The Swastika Tatto is about a German U-boat crewman who is captured by the Americans during WWII and sent to a POW camp in Arizona where he labors picking cotton for a Jewish farmer and comes face-to-face with the bigotry and intolerance he learned as a Hitler Youth. Through long months of internment, his only joy is his friendship with the farmer’s son who shows him the true meaning of humanity, individualism, and democracy and just as his repatriation to Germany is in sight, his camp bunk-mate is brutally murdered and he realizes he is the next target of the hard-core Nazis who really control the Arizona prison camp.
Rudolf, a young German POW picking cotton in the heat of Arizona's cotton fields, fields a compliment about the American woman who is feeding the POW's. This is a small change in perspective for Rudy, who has been fed propaganda from the Third Reich since he was ten year old.
In this scene, Rudolf tries to assess the American woman who is feeding the German prisoners of war. She surprises him with her plucky response to his reply that no one in Germany would question a person's loyalty to Adolf Hitler.
Rudolf wants to break out of Camp Papago Park. He knows what he needs to get across the border into Mexico, but getting it is another matter. Researching this book was a lot of fun. I have to admit, those Germans were an enterprising lot!
When I wrote this scene, I had great fun writing the conversation between the intelligent German prisoner of war and the young, rather foolish guard who really doesn't understand who he is guarding. As Americans reading this passage, we like to believe our soldiers were the best in the world. Of course, we were! We must believe our own propaganda. But in truth, the guards who worked at the more than 500 camps throughout the US where more than 370,000 hard-core German soldiers--not all were Nazis, but many still clung to their beliefs that Hitler was God-- were often the dregs of the U.S. Army, otherwise they would have been fighting overseas.
When Rudolf was young and greatly influenced by the might of the Third Reich, he only wanted to get into the battle against the Allies. Now, as he picks cotton as a prisoner of war, he realizes his mistake.
Rudolf's German pride is poking through his psyche! Picking cotton is absolutely the worst thing he has had to do in the cotton field of an American farmer.
Hermann Meier sits at a table in the bowels of the new killing machine U-28 and remembers the horrible argument years previous with his son Eric who wanted to volunteer for the submarine arm of the German Navy.during WWI.
During the commissioning ceremony of U-26, my character Hermann, a supervisor at a German U-Boat construction site, contemplates the dreadful responsibilities of his job.
In post-war Germany, social status was incredibly important. One of my main characters, Hermann Meier feels out of his league at the commissioning of U-26.
Rudolf decides to take a walk toward the Crosscut Canal that lies at the edge of the POW camp. The wind is blowing hard and he can hear it whistle through the strange rock formation near the desert camp that causes an unreasonable fear to rise in his gut. I thought this would be a good way to describe my main character's fear that always hovers over him caused by a terrible incident when he was but a toddler.
Rudolf and the other German POWs want to see a rousing Western but instead get a history lesson when "Young Mr. Lincoln" is shown. This was the way the U.S. War Department began indoctrinating Germans through American films, books, and newspapers.
The U.S. War Department allowed the imprisoned POWs in America to have various classes. What they did not know was that the Germans also discussed American interrogation techniques!
German prisoners of war reflect on their luck at being captured by the Americans instead of dead in the snow in Stalingrad.
Rudolf, who holds no love for the Americans who captured him, finds himself confused by the kindness of the American family who own the farm where he picks cotton.
Rudolf has been keeping a secret. In a moment of compassion for his friend Lothar--who took a nasty swat from their teacher--Rudolf tells his heart's desire...
Rudolf's friend Lothar got a good swat on the face by their teacher because they were late to school. In this excerpt, Rudolf is thankful that Lothar did not rat on him and even more thankful that he didn't get hit by the teacher.
Herr Braun, the school teacher, was a delight to write! He is mean, prejudiced, not only against Jews but also anyone who he believes is below his social level. Truly a character I could get my teeth into. In this excerpt, Herr Braun berates Lothar about being from a poor family of bakers, but then he goes on to tell about the inferiority of Jews and the new Nuremberg Laws Hitler put into effect, that will take away legal German citizenship from the Jewish people.
