Eva Salomon’s War
Two Ottawa authors discuss their female protaganists — and the line between fact and fiction
Eva Salomon’s War is waged on several fronts: the protagonist escapes the Holocaust to Palestine. But then she flees again, this time from her rigidly orthodox father, and then battles economic mayhem and pursues a dangerous love. Barbara
Sibbald talks to Gabriella Goliger, an award-winning Ottawa writer who once lived on a kibbutz, about this unique tale of fanaticism and belief.
Q. What inspired you to write Eva Salomon’s War?
A. This book is loosely based on the experiences of my mother’s sister. Like the heroine, she was a young Jewish woman from Germany who went to Palestine in the 1930s — escaping Nazi Germany — fell in love with a British policeman and was terrorized by Jewish extremists. Those are the bare bones of the story. My aunt died in 1968, so I was never able to ask her directly, but [the terrorism] always troubled me and I wanted to understand it better. At one point, I thought I’d try to write a memoir, but I didn’t have enough to go on, and besides, I wanted the freedom fiction gives to really delve into the character, the events, the circumstances.
Q. In seventh grade in Germany, after Eva is segregated and humiliated by the Nazis, she rejects belief in all its permutations. What role does belief play in her life? A. She rejects ideology because of the Nazis but also because of her father, who is rigidly orthodox. At the time, she’s very young and she’s depressed. She gets muddled about the difference between value systems, ideology, and hope and faith in general. She decides to believe in nothing. [In Palestine, she] does start to believe in love and a future for herself. She even becomes something of a Zionist because she can’t help being drawn into the national struggle and identify with her people’s aspirations. That becomes a conflict in her relationship with Duncan [the British policeman]. Q. Eva knows she can’t leave Palestine because few nations were taking Jews at the time, but her relationship with Duncan is doomed because Zionist aspirations were pitted against British interests. Yet she continues. Why? A. She’s stuck in this relationship. She can’t imagine life without him, and that’s related to her deep-down inability to really believe in herself. She becomes dependent on this love. There’s also the context of the Second World War. The whole world is in conflict and you don’t know what’s going to happen, so what’s the point in making long-term plans? Q. Belief is also a pivotal force for Eva’s sister and father. Would you characterize this book as being about belief? A. It’s a strong thread in the book. Everyone needs to believe in things, but when does belief go overboard and become a rigid ideology? And how do you find that balance? Q. Were you surprised by anything you found while researching? A. One of the things I was looking for were stories similar to my aunt’s. I found almost nothing. It told me that it’s part of the past people don’t want to think or speak about — Jews terrorizing Jews during the struggle for Palestine. And that made me feel that what I was writing was important, which motivated me. Q. How does one square Israel of then with Israel now? How does one reconcile one’s dream of a Jewish state with the cost of another people’s suffering? A. I think the Jews had no option but to create a Jewish state at that time because of the Holocaust. And when I say “because of the Holocaust,” I mean that the enormity of it impressed on most Jews the need to have a country of their own where they could defend themselves and no longer have to reply on the hospitality of others. I also recognize there was a huge tragedy that befell the Palestinian people. I wish it hadn’t happened, and I wish there was a resolution. I still believe two states is the only viable option. The mainstream founders of Israel were pragmatists and compromisers. Today, the heirs of the people who were seen as extremists back then have become mainstream. As Eva says at the end, there must be a better way.
“... it’s part of the past people don’t want to think or speak about — Jews terrorizing Jews during the struggle for Palestine.”