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“The Auschwitz Escape” releases nationwide today. Reflections on how I discovered the true stories that inspired the novel.

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In November of 2011, I decided to go to visit the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. I’d never been there before. I didn’t really even want to go. But I knew I had to. So I invited several friends — a pastor from the U.S. and his wife, and a pastor from Germany and his wife. Unfortunately, my wife, Lynn, wasn’t able to join me. But the trip had a profound effect on me.

It was a surreal and sobering experience to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. It’s hard to describe the emotions of standing in an actual gas chamber where people were murdered, seeing the ovens where bodies were burned, walking through the cell blocks, seeing the guard towers and barbed wire and train tracks. It was haunting to realize that more than one million people were systematically murdered there, and most of them were Jews.

While I was there, I purchased a book that explained that there had been many escape attempts from Auschwitz, but only a handful of successful escapes. I was stunned. We had hired a special guide to take us through the camp. He was a really bright, educated man. He had been an excellent guide, and we had learned so much. But he hadn’t mentioned anything about escapes. I had never heard about any escapes. But this book gave a brief description of several of them.

Intrigued, as soon as I got home, I started tracking down any resource I could about these men who had risked everything to get out. How had they succeeded? What was their plan? Who helped them? What did they do when they got out? Did they tell anyone in the Jewish community, or among the Allies, what they had seen, what the Nazis were doing at Auschwitz? The more I learned, the more intrigued I became. It turned out there were several non-fiction books written by several of the men who escaped, and several about them. There were even several novels on the subject. But they were old. Some were out of print. If they once had been discussed – I’m sure they were – but they seemed long forgotten.

As I continued to do my research, I realized that April 7th, 2014 would be the 70th anniversary of the greatest escape in human history – the day Rudolf Vrba and Fred Wetzler escaped from the worst of the Nazi death camps. That’s when I began thinking about writing a novel inspired by these true stories that might draw attention back to the greatest escape in human history by men determined to tell the world the truth about what Adolf Hitler was really doing to the Jews. If I could finish it and release it by the spring of 2014, I thought I might be able help people remember these incredible stories of courage and heroism and faith.

Without question, The Auschwitz Escape was by far the most emotionally exhausting book I’ve ever written. By that I mean I had to immerse myself in the history of the Holocaust – books, documentary films, web sites, museums, research centers, conversations with survivors, conversations with experts, and so forth. And the history is more horrific that you can possibly imagine. Even when you think you understand what happened back then, you uncover more darkness, more evil. My wife and kids could see the effect it was having on me. I could see it, as well.

I knew the story needed hope. Yes, the fact that men escape from this unimaginably cruel extermination camp provides hope. They live. They survive. They tell others. Absolutely. But it wasn’t enough. For me, as an evangelical Christian with Jewish roots on my father’s side, I wanted to find out if any Christians did the right thing to help the Jews. Intellectually, I knew the answer was yes, there were Christians who had done the right thing. But I also knew that far too many people who said they loved Jesus refused to obey Him, refused to love their neighbors during the darkest period in the history of the Jewish people. Some were too scared. Some lost their faith. Some never had any faith at all, they were just giving lip service to the Gospel. It breaks my heart, but tragically it is true. Far too many so-called “Christians” failed the Jewish people when they needed us most.

That’s when I stumbled upon the story of Le Chambon and the pastors of this little Protestant village in France who risked their lives to save thousands of Jews fleeing from Hitler and the Nazis. The more I read, the more I knew this was the story of hope I needed to weave into the novel. And I think it’s the combination of the two stories – the story of a German Jewish teenage boy whose family is nearly wiped out and is sent to Auschwitz, and that a young Frenchman who is a husband and a father and an assistant pastor in Le Chambon, both fictional, but both inspired by true stories – it’s the fusion, the combination of these two story lines, that makes The Auschwitz Escape storyline work for me.

Soon, I got fascinated in who these young men were, how they get sent to Auschwitz, how they met, how different they are, and how they get involved in these escapes. This is what gave me hope, even excitement, if I can use that term, to write every day – trying to understand them and going on this hero’s journey with them both not entirely knowing how the story would wind up when I began.

In addition to going to Auschwitz, and reading everything I could get my hands on, I also traveled to Israel and visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum and research center. They were very gracious and allowed me to come twice, meet with several of their scholars, ask them many questions, tour their facilities, and try to make sure my work of historical fiction was as accurate as I could possibly make it. Several of the scholars actually knew some of the men who had escaped, had interviewed them, had long discussions with them, and their insights were so helpful.

They also took me down into their vaults and showed me copies of “The Auschwitz Protocol,” the document that was compiled by eyewitness accounts from Rudolf Vrba, Alfred (Fred) Wetzler, Arnost Rosin, and Czeslaw Mordowicz, the four Jewish heroes who risked their lives to tell the world the truth about what the Nazis were really up to. Too few people know these four men’s names, but I hope that will change. The Yad Vashem scholars helped me better understand who they were, and what they wrote, and I hope you take time to understand them, too. It was absolutely fascinating, and I’m deeply grateful for their help.

