A True Story of Standing Up to the Nazis
A Quiet Hero is the fictional account of the true story of French General René Carmille, founder of the National Statistical Service, who worked tirelessly to sabotage the results of the German-ordered census of French Jewish citizens. Until now, Carmille’s legend as the world’s first “ethical hacker” has remained largely unsung. Told from the perspective of Carmille’s assistant, Miriam, a Dutch Jew forced to relocate to France after her home is destroyed, the book also brings to light women’s roles in war efforts. The other central character is Charles Delmand, a museum curator, journalist, and member of the French Intelligence Service.
This is the untold true story of brave people who put themselves in danger to save countless Jewish lives. A tale of historical importance—a story of courage, sacrifice, and one man’s determination to do the right thing no matter the consequences—A Quiet Hero will stay with readers long after its conclusion.
An Interview With Dwight Harshbarger
1. How did you know you had to share General Carmille’s story?
My interest in telling Carmille’s story began when I realized how little had been written about his heroism. More needed to be said. Why did he put his life at risk to stop the Nazi census of the Jews, help members of the resistance, and supply military information to the Allies? Who was he as a person? My commitment to telling General Carmille’s story grew from my awareness, as an adult, of my childhood shock when I saw photos of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps in newspapers and magazines—haunting images of gaunt, emaciated, corpse-like prisoners clinging to camp fences as if clinging to thin strands of life. During my writing of A Quiet Hero, those images were a daily presence. They remain with me today.
After publication of Witness at Hawks Nest, my novel on America’s deadliest industrial disaster, a writer-friend said, “You didn’t choose to write Witness at Hawks Nest. You were chosen.” While writing A Quiet Hero, I often wondered about that. I am not Jewish, I’m not a historian, and I’m not French. Yet I felt compelled tell Carmille’s story.
2. How do you relate to Miriam? Why did you decide to write from her point of view?
Women played important roles in WWII, particularly in the Resistance and espionage, but women have not often been cited for their heroism and contributions.
My decision to tell the story from Miriam’s point of view grew from my desire to give the WWII contributions of women the legitimacy they deserve but have seldom received. To do this, I would need to meet the challenge of telling the story from the perspective of a young woman. Writing from a male perspective would have been too conventional, too familiar, and too loaded with predictable and traditional combative actions of men at war.
3. What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
First, a deepened perspective on the abusive machinery of the Holocaust—the Nazi use of IBM information technology throughout the course of the war to destroy millions of lives. IBM supplied the Nazis with the millions of punch-cards needed to operate information processing technology.
For readers to ask, has IBM initiated reparations for the Nazi’s use of IBM technology in large-scale ethnic cleansing programs to rid Europe of Jews?
Finally, I hope readers will have an appreciation of the suffering the Nazis inflicted on innocent people and thequiet heroic efforts of Gen. Carmille and his associates to stop Nazi abuses.
4. What was the writing process like for A Quiet Hero? How did it differ from writing your previous books?
In previous novels, my concerns about the callous approaches of Union Carbide and Bayer CropScience toward workers and communities gave intensity and sustenance to my work .In writing A Quiet Hero, my reflections on human abuses and the values that made them possible deepened. The institutionalized abusive practices of the Third Reich weighed heavily on me.
What parts of A Quiet Hero were the most difficult to write? I found it difficult to capture the horrors of the Holocaust with the characters who were one step removed from the concentration camps and gas chambers. I chose to do this through the pervasive fear that became a daily presence to people in Nazi-occupied communities.
I was challenged by ways to tactfully and respectfully bring to readers the evolution of the growing maturation of sexual intimacy experienced by Miriam over the course of the story—from a first sexual encounter to her commitment to Charles, and then in marriage and childbirth.
I had difficulty capturing the intensity of suffering of the men on the Death Train from Compiegne’s Camp de Royallieu to Dachau, and the indifference of the Nazis to all of it. At times this overwhelmed me.
5. You went to great lengths in your research on this book to ensure historical accuracy. Why is this so important when writing historical fiction?
Without accurate research on events over time, historical fiction might as well be called, simply, fiction. The accuracy of research builds a foundation for teaching and learning. It grounds the story in real life, in our collective history.
6. How have the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust impacted your own life?
My memories of first seeing the photos of concentration camp prisoners upon liberation of the camp sprompted me to remember the hell that our world descended into. It could happen again.
More personally, my father was a Marine lieutenant in WWII, one of two men in his company to survive bloody combat on Peleliu Island in the South Pacific. After the war, looking at the photos of men in his company, my brother and I would point to a Marine and ask, “Did he live?” We always received the same answer, “No.” Eventually we stopped asking. Perhaps we shouldn’t have. It’s possible our questions might’ve helped our dad talk about the horrors of Peleliu. Throughout his lifetime, my dad rarely spoke of his experiences on Peleliu—combat that historians have called the bloodiest and most unnecessary in all of WWII—as he descended into a lifetime of alcoholism.
7. Why do you think this story still resonates?
The world is awash in mass shootings and bombings grounded in ethnic and religious intolerance. Reflecting on the horrors of the institutionalized and technology-automated Holocaust could serve to raise our consciousness and enhance humane values. Heroism like that of Gen. Carmille, however quiet, yields valuable lessons for us to live by.
8. What’s next for you? Do you have any plans to write other books after A Quiet Hero?
I’m working on an article on the writing and research process of A Quiet Hero—connecting with Gen. Carmille’s grandchildren and visiting sites of scenes in the novel, such as Lyon’s Montluc Prison and Dachau, where Gen. Carmille died.
Also, I’m working on a screenplay based on A Quiet Hero.
If I write another novel, I hope to return to my Appalachian roots.