Poor Lothar! He has a teacher who dislikes him, and no matter what he does, he can't seem to get on the teacher's good side. I drew this portrait from my own personal experience. I once had a grammar school teacher who also disliked me, and although I didn't get a swat to the side of the head, I did stand in the corner a lot of the time.
Rudolf and his friend Lothar hear the school bell and run toward the yard, very much afraid of being late. This was a fun segment to write because the teacher is such a bastard.
During the era of the Third Reich, Germans who wanted to stay on the good side of the government usually had a photo of their leader in their home, Adolf Hitler. However, the main character, Rudolf, knows very well that there is no such picture in his home because his grandmother hates Hitler.
In a previous excerpt, I wrote about hearing a story on NPR about a young girl finding a Bible dropped by a German POW. This is, in my mind's eye, how it would have happened on an Arizona cotton farm, only the small Bible is found by a teenage boy whose family owns the farm.
A few years ago when I was listening to a local NPR station, I heard a story about a German POW who was working on a farm in the mid-west. The story was related by a woman who was a little girl at the time. The German lost a small Bible while working in the fields, and he was inconsolable. It had been given to him by his mother prior to the start of WWII. The little girl was so taken by the grief of the POW that she convinced her parents to help her look for it. They eventually found it, and the German POW was overjoyed. I used that story in this excerpt from my novel "The Swastika Tattoo."
In a tell-tale incident, one of the POWs working in the Arizona cotton field loses a small, prized Bible. The American guards won't let the prisoner look for it, saying it's time to get back to camp, and this is when my main character, Rudolf, shows his pent-up anger against the American guards.
In this moment, my main character, Rudolf, has an insightful look into an American woman who tries to explain to him and other German POWs how much she and her husband need the prisoners' help. Rudolf wonders if a German woman would be so sympathetic to Poles or Russian workers.
In this historical novel, my main character, Rudolf, voices his opinion about an American teenager questioning why Germans still revere Adolf Hitler. He has a bit of a shock when the teenager's mother voices her opinion about the difference in the thinking between an American and a German.
My main character realizes that the various tactics at the POW camp in Phoenix by both Germans and Americans is a game...each pushing and pulling against one another. In my research, I found it interesting that when the American officers who ran Camp Papago Park cut food rations, the Germans POWs stopped acting up.
Rudolf was such a wonderful character to write! He is so full of himself as he has this conversation with an American guard. In Rudolf's mind, all Americans are stupid. Oh, does he have a lot to learn!
Rudolf's grandmother is the disciplinarian in the family. This scene shows Luise's hatred for her son's mother. That hatred comes through in her actions toward Rudolf.
Rudolf not only despises the POW camp in the middle of the Arizona desert, he is unhappy about the news that the Russians are moving steadily toward his beloved Germany.
This excerpt talks about Camp Papago Park, which held about 1,700 German submariners from 1944 to 1946. Seventy years ago, Papago Park was where the residents of Phoenix took their children to play in the water of the crosscut canal. It's also where family picnics were held. These days, the old POW camp is the site of an Arizona National Guard post. Papago Park is now the site of the glorious Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo.
In this excerpt, Rudolf thinks about a lady of the evening that he had been with after he graduated from his schooling as a U-boat radio operator, but an American tune keeps roaming about in his head and it brings back the memory of when his U-boat was sunk by an American destroyer.
When I began writing the opening of this novel, I wanted it to be explosive. After years of research and a trip to Germany to make sure I had my facts right, I decided the best way was to have my main character insulted by an insolent American teenager. After all, Rudolf is a German prisoner of war picking cotton in Arizona, a place that was considered by Germans to be the physical equivalent of hell. One can almost feel his anger in the middle of such a place. How better to insult a German in 1944 than to ask him why the German people still believed in Adolf Hitler? Thus, this is the beginning of a relationship between two young men who view their respective countries with love and patriotism. When I went to Germany and interviewed a former submarine (U-Boat) officer who was also a prisoner of war during WWII, I was told by him that he adored Hitler as a Hitler Youth. I was stunned and so when i came home, I knew I had to write about a young man who idolized Germany's leader. What better way to start a book?
