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Jacob's Oath: A Novel
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Jacob's Oath: A Novel

3.5 10
by Martin Fletcher

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As World War II winds to a close, Europe's roads are clogged with twenty million exhausted refugees walking home. Among them are Jacob and Sarah, lonely Holocaust survivors who meet in Heidelberg. But Jacob is consumed with hatred and cannot rest until he has killed his brother's murderer, a concentration camp guard nicknamed "The Rat." Now he must choose between


As World War II winds to a close, Europe's roads are clogged with twenty million exhausted refugees walking home. Among them are Jacob and Sarah, lonely Holocaust survivors who meet in Heidelberg. But Jacob is consumed with hatred and cannot rest until he has killed his brother's murderer, a concentration camp guard nicknamed "The Rat." Now he must choose between revenge and love, between avenging the past and building a future.

Martin Fletcher, who won the National Jewish Book Award for Walking Israel, proved his chops as a novelist with The List, which was selected as the One Book, One Jewish Community title for the city of Philadelphia. Now, in Jacob's Oath, Fletcher brings us another touching novel of love, loyalty, and loss, set in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As he did in his first novel, The List, NBC news correspondent and National Jewish Book Award–winner Fletcher explores the experiences of Jews in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust in this engrossing, if unsettling, thriller. Jacob Klein survives the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but was unable to save his younger brother, Maxie, from death at the hands of an SS guard, Hans Seeler. At a medical facility where Jacob is being treated after his liberation in April 1945, he’s dumbfounded to see Seeler, who gets away. Sustained by his desire for revenge, Jacob joins a group of Jews who are also seeking Nazis to execute. Their quest alternates with the story of Sarah Kaufman, who survived the war in Berlin (and whose sister was a schoolmate of Jacob’s sister), but finds that she still must struggle to stay alive after a Russian soldier brutalizes her. The taut prose and multidimensional protagonists help make this a page-turner. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Mann Agency. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“A moving love story... A small gem of a novel.” —Booklist

“Engrossing...A page-turner.” —Publishers Weekly

“An elegantly written and evocative story of Holocaust survivors. Inspiring.” —Tom Brokaw on The List

“A powerful, affecting work . . . Should be required reading.” —Kirkus Reviews on The List

“Moving . . . A touching story that brings a little-known aspect of Jewish history to life.” —Booklist on The List

“Extraordinary. Both spellbinding and heartbreaking, with brilliantly rendered characters and a breathtaking conclusion.” —Andrea Mitchell, NBC on The List

Kirkus Reviews
A Holocaust survivor must choose between keeping the woman he loves and seeking revenge against the camp guard who beat his younger brother to death. After the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, survivor Jacob Klein joins the flow of refugees streaming across Europe on foot. His destination is Heidelberg, his hometown, but more importantly, it's the hometown of Hans Seeler, a sadistic SS guard who tormented Jacob's younger brother, Maxie, in the camp. As Maxie lay dying as a result of a particularly brutal beating dished out by Seeler, Jacob promised to avenge his death by killing Seeler. After arriving in Heidelberg, Jacob starts trading on the black market to make ends meet. One evening, he returns to his room to find a woman, Sarah Kaufman, sitting on his bed. She'd been given Jacob's address by the mayor's office, he being the only other Jew in town. Sarah had spent the war in hiding in Berlin but had returned to Heidelberg to keep a promise to meet her lover, who'd disappeared one night after going out to find food. As time passes, it becomes increasingly clear that Sarah's lover won't be returning, and she and Jacob fall in love. Jacob realizes that if he keeps his promise to his brother, he will likely be separated from Sarah, which significantly complicates his planned revenge. With an emotionally agile tone, Fletcher (Walking Israel, 2010, etc.) captures the chaos and desperation that followed the end of World War II in Europe. While some of the characters feel hollow, Fletcher does a particularly good job of bringing the titular character to life, imbuing him with a dark side brought to the fore by the horrors he's experienced. An expressive and generally well-told story of love and hatred, revenge and recovery.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt




April 22, 1945

In the Human Laundry at Camp 2 they barely knew they were naked, man or woman. Laid out like corpses on shiny metal tables, washed, shaved, and disinfected by German nurses, their hips and shoulders jutted out like knives.

Murky water sloshed to the floor and drained away in the central gutter that ran between the stalls of the stable.

Nurses in white coats and white kerchiefs, shrouded in steam, ethereal, scrubbed in silence, one hand resting on an arm or a leg or a head. Helpless inmates squirmed as soap burned their sores and scabs.

Jacobs sunken eyes were screwed tight. He didnt want to open them. He didnt want to see these Nazis with their pursed lips, their frowns and busy hands. Who are you to help, now that you lost? Its a bit late, you bastards.

Gently, the nurse gestured that he turn over. She smiled and cupped his shoulder and pushed lightly with her hand. He was less bony than her others that morning. He opened his eyes and winced, scalded in the sudden heat. Through a haze of burning tears he saw her big chest, big hips, blond hair pulled back into a bun, sweat pouring from her puckered brow. Flushed cheeks. Her name must be Brunhilde, he thought, and remembered: Warrior Woman, from the old Norse. How perfect. How ironic. The cow.

His penis flopped as he turned. He lay on it. He hadnt thought about it in months and now he did. It pressed against him in the warm dampness. Whoa, he thought. Its still there.

And then he stiffened.

He raised his head, his neck muscles flexed. He looked at the back of the naked man a few tables away who had rolled onto his side, placed one leg on the floor, and stood up. Jacob had glimpsed the side of his face. He was standing now, the nurse was handing him a towel. He took it, wiped his face, pulled it across his shoulders, quickly rubbed his body, and turned again to walk away.

The nurse put her hand on Jacobs head, saying, Relax, relax. She pushed him down so that she could scrub his neck but he pushed back. Sorry, did I hurt you? the nurse asked. Now his whole back arched and he stretched to see better.

The man looked different. He didnt fit in. Not as skinny. Not skinny at all. Lean, yes. Broad. Tall. As he turned and Jacob readied to see his face, a British doctor stopped to talk to a nurse, blocking Jacobs view. The man raised his arm to rub his hair with the towel; his bare arm seemed to emerge from the doctors white sleeve.

Jacob strained his eyes, not shut this time, but to peer through the damp mist of the Laundry. The mans left armpit was black with wisps and curls, but there it was. Even at three meters, in this bad light, Jacob saw it.

A blue stain. He couldnt see what it said but he could see that it was there. A tattoo? His SS blood group?

Yes. It was him. It must be. Those ears, those stiff round ears sticking out like a rat. A shiver shook Jacob, his neck hairs stood. He opened his mouth to shout but nothing came out. His body stiffened and he tried again, but he only shuddered.

Alarmed, the nurse pushed him down, harder this time. Relax, she said, please relax, there is nothing to worry about, I just need to spray the DDT, you will come out of here nice and clean. No more itching.

Now Jacob bellowed, at least he wanted to, but all that came out were high-pitched gasps, one after another, as if he were panting, choking.

The man was walking toward the door, rubbing his hair. Most inmates had to be carried on stretchers, others hobbled in pain or took it step by breathless step. He was striding. It flashed through Jacobs mind: He could be whistling. The marching song, the Horst Wessel song: Die Fahne hoch, die Reihen fest geschlossen

Jacobs eyes darkened, a flash of memory. Maxie. His brother, his baby brother. Murdered.

Jacob screamed with his little might: Stop!

You stop it now, the nurse said, and she called for help. Two nurses rushed to her side, the doctor too, they pushed Jacob to the table while the nurse pressed the plunger and a spray of DDT powder made him cough and his eyes water.

Thats better. Thatll kill the lice. Youll feel better, no more scratching.

Stop, you bastard, he yelled. Stop!

Hey, be quiet, the doctor said. Thats no way to talk. Shes only trying to help.

Its all right, I dont mind, after all theyve been through, the nurse said in German, stroking Jacobs head, trying to calm him. Youll feel better very soon. No typhus.

Stop, Jacob yelled, straining against them. Hans, you rat!

At the door the lean man turned. He took in the struggle on the table, the naked stringy Jew yelling, his little head straining forward like a tortoise, the nurses and doctor pushing him down. He saw into Jacobs crazed eyes. Smirked, spat, and left.


Copyright 2013 by Martin Fletcher

Meet the Author

MARTIN FLETCHER, Special Correspondent, NBC News, has won five Emmies, a Columbia University Dupont award, and several Overseas Press Club awards. He served as the former NBC News Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv for many years, and now splits his time between Israel and New York City.

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Jacob's Oath: A Novel 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
hillillyoh More than 1 year ago
A story of love, betrayal, broken promises, friendships, poverty, hope, and one that should never be forgotten. This is a story that should be shared with the "20 somethings" that have not learned about the Great War. Great discussion material for book clubs.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a well written novel. Unfortunately, even though Sarah and Jacob were fiction the things that happened in the book did happen.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good descriptions of Germany after WWII but ending was all wrong. Unbelievable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I moan slightly on ur mouth. I reach dn and start unbuttoning ur pants. (Gtg to cheerleading b back in 2 hrs)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
-sulks in the corner- i do hope you remember and that you are here. -starts to sing Daylight by Maroon 5- remember this song. -looks up smiling with ear running down face-