WE SHALL NOT SHATTER: An Interview with Elaine Stock

Elaine Stock (Photo courtesy Elaine Stock, Facebook)

World War II has been the inspiration for a great deal of historical fiction. With so many angles to approach the global conflict and how it impacted everyone’s life—whether directly or indirectly—there are just countless stories to be told. As Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See made us examine the war from the vantage point of a blind girl in France, Elaine Stock’s new novel, We Shall Not Shatter demonstrates how the deaf community in Poland fared during the same time. It’s a fascinating glimpse into this aspect of our history that we have not considered before, and we are excited to share this book with you. We hope you find our interview with Elaine as fascinating as we did. Enjoy! —J&H

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J&H: We love novels about women who discover just how strong they are during a crisis, and today’s guest has written just such a book. Elaine Stock, welcome!

ES: Thank you, Jathan and Heather, for hosting me on your amazing blog! I’m thrilled you enjoy stories about strong women who often first realize just how strong and capable they are during tough times. This is a favorite theme of mine, both writing wise and on a personal basis. I hope to encourage many to hold on tight and not to give up.

From the beginning of time, our world has been a challenge to live in. Whether it is by the harm of the environment (pollution as well as weather danger) or socially (pandemics or prejudicial bias) or by the hand of man (war and terrorist attacks), we, as a people, face daily trials, ranging from small to large. I admit that my favorite novels and non-fiction books to read are stories showing how people not only survive but ultimately thrive. I come from a very fractured family, yet have kept my head above water (to borrow from a cliché—please forgive) by believing in a better tomorrow, which has become one of my author themes. As a woman, I am pulled toward reading about and writing about women who do discover their hidden strengths during a crisis.

J&H: While we have read numerous stories about the Holocaust, oftentimes these novels are just fiction based on general historical detail. But your novel, We Shall Not Shatter, is different. This story is personal for you, isn’t it? Please tell us a bit about it and how you’re connected to the tale.

ES: We Shall Not Shatter was inspired by my paternal family from Brzeziny Poland—where the novel is set for the majority of the story. My great-grandparents immigrated to America—settling in Brooklyn, NY—on one of the last ships that was permitted to cross the Atlantic in 1914, arriving at Ellis Island on July 4th.  My grandfather at the time was 7 years old. A hearing-abled child, he had several younger deaf siblings. The oldest child, a teen girl, was also deaf. While the younger children were likely too young to undergo a thorough health inspection that would, at that point in history, deem them as a hardship both physically and socially to the American economy and life in general and would ultimately “fail” them and get them (and the whole family) sent back to Poland, the oldest child was not permitted into the US. My great-aunt Katie remained behind in Brzeziny with older relatives who did not emigrate. Jewish and deaf—two huge strikes against her as seen through the Nazi eye—perished during the Holocaust, along with other relatives. Although We Shall Not Shatter is not autobiographical, I like to think of it as a tribute to my great aunt, a woman who had countless talents and was a gem of a woman despite what the Nazis thought of her, other deaf people, Jews, and millions of others.

J&H: In this story, you see the humanity in your characters rather than focusing on their differences. Why was this important for you to address?

ES: I’m glad you picked that up! A reviewer on Goodreads expressed her surprise and delight that Artur, a non-Jew German fell in love with Aanya—the Jewish and deaf character in the novel. Without giving away too much, I also have a different German as the key character who helped these two escape a horrible fate; as well as flipped things around and portrayed once nice people as turning against their neighbors. In real life, as it was during WWII and all throughout history and I’m sure in the future, I don’t think all people can be cast into an all-bad or all-good category. Personalities and motivations are vulnerable, not fixed, and can change dependent on what is happening. To focus on people’s differences, in my opinion, is to do exactly what the Nazis had done to not only Jews, the deaf, but anyone enduring a physical challenge (the elderly, the weak, the blind, an illness that prevented them from working, the homosexual and the Roma—which I write about in Book 3—even the alcoholic, and all those who empathize and sought to help them). Who is one person or one group of people that they are superior and entitled to such horrific judgement over a person or people? I cannot think of a justified answer.

J&H: We are familiar with the plight of the Jews during World War II, but we haven’t read as much about people who were differently abled, such as members of the deaf community. How did those individuals fare and what discrimination did they face both in Europe and in the United States at that time?

