In 1943, Dr. Michel Katz has no idea that his life is about to radically change. The well-respected French-Jewish surgeon gets wind of a Jewish transport and hastily makes plans to escape with his family to Nice. Nazi interception eventually lands them in Terezin, a Jewish ghetto in the Czech Republic. Amid the meager living conditions, Michel discovers that his wife and children are on the infamous list earmarked for Auschwitz. In a moment of desperation and in the hope of saving his family, Michel offers his medical expertise to German officials and he is brought to Auschwitz instead. The unimaginable unfolds including appalling medical experimentations. Yet amid the horror, an unexpected ray of hope emerges when one teen survives the gas chambers.
Stephen Robert Stein pens a powerfully gripping story in his debut novel. A result of extensive European travels to many of the locations mentioned in his plot, Stein’s descriptive writing style not only brings to life the unfathomable terror associated with genocide, but gives a glimpse into the scandals and covert networks that follows the close of World War II. Opening each chapter with a line from the physicians’ Hippocratic Oath, Stein weaves a flurry of facts in his storyline, such as the notorious “Angel of Death” Josef Mengele, various types of medical experimentation (i.e., radiation, hypothermia), organizations (i.e., ODESSA), and strategic service programs (i.e. Operation Paperclip)—just to name a very few.
Stein centers Michel at the forefront of his a tightly knit fictional cast. Aside of Michel, Stein’s characters include Hans Bloch, a German doctor; Martin Brosky, a Jewish inmate and Michel’s assistant; and Tamara Lissner, a gas chamber survivor. A key element to Stein’s writing style is how he uses the omniscient point of view to zero in on the character’s internal struggles and their ultimate decisions when faced with extreme challenges. That said, Stein draws his audience immediately into his human-interest plot. Stein keeps his largely third person narrative constantly flowing by incorporating the above mentioned literary tools within chapters that alternate between a balanced mix of unanticipated and predictable character scenes and backstories. Closing on an interesting form of poetic justice, The Oath is nothing less than a profound work of historical fiction. A definite must read as well as an inimitable addition to Holocaust history.
Stephen Robert Stein