The novel releases nationwide today. I look forward to your comments — which you can post on our “Epicenter Team” page on Facebook — and your questions!

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Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

EXCLUSIVE: Possible ties to Healthcare.gov, Belorussian firm discovered on software development sites

A week ago, Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon reported that U.S. intelligence officials had uncovered evidence that the troubled Healthcare.gov site was developed, in part, by a firm based in Belarus.

U.S. intelligence agencies last week urged the Obama administration to check its new healthcare network for malicious software after learning that developers linked to the Belarus government helped produce the website, raising fresh concerns that private data posted by millions of Americans will be compromised.

The firm, called EPAM, has offices around the world, but is headquartered in Belarus.

Officials disclosed the software compromise last week after the discovery in early January of statements by Belarusian official Valery Tsepkalo, director of the government-backed High-Technology Park (HTP) in Minsk.

Tsepkalo told a Russian radio station in an interview broadcast last summer that HHS is “one of our clients,” and that “we are helping Obama complete his insurance reform.”

“Our programmers wrote the program that appears on the monitors in all hospitals and all insurance companies—they will see the full profile of the given patient,” Tsepkalo said June 25 on Voice of Russia Radio.

A week later, the intelligence report had been “recalled” and the Obama administration issued denials that a Belarusian firm had been involved in development of the website.

The recall of the intelligence report, which was produced by the CIA-based Open Source Center, has raised questions about the politicization of intelligence—the suppression or skewing of intelligence to conform to policy prescriptions.

DNI spokesman Shawn Turner, in a statement, denied that the withdrawal of the report was based on political motives… Turner said the Open Source Center circulated its report on Obamacare software Jan. 29 under the title “United States’ Affordable Care Act Software – Cyber Attack Target.” … According to Turner, the report was not reviewed by intelligence experts and did not meet “tradecraft standards,” including certain pre-publication reviews.

HHS, its Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that helped set up the system, and CGI Federal so far have declined to provide details on [all of the] contractors involved in Healthcare.gov.

…The fears of cyber attack are compounded by the anti-U.S. stance of the Minsk government and an incident in February 2013 when large amounts of U.S. Internet data were hijacked and rerouted to Belarus where it was sifted for intelligence.

For those who speak Russian, you can find the complete 40-minute interview with Mr. Tsepkalo here. During the interview, Mr. Tsepkalo proudly names the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a key customer, adding he’s helping Obama to reform American healthcare.

Answering the interviewer’s question, he further adds, the money is very, very good (while smirking). At around 16:00, Mr. Tsepkalo also names some of his other U.S. customers. Among them are CitiBank and a new customer for him, NYSE.

So, let’s summarize what we have learned. CGI Federal had allegedly subcontracted part of the software development to a Belorussian company called EPAM, which is a part of Belorussian High Technology Park, which is run by Lukashenko’s advisor and former Belorussian Ambassador to the United States, Tsepkalo.

Is there any independent confirmation of ties between EPAM and HHS?

Possibly. Around the time that Healthcare.gov was being unveiled a software developer, who attempted to keep his name hidden, asked a series of technical questions on a popular software site called StackOverflow. Using the alias “gstackoverflow2”, the developer visited a variety of such sites and posted questions regarding testing procedures for a Java framework.

Coincidence 1. The software deployment mentioned in the questions specifies both EPAM and HHS:

Coincidence 2. Though the user asks questions in — and much of the code is written in — English, the user’s real name may have been inadvertently exposed in the files he uploaded to ask questions.

Nikolay Tkachev appears to be the name of someone of Ukrainian or Belorussian descent.

Coincidence 3. The timing of the questions corresponds to a great deal of rushed work before, during and after the horrific launch of Healthcare.gov.

To be fair to EPAM, it has officially denied any involvement with HHS, despite the claims in Belarus.

EPAM Systems, Inc., releases an official statement, that contrary to recent online blog posts issued by various outlets, EPAM has never been involved in software development for the Healthcare.gov website or any Affordable Care Act related engagements. Any claims to the contrary are completely false.

However, that statement came before these particular leads were uncovered.

Therefore, I will formally submit the following questions to EPAM and HHS:

1. Did someone named “Nikolay Tkachev” and/or someone employing the alias gstackoverflow2 on the aforementioned websites ever work for EPAM?

2. If so, did the individual(s) work on any software for the Department of Health and Human Services, state exchanges, or other systems or platforms related to Obamacare?

3. If not, what do the modules marked epam.hhs represent? Who is the customer?

I’ll be sending these to EPAM for their review and will let you know what I hear.

Doug Ross @ Journal