For Jack’s Amazon Central Author’s page, go to: https://www.amazon.com/Jack-A-Saarela/e/B07C9JYQV9?ref_=pe_1724030_132998060
A novel of uncommon heroism in a dark time:
By Jack A Saarela
Published by Can’t Put It Down Books, Yardley, PA
Felix Kersten and Algot Niska each had his own reason for being an expatriate Finn in Germany as the light was beginning to be diminished in the 1930s. The Nazis were solidifying Europe.
Felix was “recruited” to serve as the personal masseur for the head of the feared and hated para-military Schutzstaffel, better known as the SS, Heinrich Himmler.
Algot was doing what he knew best: smuggling. In this case, smuggling the valuables of wealthy Jews of wealthy Jews out of Germany beyond the acquisitive hands of the Nazis.
By an accident of history, each proceeded to use his strategic position and unique skills to perform acts of uncommon heroism: saving the lives of hundreds of Jews from Nazi persecution and violence, and eventually death in the concentration camps and gas chambers.
The author interweaves actual history and events in the lives of Kersten and Niska with imaginative fiction to create a well-researched and fascinating novel in the inspiring tradition of Schindler’s List and The Zookeeper’s Wife.
April 18, 2018 was like Christmas morning at the author’s home when UPS knocked and delivered boxes of Accidental Saints to be displayed and hopefully sold at the BOOK LAUNCH on SUNDAY, MAY 6 at ST. JOHN’S LUTHERAN CHURCH in Melrose Park, PA from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
May 6 was a milestone for me and my second novel, Accidental Saviors. Friends, people from the neighborhood and friends of friends gathered at St. John’s Lutheran Church to welcome Accidental Saviors into the world.
My son Luke made sure every guest was welcomed
and offered the opportunity to be among the first
to own a signed copy.
St. John’s hostess extraordinaire
Barb Lawson prepared and served delicious
refreshments for a Sunday afternoon…
I was proud to introduce my editor/publisher
Karen Hodges Miller to the gatheredfolks.
Would there be an Accidental Saviors
without her expert guidance and encouragement?
Lector Cindy Raff read aloud the first
chapter. I didn’t realize how suspenseful
beginning to the novel I had written
until I heard Cindy’s dramatic reading of it.
Seldom at a loss for words, I
explained how my primary aim
in writing Accidental Saviors
was to inspire readers to acts of goodness.
The animals in the background applauded.
I hope Accidental Saviors provides hours of fascinating reading and sparks deep conversations like this one.
One of my least favorite natural phenomena of the year is the darkness that begins to shorten the day each fall, particularly in the months of November and December. The sun begins to set before 5:00 pm and usher in the long evening.
I should be used to it, and like it. After all, I was born and lived the first six years of my life in Finland at a latitude closer to the north pole than Fairbanks, Alaska. But I can’t remember back that far to evaluate how it felt to enjoy only about 4 hours of daylight in the winter.
Those of us who are Christians just celebrated Christmas, the festival of light, when we confess that Christ is the Light of the World that shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it (St. John 2:5). The holy season doesn’t end in the liturgical calendar until Epiphany, January 6, the twelfth night.But, the decorative Christmas lights in our neighborhood are coming down this week house by house.
In all the major religions, darkness is interpreted as a negative thing: the symbol of evil, ignorance, grief, depression, fear and death. At our church, we offered a “Longest Night” service in mid-December specifically for people who are experiencing “dark times” in our life. (The readings we heard acknowledged the presence of darkness in our lives, but also pointed worshipers to light and reassurance so that they would leave the church that evening (into a dark parking lot) with hope for healing and encouragement.)
A classmate at Yale Divinity School, Barbara Brown Taylor, recently wrote, Learning to Walk in the Light. She writes, “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light.” The book is an apologia for darkness against one of her religious pet peeves: “full solar theology” by which adherents, in every religious system but particularly among evangelical Christians) who can discern God in light and spiritual highs alone. Instead, she encourages us to “embrace the darkness”.
Instead of thinking only of “darkness of the tomb”, she would have us consider the darkness of the womb”.
Personally, I have experienced the last two years as a particularly dark time in American political life. (Lest we Canadians consider our nation exempt, last year’s election in Ontario, when the Trump-wannabe Doug Ford was elected in a virtual landslide was, I think, a descent of my home province into the political darkness.)
The current administration in my adopted country has passed legislation or, more often, issued Presidential executive orders, the aim of which is to diminish if not extinguish altogether the light and intelligent, informed progress of the decade preceding 2016. Primary among the “deeds of darkness” is to roll back environmental regulations—after declaring in the darkness of ignorance that global climate change is a “hoax” and not supported by scientific evidence. Under the current leadership, permission has been given for increasingly open, unapologetic racist and misogynistic comments in public. The National Rifle Association continues to have its claws dug deep into politicians so that even the most common-sense gun control proposals don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being taken seriously, much less passed into law. Dark, indeed, and there’s a very real prospect of six more years of the same!
