers and how and where to unearth them. And uncover the tools to integrate history, research, and the fiction plot arc. Most of all, find out how to honor verisimilitude—the goal of any historical writing—and avoid the dreaded anachronism.

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