Ear­li­er this week, Charles Belfoure wrote about the mate­r­i­al he cut from his nov­el, The Paris Archi­tect (Source­books Land­mark). He has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

When­ev­er I tell any­one that moth­er was in a Ger­man labor camp dur­ing World War II, they assume she was Jew­ish and in a con­cen­tra­tion camp. I then explain that the Third Reich need­ed labor to pro­duce war materiel and that mil­lions of non-Jew­ish sub­jects of the coun­ties they con­quered were often forced into work­ing in these camps. Although con­cen­tra­tion camp inmates worked, the sur­vival rate for labor camp work­ers was far greater. The Nazis work phi­los­o­phy was that you either worked for the Reich or die.

My moth­er, a Catholic, was fif­teen and liv­ing in Krakow when the Ger­mans invad­ed in Sep­tem­ber of 1939. About two years lat­er, she was put into a labor camp in Ger­many. She worked in a fac­to­ry that made chew­ing tobac­co. I thought this was an odd prod­uct for wartime; I asso­ci­at­ed chew­ing tobac­co with hill­bil­lies in the Appalachi­ans and the Ozarks. But I dis­cov­ered that sol­diers (Ger­man or Allied) can’t smoke all the time in the field. A lit match at night or a wisp of smoke could give away a platoon’s posi­tion result­ing in their destruc­tion. The chew­ing tobac­co sat­is­fies the crav­ing for nicotine.

One day when she was work­ing, a civil­ian Ger­man super­vi­sor came up to her and said he had a job for her. Because she was flu­ent in Ger­man, he could arrange for her to be a trans­la­tor and house­keep­er. This was an act of pure kind­ness on his part; there was noth­ing in it for him.

My moth­er would go to work for a con­trac­tor who tun­neled out the Harz Moun­tains in Nord­hausen where the Nazis built the V‑2 rock­et, the world’s first bal­lis­tic mis­sile. Hid­den deep under the moun­tains, the man­u­fac­tur­ing facil­i­ties were pro­tect­ed from allied bomb­ing. The tun­nels had to be exca­vat­ed and shored up from tim­ber before they were lined with con­crete. Inmates of all nation­al­i­ties would go into the sur­round­ing forests to cut the tim­ber, while my moth­er act­ed as translator.

As a result of the German’s kind­ness, my moth­er lived in rel­a­tive com­fort with the con­trac­tor and his fam­i­ly while less than a kilo­me­ter away, most­ly Jew­ish inmates per­ished while pro­duc­ing the rock­ets. It was these acts of kind­ness I want­ed to include in my nov­el, The Paris Archi­tect. Out of the good­ness of their hearts, peo­ple step for­ward to help some­one. My moth­er nev­er saw the super­vi­sor again but always knew how incred­i­bly lucky she had been because of what this man did for her.

Charles Belfoure is the author of the debut nov­el The Paris Archi­tect (Source­books Land­mark), an Octo­ber Indie Next Pick and Nation­al Read­ing Group Month Selec­tion. An archi­tect by pro­fes­sion, he grad­u­at­ed from the Pratt Insti­tute and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty. His writ­ing has appeared in the The Bal­ti­more Sun and The New York Times. He lives in Maryland.

Charles Belfoure is The New York Times best­selling author of The Paris Archi­tect, a Jew­ish-inter­est book. A retired his­toric preser­va­tion archi­tect, he is a good-natured gen­tile who grew up with Jews in Bal­ti­more and will not bore peo­ple with a pre­ten­tious lit­er­ary pre­sen­ta­tion. They learn about their own his­to­ry, pogroms, and Faberge East­er Eggs.