Friday, September 18, 2009

Douglas Jacobson, Author of WW2 Historical Novel, Night of Flames, Shares How It All Began

Today's guest blogger is Douglas W. Jacobson, author of the WWII historical novel, Night of Flames: A Novel of World War II.

In 1939 the Germans invade Poland, setting off a rising storm of violence and destruction. For Anna and Jan Kopernik the loss is unimaginable. She is an assistant professor at a university in Krakow; he, an officer in the Polish cavalry. Separated by war, they must find their own way in a world where everything they ever knew is gone.

Anna’s father, a prominent intellectual, is deported to a death camp, and Anna must flee to Belgium where she joins the Resistance. Meanwhile, Jan escapes with the battered remnants of the Polish army to Britain. When British intelligence asks him to return to Poland in an undercover mission to contact the Resistance, he seizes the opportunity to search for his missing wife.

Through the long night of Nazi occupation, Anna, Jan, and ordinary people across Europe fight a covert war of sabotage and resistance against the overwhelming might of the German war machine. The struggle seems hopeless, but they are determined to take back what is theirs.

Night of Flames, How It All Began by Douglas W. Jacobson

A funny thing happened on the way to college. My daughter’s college, that is. In 1991 we sent our daughter off to the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, an excellent mid-size university campus four hours from our home in Milwaukee. It was difficult at first having her that far away, but like all parents of college-age kids we took a deep breath thinking it could be worse, she could be going to New York or California. Hah! Little did we know!

As time passed, a nice young man entered her life, a nice young man who was not from New York or California . . . but from Antwerp, Belgium. And so, the journey began.

As it turned out the young couple got married and eventually moved to Belgium. That was fourteen years ago. If having our college-age daughter four hours away by car was tough, having our newly married daughter an eight-hour plane ride away was a bit tougher. The remedy, of course, was traveling to Europe . . . often.

Now I have always been interested in WW2 history. Over the years I’ve read everything I could, both fiction and non-fiction, about this incredible world conflict which changed the course of human history. As I’ve often said in the talks I give about my book, for an American interested in WW2, spending time in Europe changes your perspective. As an example, consider this: In the memory of most Americans, WW2 began with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. By that time, more than three million Europeans had died in the war. By the time the war ended, four years later, that number would be more than thirty million . . . and eighty percent were civilians.

Over the years, as my wife and I traveled to Europe 2-3 times a year, we developed many relationships, including a very close friendship with my son-in-law’s parents who were children during the German occupation of Belgium. They didn’t talk about it at first; in fact they never talk about it all, except when someone like me-—whom they know and trust is really interested and really wants to know. And, in time, they did tell me about it. They told me about living in the cellar during the shelling of their working-class neighborhood near the port of Antwerp. They told me about foraging for food in the streets then rushing home before the German snipers could shoot them. They told me about the day in 1941 when the Gestapo barged into their home during dinner and took away my son-in-law’s grandfather. Four years later he returned, having walked home from Hamburg, Germany where he’d been a forced laborer.

Much has been written about the great battles of World War Two in Europe, the epic clashes of great armies at Normandy and Stalingrad, in the mountains of Italy and the deserts of Africa. But what has really inspired me were the stories of courage and perseverance of the common people caught up in this titanic struggle. Stories like those of the women and teenagers of the Comet Line who rescued hundreds of Allied aviators shot down over Belgium and Holland. Stories like those of the Armia Krajowa, Poland’s Home Army who risked their lives every day for six long years trying to preserve what little they could of their humanity.

In his book, World Crisis, Winston Churchill said, “When the trumpet sounded every class and rank had something to give. But none gave more, or gave more readily, than the common man and woman.” In those eloquent words lies the essence of what I have tried to honor in my historical novel, Night of Flames.

Douglas W. Jacobson is an engineer, business owner and World War Two history enthusiast. Doug has traveled extensively in Europe researching stories of the courage of common people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. His debut novel, Night of Flames: A Novel of World War Two was published in 2007 by McBooks Press, and was released in paperback in 2008. Night of Flames won the 2007 OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD from the Wisconsin Library Association. Doug has also published articles on Belgium’s WW2 escape organization, the Comete Line; Poland’s 1st Armored Division; and the liberation of Antwerp. Doug has just completed his second novel set in Europe at the end of WW2. You can visit his blog at

To see where Douglas stops next on his virtual book tour, visit

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