I suppose this scene is no different than the scene that I often went though with my grandmother about my eating habits. It's obvious that Rudolf is the apple of his grandfather's eye, but not so much for his grandmother. This is really not the case, but it is what Rudolf perceives.
It's an important day for Hermann. He needs to look his best, but he is always conscious about his lower-class standing even though he is a supervisor at AG Weser, the U-boat shipyard in Bremen, Germany.
While Hermann is trying to explain what it means for a U-boat to be commissioned, young Rudolf, his 10-year-old grandson, makes a stab at a piece of cold cut on the breakfast table, only to be reprimanded by Luise, his grandmother. This scene shows Hermann's soft heart for his grandson.
As a woman who knew absolutely nothing about U-boats when I began writing "The Swastika Tattoo," except, perhaps that it was a killing machine, I found help on uboat.net, a wonderful website that has reams of information about U-boats. I asked about the commissioning ceremony and Ken Dunn, an American fascinated with U-boats came to my aid. It was Ken who went though the details of this book that hone in on life on a U-boat.
While in Germany, I noticed how beautifully various restaurants and private homes decorate their tables with beautiful tablecloths, nice cutlery and other amenities. Here in America, everything is so plain, sooooooo casual.
My several trips to Germany have given me insight into the German people. Their tables always have a tablecloth and are set nicely. Here in the US, most restaurants don't have tablecloths! Shows how we have become so casual.
While in Germany, doing research for this novel, I met a man who was a retired deep sea diver who worked on boat repair and salvage. He was such a mountain of a man! I could imagine him in his diving suit working in the depths of the sea and Hermann is a bit of that man.
My description of the AG Weser shipyard in Bremen, Germany no longer exists. Sadly, when I went to see it several years ago, the land had been sold to an investor who tried to turn it into an amusement park. However, the park never caught on and it sits forlornly along the banks of the Weser River.
Enjoy this little tidbit about our main character. It's also a readers favorite finalist in the Young Adult Coming Of Age category.
Rudolf hates Arizona. It is far different from the beautiful greenery of his beloved Germany. His alienation, of course, also has to do with his internal conflicts.
Rudolf can't imagine that the Third Reich might lose the war. Stuck in a prisoner of war camp in the middle of Arizona, he wonders aloud why Germans who moved to America haven't joined in the fight to help Germany win. Rudolf's mind, so indoctrinated by the Hitler Youth, cannot fathom the freedoms of America--exactly the reason why German-Americans did not rise up to help the Fatherland as Rudolf believes they should.
Rudolf hates the surroundings of Camp Papago Park where he is imprisoned along with other men of the U-boat arm of the German Navy. As he walks toward the canteen after dinner to buy American cigarettes, grudgingly acknowledging that they are better than German smokes, he thinks about his encounter with a American teenager while working in the cotton fields. He had been asked why the German people still believed in Adolf Hitler, and Rudolf is still smoldering.
Rudolf is cooling his heels in a German prisoner of war camp in the midst of Arizona. Disgruntled that the tide of victory has turned against the Third Reich, the only thing Rudolf can do is make fun of the Americans who are holding him. This is also where the reader begins to understand how much Rudolf believes in Nazi Germany.
My character Rudolf is enthralled with his country's leader, Adolf Hitler. What he believes in this excerpt is that Germany would certainly win the war against America. There was no way the Third Reich would not win because America was full of mixed races. As the book moves forward, he begins to understand that what he learned in the Hitler Youth was very different from the real America.
In this excerpt, my main character, Rudolf tells the American teenager, whom he believes is utterly stupid, that the Third Reich's leader is responsible for the greatness of Nazi Germany. The kid, makes the mistake of noting that Germany is losing. Rudolf's belief in Germany is tied to his soul, as much as the swastika tattoo is emblazoned on his arm.
As the author of this historical novel, I really like my character, Rudolf. Yes, he's a Nazi, yes, he loves his beloved Fatherland, Germany. He loves it so much, that he has a swastika tattooed on his arm. Americans aren't much different. We love our country and we have fought for it, sending young men and now young women into battle. Just a thought--are we any different than Rudolf?