However, following my seminary classmate’s recommendation, we can look at the darkness a little more closely and, in an unorthodox manner, see it potentially as a womb and find new life in it. While the pace of school shootings has been rising dramatically for example, there are signs of new life and hope in the committed political leadership of the engaged and courageous student survivors of the Valentine Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They stand firm in their insistence the current darkness be resisted. Impressively, their savvy organizing and eloquence convinced the then-governor of Florida, one of the most conservative states on the east coast, to promote legislation to raise the minimum age for gun ownership and other common-sense gun control provisions. Remarkably, they even called on President Trump in the White House for a so-called “listening session”. Unfortunately, even after the students’ urgent pleas for significant change, Trump suggested arming a certain number of trained teachers in each school in the nation. He wasn’t really listening at all.
For a precious while, in the dark “womb”, there was a shaft of unexpected light in the darkness and a sense of hope for the first time in a long time.
After my previous two blog posts about my health condition, readers have been asking for an update.
An MRI confirmed my own suspicion that I had suffered one or more minor strokes in the past two years. It clearly shows the death of some brain cells caused by “small vessel disease”, the atherosclerosis or “hardening” of the walls of the small capillaries that carry blood within the brain from the large arteries. Those particular brain cells are, to put it in Charles Dickens’ words, “as dead as a doornail”, and they won’t be resurrected on this side of the grave. Predictably, high blood pressure and elevated counts of bad cholesterol are the culprits. I’ve been treated pharmaceutically for those two conditions for over 25 years, but you can’t fight heredity. Both of my parents died in their mid-sixties of causes related to high blood pressure and cholesterol.
The neurologist said that physical therapy can train the synapses in the brain to blaze new neural pathways that bypass the now-defunct areas of the brain. Says friend and reader, Dr. William Price of Orangeville, ON, “The brain has a remarkable capacity to heal and correct itself.” Thanks for the support, Bill.
Nonetheless, he said that I need to expect some decline in cognition and memory. To think that, some of my fellow high school mates used to call me one of the “brains” of the class.
I am also being treated for a condition called “occasional involuntary leg movement”, which mistakenly I had been calling “restless leg syndrome”. I can’t sit for very long before my left leg begins to want to kick someone or at least move, often violently. It’s become an obstacle to falling and staying asleep.
Likewise, sometimes at night, my arms follow suit and flail about as though I were fighting monsters in my dreams. That explains why on some mornings, I find the bedside lamp or glass of water on the floor beside the bed with no memory of how that happened.
Thankfully, I can still work on novel Number Three (Love Out of Reach) and this blog standing up at the computer.
Thanks for reading and inquiring about my health. I sign off with hopes that your health is good and your start to the new year has been a happy one. Until the next post, life this day and the next ones gratefully and mindfully.
He woke up with a start yet again, sweat dampening his hair and rolling slowly down between his nightshirt and his back. This was at least the second time that his sleep had been born, was interrupted by the voice. As it was, he hadn’t had a full night’s sleep since the child had been born. The first time the voice spoke, it assured him that his betrothed had indeed been telling the truth when she claimed that she had not had relations with another man. Rather, her being pregnant was some kind of mystery, she had said, the being in her womb conceived by the Holy Spirit. “Do not be afraid to take her as your wife,” the voice in the dream had instructed him.
Now, this night the voice reverberated into his dream once again. “Get up, Joseph, and take the child and the mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I give the next directive. For King Herod’s jealousy and thirst for blood are getting the better of him and putting all the children of Bethlehem in mortal danger.”
Joseph had trusted the voice after the first dream and learned to trust his bride. So, he did as instructed: gathered up a few things for an overland trip over rock and sand to Egypt; told his wife to pack lightly but grab enough diapers for the baby; lifted her and the child she was holding onto the back of a donkey; and set out before daybreak in a southwesterly direction, being sure to steer clear of Jerusalem.
The days under a cloudless sky were blistering hot, and the nights were cold. One anxious day after another; one arduous mile after the one before it. Gaza and Sinai were completely unexplored territory for them.
Did the voice really say, Egypt? Joseph’s people had found refuge there before, and relief from their famine. But wasn’t Egypt the place from where God delivered them under Moses and shaped the bickering slave tribes into one people in the first place? Wasn’t Egypt a place from which to escape?
Joseph’s heart beat faster as the green of the Nile delta came into his view on the horizon, a fresh, luscious shade of green he had never beheld before.
The closer they approached Egypt, the question preoccupying him became more urgent. How would the border patrol designated to protect the integrity of Egypt’s borders treat him, his wife and their little child? Would they be allowed to enter Egypt?
At the station by the stone wall that marked the frontier of the formerly great empire of the dynasties, however, the border patrol agents were not Egyptians at all. Rather, they were decked out in what looked like Roman uniforms, just like those of their oppressors back in Judea. Joseph’s heart sank and his hope evaporated, though he hoped that Mary couldn’t see the despondent look on his face in the dark.
