This novel traces the progression of the Nazi war machine from its onset to the Holocaust’s devastating conclusion through the thoughts and experiences of the central character, Jacob Silverman, a seventeen year-old aspiring musician and law student from Salzburg, Austria. Jacob is the only son of a prominent local doctor, Moshe Silverman, and his kind but troubled wife, Hanna. Rachel Goldberg is the love of Jacob’s life and the daughter of Ariel, another respected physician in Salzburg and a close friend and colleague of Jacob’s father. Through Jacob and Rachel’s bond the families become further connected and their destinies intertwined.
Long before Hitler’s army puts its plans for the annihilation of the Jewish people into motion, Jacob has a horrific dream so vivid that he is convinced it must be a premonition warning him of the atrocities to come. From isolation to starvation and torture, Jacob bears witness as the Nazis systematically dehumanize the Jewish race, bringing their brazen plot for extermination ever closer to reality. Jacob’s feelings of powerlessness are often interrupted by thoughts of rebellion and escape and the possibility that God has a greater plan for him, a destiny bound to leadership and the survival of Judaism.
Mixed among the detailed descriptions of the surreal atrocities inflicted upon the Jews of Europe is a tender coming of age tale. Jacob and Rachel’s love flourishes amid the ghettos and concentration camps where they are forced to reside. While their emotional strength and devotion is to be commended, the revealed details of their relationship often feel misplaced and inappropriate set against the backdrop of destitute labor and death camps. The inner thoughts of individual characters revealed regularly throughout the book are also distracting as the dialogue has a tendency to be redundant and unrealistic under the circumstances.
This book shows the critical roles that love, determination, and steadfast belief play toward battling one’s demons both physically and mentally. While at times difficult to digest, Jacob’s Courage is ultimately a tribute to the triumphant human spirit.