My character, Rudolf Meier, is a product of Nazi Germany. He believes Americans are ignorant, particularly when it comes to the foolishness of individualism. To Rudolf, no person is more important than the state. While it's true that Adolf Hitler did bring Germany out of horrendous depression, he did it by building up the military and invading countries close to the German border. The teenager in this scene who asked Rudolf the question, "Why to the Germans still believe in Adolf Hitler?" infuriates Rudolf. It's a question that will reverberate through his mind during the long months to come as he begins to compare democracy with fascism.
It took months for me to find a way to open my historical novel about a German prisoner of war held in an interment camp in Phoenix, Arizona--and then one day the main question of the book popped into my head: Why did the German people still believe in Adolf Hitler? Rudolf holds a great deal of antipathy toward Americans. Rightfully so because he is a prisoner of war. But how did he become so rabid in his thinking?
Sedona: City of Refugees is a biting look at a modern-day American tourist community caught in the throes of change. Set amid the scenic red rock beauty of Sedona, this is a story of a widowed middle-aged newspaper reporter searching for God and herself amid the rubble of her life.
Kathleen meets Richard. What will happen now?
Kathleen, unsure that she should be moving back to Sedona in the first place, feels it is a bad omen that the movers can't get the big furniture van into the driveway of her new home. A sewer construction project has torn up her street.
My main character, Kathleen, meets Richard, a construction foreman on the new sewer system being put into Sedona. It is a fateful meeting.
Kathleen has decided to move back to Sedona to work for a small newspaper. She's worried and on top of that, the moving truck can't get into her driveway because of construction of a new sewer line.
Kathleen, unsure she wants to return to Sedona to work for a small newspaper, gets an insight into her new boss.
Kathleen is perplexed by Jack Berens, the editor of a new newspaper in Sedona. Who is this guy anyway?
The editor who wants to hire Kathleen to cover Sedona for his small newspaper wants to know the "why" behind the stories of the New Age Community. His passion intrigues Kathleen.
Intrigued by the offer to come back to work in Sedona at a small newspaper, Kathleen gets an insight into her perspective new boss.
Kathleen considers coming back to Sedona, but knows it will be difficult.
Kathleen, still grieving over the humiliations she suffered at the hands of her dead husband, cannot believe a complete stranger has asked her to come work for him.
It's the old argument given to women through the eons...all you need is a good man. Hmmmmmm!
Kathleen talks about her feelings to her friend Carrie. She's confused about who she is--a hard-boiled reporter on one hand and a subservient wife on the other. Life can be so confusing!
Kathleen begins to realize that she picked the wrong place to meet her friend Carrie for lunch. Sitting at a table nearby is the head of the local bank, a man who she had known for years, yet refused to give her a $10,000 loan without a co-signer.
A visit to Rene's in beautiful Tlaquepaque brings back memories for Kathleen. Her unfaithful husband is dead and she's glad for it, although her Catholic guilt plagues her for feeling such hatred.
I love Tlaquepaque! It is the epitome of class with its fine shops, restaurants and the beauty of the Spanish architecture. With the beautiful sycamores next to Oak Creek, the setting was so easy to describe in this segment where Kathleen meets her best friend at Rene's--a restaurant that is so like a French bistro! This area is the epitome of the beauty of Sedona.
Kathleen thinks about her relationship with her late husband as she rubs her hand in the red dirt of Sedona that covers his grave. She thought she might feel free of his influence if she visited his grave, but the memories only inflict more pain on her wounded soul.
Kathleen was overwhelmed with Scott's attentions. No man had ever smothered her with such love, something she had craved all her life. The love she felt for him made her overlook what was happening.
This excerpt tells the story of Kathleen's marriage. Having married Scott late in life, Kathleen tried to understand him but finally realized she was simply a useful tool in his bag of tricks.
Kathleen's visit to her husband's grave gives her a jolt--he was such a bastard, how could Scott's daughters have put what they did on his grave marker?
Kathleen tries hard to put away her malice toward her dead husband but memories of his actions still plague her.
The graveyard in Sedona is as bleak as I've described despite it being surrounded by the beauty of the red rocks. My main character, Kathleen, has come to the see the resting place of her late husband with a few things on her mind...
The warring sisters think about what their Uncle Philip has said--if they go along with his scheme, they can get their father's wife taken off his will. Yes! Greed reigns...