ES: The deaf were often seen as a liability to society, that they would be a social-economic burden to the more “fit” people because, as it was once widely believed, they couldn’t possibly be well enough or intelligently capable of being independent, let alone living a life without demanding help from others. As I’ve intimated in a previous reply, back then the deaf often struggled, not because of their seen disability but because others saw them as less than a human who deserved respect, dignity, and a right to pursue life like anyone else. Between my research and the sensitivity readers that reviewed my novel before publication, the deaf community today still endures this conflict.

J&H: Do you think that life in this country has improved for the deaf community? Why or why not?

ES: From what I understand, there are many more opportunities for the deaf community, as well as advances that can aid both their individuality and adaptability—if they should choose—in daily life. One of the sensitivity readers—a deaf young woman— that reviewed my story is studying to become an animal technician. Kudos to her! Also, back a few decades ago—well before computers changed lives for everyone—I was fortunate enough to meet two of the last of my deaf great-uncles and they had reputable careers that if they would have grown up in Brzeziny and not in Brooklyn, and somehow had managed to live, likely would have not had those jobs and the advantages they enjoyed here.

J&H: Did you travel to Poland before writing about it in We Shall Not Shatter, and if so, did you learn anything there that inspired you or changed the trajectory of the story you wanted to tell?

ES: I was all set to travel to Poland when the Covid pandemic changed life for everyone. However, a few wonderful things did happen that greatly helped me in my research and verification of life in Brzeziny Poland. My father introduced me to an amazing book, Brzezin Brzeziny Memorial Book published by JewishGen, Inc., which is a true treasure of information on what Brzeziny was like prior to both of the world wars, during the wars, and after. Upon learning that I was writing this novel, I received a phone call from a cousin on the paternal side of the family that I’d never heard from before, and not only did we have a lovely conversation, but he then sent me a well-researched Family Tree that shed a lot of light on my family and their travels from Poland. And, from that phone conversation, I ended up talking with this cousin’s uncle—my father’s direct cousin—who had traveled for business to Brzeziny and enlightened me more about the family as well as Brzeziny and other places in Poland. I do long to see Brzeziny, though I understand that it is not at all like the town it used to be before the Germans occupied it and nearly destroyed it and all of its people, which is why I hope my novel succeeds as a love letter to Brzeziny.

J&H: Zofia and Aanya lived in perilous times, but that was almost 80 years ago. What do you think they would make of the state of the world now? And what advice do you think they would have for us as we navigate horrifying situations like the recent massacres in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas?  

ES: Fascinating and sadly timely questions! I think both Zofia and Aanya would admit that at one time in their early youth that if anyone would have told them the Holocaust and all of its persecution would have been a real thing, and subsequently such horrors as the recent shooting massacres the US has witnessed, they would have looked at each other, and with lifted brows, asked how such hatred and craziness—and how on the massive level—was possible by the hand of human beings. But as adults, after coming out alive from the sufferings of WWII, they would nod their heads in quiet agreement and empathy. And knowing them as intimately as I do, they would then organize a group of compassionate supporters to help those directly impacted by such a horrid action. Their advice would be simply to love others and to strive to overcome the social prejudices that work to prevent respect between all.

J&H: We Shall Not Shatter is the first book in a trilogy, right? What can we expect in the next two books?

ES: Yes, We Shall Not Shatter, is Book 1 of the Resilient Women of WWII Trilogy. Book 2, Our Daughters’ Last Hope will be released this September the 19th. The last book, When We Disappeared, will release in May of 2023. Book 2 is the story of Herta, a side character from Book 1, and what becomes of her and her family during the war in the Netherlands. Book 3 is Herta’s (oldest) daughter’s story when she escapes from hiding in the Netherlands only to enter Germany and to meet a Roma woman. I promise that at the conclusion of the last book, all three stories will be connected once again.

A big by the way: all three books of the Trilogy has been acquired by Tantor Media/Recorded Books for audiobook production, read by actress Dina Pearlman. The audiobook for We Shall Not Shatter will release this June 21 and When We Disappeared releases alongside the print and ebook editions this September 19th. Look for news on the audiobook of Book 3 to come.

