Author Stephen Maitland-Lewis hopes his novel “Emeralds Never Fade” will put another personal face to the history of the Holocaust so that these “horrors are never repeated.”
His book, which he will be reading from at Queens College on April 21, chronicles the fictional lives of two boys living in Germany in the late ’20s. Leo Bergner is Jewish and Bruno Franzmann is not.
The two form a friendship before the war begins, with Franzmann teaching Bergner piano in exchange for math lessons.
In 1933 when the Nazis take over, Bergner’s parents lose their jobs and are taken to a camp. Franzmann is excluded from Hitler youth groups because of his clubbed foot and instead the boy takes a desk job for many years at a concentration camp.
The men go in very different directions. Franzmann escapes to Argentina, using blackmail to work his way to a top position at a high-powered Latin American bank.
But fate would have these two meet back up in 1970 at a bank conference in London, where Bergner recognizes the emerald around Franzmann’s wife’s neck as the stone his mother owned before her death.
“Growing up in London, born at the end of the Second World War, I was imbued at an early age— being Jewish — that the Holocaust was an extremely important aspect of one’s upbringing,” Maitland-Lewis said in a phone interview last Thursday.
Although he does not consider himself a Holocaust historian, he has always been interested in the history. About 6 million Jews were killed in the concentration camps, Maitland-Lewis said, but added that “when that number is bandied around, it’s so daunting that it starts losing its impact. When it’s two individuals, things are more clear and more personal.”
This is Maitland-Lewis’ second published novel. Before this he wrote nonfiction and short stories as well as articles for a business journal while he worked as an investment banker and jazz reviews as a teenager.
His love for jazz led to his teaming with Queens College. When Maitland-Lewis was 12 years old he sent a piece of fan mail to Louis Armstrong.
To his surprise the legendary saxophonist wrote back, starting a pen-pal relationship. The young music enthusiast even met Sachmo a few times when the musician visited London for concerts.
The letters continued until Armstrong’s death when Maitland-Lewis was 27 in 1971.
Later, the author was asked to serve as a trustee for the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, which the school operates. He travels from his home in LA for board meetings on the college’s campus.
When: Sunday, April 21, 4 to 5:30 p.m.; book signing 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Where: Queens College LeFrak Concert Hall, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing