Research: A Mainstay of Historical Fiction

Jerry AmernicJerry Amernic is a Toronto writer who has been a newspaper reporter and correspondent, newspaper columnist, feature writer for magazines, teacher of journalism, and media consultant. His first book Victims: The Orphans of Justice was a true story about a former police officer whose eldest daughter was murdered and who became a leading advocate for crime victims. This resulted in Jerry’s column about the justice system for The Toronto Sun. More recently Jerry co-authored Duty – The Life of a Cop with Julian Fantino, the highest-profile police officer Canada has ever produced and now a member of the Canadian Cabinet. In fiction, Jerry’s first novel Gift of the Bambino was praised by The Wall Street Journal in the U.S., The Globe and Mail in Canada, and others. His latest novel is the historical thriller The Last Witness. Just released is the biblical-historical thriller Qumran.

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My first job as a writer was that of a newspaper reporter. I would cover the local municipal council and its long-past-midnight meetings, then scurry back to the newsroom in the morning to write up to 20 stories before deadline. It was a good lesson in how to discipline yourself and write quickly. Another important lesson I got from being a reporter was research. Research is key to any writer, and for one who is into historical fiction, it is essential.

The Last Witness is a book that crosses genres. The last living survivor of the Holocaust in the year 2039 might sound like sci-fi or fantasy – a literary agent once told me that if I’m writing about the future it has to be sci-fi – but it isn’t. Not even close. It’s a realistic portrayal of a 100-year-old man, the last survivor of the Holocaust, caught in a near-future world where knowledge of the past is pathetic.

Yes, I did seek out a techie expert who could tell me things about life one generation down the road … like self-starting cars and palm readers that open doors for you … but aside from that, my research concerned past historical events.

The Last Witness has flashbacks with my main character living as a hidden child in the Jewish ghetto of Lodz in Poland. He was born in 1939 – not a good year to be born a Jew in Europe. The Nazis had already occupied the country, so the little boy in my story had to be hidden, as many Jewish children were in the ghetto. I read everything I could find about life in the ghetto to make it realistic for my reader; I wanted to put the reader right inside that crowded collection of streets where people had to live like rats. I also sought out real-life, former child survivors – some who had lived in Jewish ghettos – to learn even more.

Other flashbacks focus on the boy and his family being transported to Auschwitz, and for that I also immersed myself in research. One chapter is about the family’s arrival by train – cattle car actually – to the death camp, followed by the ever-present selection. Another focuses on daily life in the camp, and keep in mind it’s life for a little boy of four who has lost his family. Yet another is his encounter with the notorious Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele who performed brutal experiments on children.

Alongside these flashbacks is the near-future story with the old man’s role in a missing-person investigation – a police investigation – involving his great-granddaughter. A schoolteacher. A schoolteacher who teaches her students about historical events like the Holocaust and must fight the authorities for doing so.

It’s a thriller. It’s historical. And it’s a warning about life down the road if we neglect to teach history to the young. And we are neglecting that today. If you don’t believe me, check out my video in which I interviewed university students in Toronto, and asked them questions about the Holocaust and World War II. This was probably the most important research I did for the book and it took place after it was finished. But it did validate the point of my story. Here is a link to the video …


The Last Witness


Title: The Last Witness
Author: Jerry Amernic
Publisher: Story Merchant Books
Publication Date: October 29, 2014
Genre: Historical Thriller



The year is 2039, and Jack Fisher is the last living survivor of the
Holocaust. Set in a world that is abysmally complacent about
events of the last century, Jack is a 100-year-old man whose worst
memories took place before he was 5. His story hearkens back to
the Jewish ghetto of his birth and to Auschwitz where, as a little
boy, he had to fend for himself to survive after losing his family.
Jack becomes the central figure in a missing-person investigation
when his granddaughter suddenly disappears. While assisting
police, he finds himself in danger and must reach into the
darkest corners of his memory to come out alive.


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