J&H: The book is We Shall Not Shatter, and you can order it now from Jathan & Heather Books and everywhere else fine books are sold. Elaine, thanks so much for dropping by. We hope you’ll visit with us again soon.

ES: It was my pleasure to be here with you and your visitors and thank you both for hosting me. I hope you’ll have me back for the next two books.

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Synopsis banner
Amsterdam Publishers

An unforgettable story of friendship, family and hope as two courageous young women face one of history’s most horrific tragedies.

Brzeziny, Poland, 1939 Zofia’s comfortable-lifestyle overturns when her husband, Jabez, who monitors Nazi activity, has gone missing. Rather than fleeing the country with her young son, as she had promised Jabez who is fearing retaliation, she decides to stay. She cannot possibly leave her friend, Aanya. Since their childhood they have amazed fellow Brzeziners that it does not matter that Aanya is Jewish and deaf, and that Zofia is Catholic and hearing. Now, more than ever with war looming, Zofia will do whatever is necessary to protect her family and Aanya.

As both love and war approach their Polish town, Zofia and Aanya must make choices that will change the meaning of family, home, and their precious friendship. The journey, decisions and the no-going-back consequences the women face will either help them to survive—or not—as Hitler’s Third Reich revs up its control of the world.

Inspired by the author’s paternal heritage from Brzeziny, this is a heartbreaking yet beautiful story of two women who are determined to remain united in friendship and to live freely despite the odds.

Praise banner

“Author Elaine Stock has created a compelling story of enduring friendship, heart wrenching sacrifice, and resilient strength. While set during one of the darkest moments on history’s stage, We Shall Not Shatter’s themes—conveyed through characters who will inhabit your heart—have much to say to readers in today’s world, too.”

Carrie Schmidt, ReadingIsMySuperPower.org

“This is a story not only of resilience, but of the victory of love and friendship over pain and suffering.”

Barbara Stark-Nemon, author of the award-winning novels, Even in Darkness and Hard Cider, Speech-language therapist and Teacher Consultant for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

“This is a story that oozes tragedy, hope, love and courage in the face of adversity.”

Ron Vincent, author of The House on Thrömerstrasse: A Story of Rebirth and Renewal in the Wake of the Holocaust

“The story and its characters will linger in the reader’s heart for days… perhaps forever.” 

Patricia Bradley, Author of the Logan Point Series, Memphis Cold Case Novels, Natchez Trace Park Ranger Series

We Shall Not Shatter takes readers on a rare journey of life-tested relationships and uncompromising courage. Stock brilliantly creates a time and place that is terrible and heartbreaking only to reveal the beauty that awaits on the other side of devastation. This story will stay with you long after the last page is turned.”

London Clarke, #1 Amazon bestselling author of Wildfell and The Meadows
About the author banner

Elaine Stock writes Historical Fiction, exploring home, family and friendships throughout time. She enjoys creating stories showing how all faiths, races, and belief systems are interconnected and need each other.

Elaine’s grandparents, on both sides of her family, narrowly escaped World War II by immigrating from Poland and Austria to the US. Fascinated by the strong will of people to overcome the horrors from this era, she wrote We Shall Not Shatter, Book 1 of the Resilient Women of WWII Trilogy inspired by her deaf great aunt who was left behind as a teenager in Poland and perished in the Holocaust, while her other deaf siblings were permitted to enter the US when their young ages helped them to circumvent medically-revealing exams. Other extended family members also remained in Poland to lose their lives in the Holocaust.

Although multi-published in award-winning Inspirational Fiction, and a past blogger and online magazine contributor, Elaine now pens novels for the General reading audience. She is a member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association and The Historical Novel Society. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she has now been living in upstate, rural New York with her husband for more years than her stint as a city gal. She enjoys long walks down country roads, visiting New England towns, and of course, a good book.

For more information, visit ElaineStock.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon, and BookBub.

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By Elaine Stock
308 pp. Amsterdam Publishing. $25.95

Purchase We Shall Not Shatter direct from Jathan & Heather Books or from one of these other fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Half Price Books, Hudson Booksellers, IndieBound, Powell’s, or Walmart.

We Shall Not Shatter is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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