I loved writing this scene. Natalie, the sister who is into New Age beliefs, finds a bit of backbone and tells her bitchy sister just what she thinks of her.
This scene was fun to write. Jessica and Natalie are at odds with each other--one is a social butterfly, the other is a New Age devotee. Their Uncle Philip is a manipulator. Quite a crew...
Natalie's character was easy to write. She is a combination of lots of people I see in Sedona, particularly in the health food store or a various New Age events. She's sweet and a bit naive, but she's likable, unlike her Uncle Philip and her sister Jessica.
When I wrote this novel, I thought of the various people I met when I first came to Sedona. Philip is the picture of a boss I once had while working as a concierge at a high-end hotel. He was handsome and deadly as a snake. As for Jessica, she is the epitome of a wealthy brat. Once, when I was the editor of a newspaper in Toluca Lake, California--a movie town with four movie studies and also the West Coast headquarters for NBC--I had a lot of interaction with movie stars. Jessica--in actuality--is fashioned after the wife of a very famous movie star that I had to work..
Enchantment Resort in the heart of the red rock country of Sedona is a breathtaking place. Philip, who is the master of deceit, does not fit in well in this delightful spot filled with tourists. When I wrote this character, I was thinking of a boss i once had when I worked at a resort in Sedona. He looked exactly like Philip!
When I wrote this passage, I had a previous boss in mind who looked and acted like this character Philip Buckley. He was a stern individual and when I worked at a local resort in Sedona many years ago, I would catch my boss peering though a doorway looking to make sure I was doing my job correctly. He had a lethal set of black eyes that made me feel he was looking right through me!
As Kathleen touches her husband's casket, she thinks about her empty marriage and what it meant to be the wife of a wealthy, charming man.
At her husband's funeral Mass, Kathleen views her in-laws and thinks of their Indiscretions as they receive Holy Communion.
Kathleen views her brother-in-law and her two step-daughters as they take Holy Communion at her husband's funeral considering the sins they have committed.
While listening to the eulogy for her late husband, Scott, Kathleen is surprised the priest mentions her name. Considering the money Scott's family probably is giving the church for the funeral, she wonders at the priest's courage for even mentioning her name.
Kathleen's tears are not for her late husband Scott. They are for herself as she braces for husband's eulogy.
For Kathleen, this is a seminal moment--her husband's funeral causes great conflict for her because of her hatred. Yet, she knows the only way to move past her pain is to face it.
As Kathleen remembers the attack by her husband, Scott, she is flooded with hatred for what he did to her. It is then that she thinks about his standing in the community, the pride of Sedona. Her bitterness only allows her to think about what he did to her as she views Scott's coffin being carried toward the Church of St. John Vianney.
Prior to this passage, Kathleen remembers the sexual attack from her husband as eight men carry his coffin past her into the church. She hopes the pain of the past will fade if she can only get through the funeral.
While watching her husband's coffin being moved into St. John Vianney Catholic Church, Kathleen remembers her husband's infidelities. She is particularly sour about the New Age devotees who flock to Sedona looking for enlightenment.
Kathleen's lack of reverence for her dead husband is shown in this scene. She curses his soul, knowing full well that she has sinned by doing so. Still, she can't control herself.
My character Kathleen is trying to pull herself together at her husband's funeral. It isn't because she is overwhelmed with grief--it's because she hates the s.o.b.
Gosh, I love it here. I've loved Sedona since I first saw it in 1965. Lot fewer people then, and fewer buildings, but the place is still gorgeous. I wrote this novel trying to impart the pull of this magical place to many types of people--New Agers, tour companies, Realtors, hucksters. You name it, they are here--but so is the beauty of the red rocks.
I've lived in Sedona more than 20 years and there never is a time when I drive into town that I don't feel the absolute beauty of the place. My character Kathleen Buckley is in awe of it, but she is also very afraid of it as she standings looking at the casket of her late husband, a bastard if there ever was one. Should she come back to the community and face her demons?
Although this opening scene is located in Sedona, Arizona, it really was a scene from my own life thousands of miles away in California. Since that day was etched in my life, there was no way I could write this novel without telling the story of that funeral. Happy reading!
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