Part of the unique tragedy of the Holocaust was its victims’ powerlessness to resist or escape. While there are examples of Jewish resistance, as at the Warsaw Ghetto, or the revolts at Sobibor and Treblinka, even these courageous actions mostly achieved only moral victory, as most participants still met a terrible fate. Israel, and its formidable military, stands in stark contrast to the situation of European Jews in World War II, a fact symbolized several years ago when Israeli F-15 fighters flew over the ruins of Auschwitz. The message was clear—never again—but the display also prompted in many people another thought, or a wish—what if?
Now that wish has been answered in part, at least fictionally, with a brilliant new novel called Upfall. The title is a play on the Jewish concepts of ascension and collapse and the action is between the killers of the Nazi SS and…modern Israeli commandos. A time travel novel with intense action and satisfying themes of discovery and revenge, Upfall looses a contemporary twelve man sayeret into 1942 Poland. Mayhem ensues.
The novel opens with the elite sayeret striking an Iranian nuclear facility through the use of “the device” a transportation machine that allows the commandos to displace themselves from Dimona to Natanz. But what travels in space also travels in time and before long, thanks to the machinations of “the device’s” slightly demented inventor, the commandos find themselves astride the rail line to Sobibor, with a transport of Jews approaching.
But Upfall is more than a commando versus Nazi shoot-em-up, though there is plenty of action throughout. Its author approaches the situation thoughtfully and always with the application of realism to an otherwise fantastical situation. The disoriented and confused commandos, who represent a cross-section of modern Israeli society, don’t necessarily jump immediately to the task. We see and understand their hesitations and concerns throughout the novel, as they try to balance duty and honor with the inherent weirdness and uncertainty of being out of their own timeline.
Both aficionados of World War II and modern combat will appreciate Upfall’s verisimilitude. The German side is represented by historical personalities, from Reinhard Heydrich and the commanders of the death camps, to Waffen SS units that rush into Poland to hunt down and destroy the sayeret. The combat is also authentic and intense, as Tavor armed Israelis take on crack German troops with MP 40s and half-tracks.
Time travel is inherently messy, and so not everything goes the way of the good guys. This is all to the better for readers, as Upfall generates real tension, pathos, and heroism as the sayeret is chased across Poland wrecking death camps along the way, and exacting a sweet if sometimes costly revenge on some of history’s greatest villains. A satisfying combination of historical military adventure and science fiction, Upfall will keep you turning pages to the very end. The concise and fascinating historical note at the end is alone worth the price of admission. What if those F-15s had gone after the Nazis? Now you sort of know.