“I read about the Holocaust, I wrote about the Holocaust, I studied it in college, and I never had heard this story before,” admits writer Ayelet Waldman, who is in town for the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures series this evening to discuss her new novel Love and Treasure.
The book weaves a tale around the true World War II story of a Hungarian Gold Train. One of the main characters is an American lieutenant described as a "tough, smart New York Jew" who is charged with guarding this treasure, a responsibility that grows more complicated when he meets a beautiful Hungarian woman who has lost everything in the Holocaust.
Waldman has Jewish roots , attended Hebrew school as a child, has visited Israel, but she says it was Google where she found the idea for this novel.
Hungary was an ally of Germany and at the end of the war, a series of edicts were issued that demanded the Jewish people turn their property over to the post offices and the banks.
The property was loaded onto a train when Russians began invading Hungary from the East. The train left Hungary just a step ahead of the Russians and after its long trek across Europe the train, that was worth in contemporary dollars between $500 million and $7 billion according to Waldman, ended up in America’s control. Several questions were then asked about what should happen to the property.
“What do you do with a train full of the accumulated wealth of a massacred people?" says Waldman "Who does it belong to? What’s going to happen to it? Who gets the proceeds if it's auctioned? Do the surviving remnant? Is it theirs? And it became this kind of discussion about the nature of property, and the meaning of value and survival.”
Ayelet Waldman will give a presentation Monday night at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland as part of the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Literary Evening Series. The novel will be available in April.