By Jane Gatewood
“We’re not enemies before we go to war,” Christa Hedrick of Rector says. It’s one of the basic truths of humanity that she has learned while remembering, researching, and studying material for her recent novel, Echoes From the Ashes.
In 1966, when Christa Hedrick was a young military wife stationed in Nuremberg, Germany, she brought with her a limited knowledge of Germany and its history gained only from the cursory study of WWII in high school textbooks. She had knowledge of the Nazis and the war in Europe. She knew, but she didn’t. “Not really,” Hedrick says.
She says, “Like many of us, I learned that the Nazis killed 6 million Jews and that they constructed concentration camps where bad things happened. What, though, was a concentration camp and just what kind of bad things happened; just how bad was bad?”
Several other times, Christa found herself living in Germany, once in 1972, in Erlensee. A nice man who had been a German soldier “just trying to be a good citizen of his country”, she says, lived next door to Christa and her then-husband. When that soldier was but twenty years old, he was captured and transported to a POW camp in the United States. In fact, he was held prisoner in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The camp’s location was on acres where the new Jonesboro Police Station is located on Caraway Road, according to KAIT news anchor Diana Davis.
Christa says that it was the two years, 1974-1976, stationed in Kaiserslautern that provided her first encounter with the absolute horrors of the Holocaust. Hedrick says, “I was broadsided, wiped out, devastated by a visit to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.” At a time when her mother and sister were visiting, the three booked one of the tours at the Memorial Museum (1965) Dachau Concentration Camp outside of Munich, established originally by Adolph Hitler as a camp for political prisoners.
“The Nazi SS officers and physicians at Dachau and at Polish camps were responsible for selections, separations, and exterminations. In the name of science, they also performed experiments on prisoners. The experiments were documented either by photograph or detailed narratives kept in notebooks. As we toured, the brutality and inhumanity that occurred at that place hit me like a ton of bricks. I became nauseous and dizzy, having to sit down and later leaving the group to wait for them at an entrance. Such depravity left me shaken to my core.”
Later, Christa notes that she read Leon Uris’ best seller QBVii and found herself more uneasy, even though the novel is a fictional courtroom saga. Much later, when she was working in San Diego, a neighbor explained that she was a survivor from one of the Polish encampments. She told Christa about losing her entire family. No photos, no memorabilia, no letters, nothing exists of her family. She once said to Christa, “I (choose to) believe that my daughter would look and act much like you, had she been allowed to live.” The daughter had been killed when she was five years old; this mother was among those who were liberated.
While on a consulting job in New Jersey, Hedrick met a troubled young man at a work session. She heard that the man’s father had just passed away. Christa shares that “for some reason, I asked the man if his dad had been in a camp and he said that he had: Auschwitz.” Troubling to Christa was that the others on the job who were twenty to thirty years old did not know what she and the man were discussing. The most riveting truth to her was the lack of knowledge displayed by young professionals.
From these experiences, Hedrick has grappled for twenty years with a story she felt needed to be shared. The labor has been one of love but with much struggle, wanting to get the message set at just the right timbre. The characters are composites, the action drenched in accuracy, based on her experiences, but a work of fiction, nonetheless.
In her Foreword, Hedrick states, “We need to know this story. We need never forget how it happened. We need to celebrate the legacy of those who survived and those who did not.”
In this novel, which includes elements of reincarnation, Christa combined the essence of multiple truths into a work of fiction. The main character is Elyse who leaves her marriage and moves to Seattle. Her new neighbors and friends find an element of history which cements their relationship. Their separate and collective lives find them discovering how many of their common experiences connect to the Holocaust.
Published in the Clay County Times Democrat - November 1, 2017