“Well, lookee here,” a gruff-looking soldier said to his partner. “Looks like another harried Jew doesn’t it, Quintus? And a Jewess far too young, not to mention too beautiful, for this old geezer, wouldn’t you say? And to add to it all, a child, an eighteen-month-old, wouldn’t you say, or maybe a two-year-old? Too small a baby for this dried up old Jew to be the father.”
“It seems they’re just more of the poor wretches unable to feed themselves in Herod’s province, coming here expecting handouts from Gaius Turranius. If this keeps up, the country will be overrun with these undesirables.”
“I’d say, let the old man through. The Hebs used to be good brickmakers once. But keep the broad here for a while. I’d like to inspect her a little more closely, if you catch my drift,” he said with a malevolent chuckle. “And take the baby to the tender-age tent.”
Looking at the befuddled Joseph, Quintus asked if he understood what his partner had just said. Joseph didn’t speak a word of Latin, though he’d learned the few words and phrases of Greek that he needed to get commissions for carpentry work from the nobility back in Judea.
“No understand,” he answered Quintus in the most elemental Greek.
Quintus had learned a modicum of Aramaic when he was posted in northeastern Syria province. He explained to Joseph that he was free to proceed into Egypt, but that his wife would be delayed indefinitely, and the child would be taken care of according to the highest childcare standards of the Roman Empire. “If not better than most Egyptian children, in fact.”
Joseph motioned immediately to his wife to take the baby back into her arms and mount the donkey again. He took the reins of the animal and led it back in an easterly direction, back towards Judea, to the delight and caustic laughter of Quintus and his gruff partner.
They wandered the Sinai wilderness. It was forty days before the voice visited Joseph again in a dream. “That mighty tyrant Herod is dead. Return to your people…but not to Bethlehem, for his equally criminal son Archelaus rules over Judea now. Go instead back to Nazareth in Galilee where I first spoke to you in a dream.”
Postscript: I almost didn’t post this at all. I wrote it on the morning of June 20. Then I learned later in the day that President Trump had signed an executive order that would end the practice of separating children, and even babies, from their parents who have entered the United States without proper documentation. That, of course, is good news, especially since only last week, he had said that he did not authority to stop the practice by executive order. It seems someone gave him a civics lesson in the meantime.
Interestingly, however, he didn’t mention an end date for the inhumane current practice. There’s also still the Gordian knot of how to reunite the over 2,400 children who have been taken to facilities separate from their detained parents. Some parents have already been deported while their children remain in the United States.
Besides, though the actual letter of the policy is changed by Trump’s executive order, the nasty spirit of the current administration’s “zero tolerance” treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers remains in place.
I don’t pretend to know the ultimate answer to the matter of millions seeking refuge in the United States (and Canada, too). But, I wonder if there’s a third path that travels somewhere between “zero tolerance” and “open door”. One thing I do know, however, is if we were to continue to treat so heartlessly the “least” of God’s little ones from places like Mexico, El Salvador, or Guatemala, we will be doing the same to Christ himself (Matthew 25:45)
Until the Spirit moves to inspire me to a new post, live this day and the next to their fullest.” JAS
Welcome to Jack’s Word Press Site. I’m glad you found me. I lost the site a few times myself when designing it. But magically it appeared again on my screen one day.Most of you who have looked up this website know me already. Those who found it on a search engine or by word of mouth, allow me to introduce myself.
I am a sexagenarian rapidly approaching the status of a septuagenarian, much too fast, it seems to me. In June 2015, I retired after over 40 years as a Lutheran pastor in Canada and the United States.
I have been married since Richard M. Nixon occupied the Oval Office and two years before he relinquished the office in disgrace. My wife Diane is a Pennsylvanian by birth (Lancaster). I, on the other hand, am living in my third country: born in Finland; raised in Canada since age 6; and a resident of the United States since 1981. I imagine that my multinational identity will play a part in more than one future blog post.
We are proud parents of two adult sons: Luke, 39, who lives with us in Wyncote, PA; and Jesse, 35, who stayed put in Gainesville, FL when we relocated to the Philadelphia area in 2002 for the sake of a new ministry challenge for me.
I am a Canadian citizen, but cheer for the Finnish ice hockey teams in international tournaments, even if Canada is the opponent.
Since retirement, my self-identity has transfigured from thinking of myself primarily as a clergyman, to thinking as a novelist. Instead of looking out at the world and finding sermon material, now I find ideas for future novels. I’d always wanted to write one since I studied English literature at the University of Toronto. So, I did. In October of last year, my immigration novel Beginning Again a Zerowas published at Lulu Press (http://www.lulu.com/shop/jack-saarela/beginning-again-at-zero/paperback/product-22899604.html).
I’m engrossed in writing a second one now. It will be more complex and expansive the first – and therefore trickier to write, but hopefully not trickier to read: Accidental Saviors, to be published in April 2018 by Can’t Put It Down Books, an imprint of Open Door Publications. You’ll be hearing more about that book on the website.
“My family immigrated to Canada from Finland in 1951. My wife’s grandmother immigrated to Canada from Finland in 1911. We stayed in a boarding house on Huron Street for 2 months when we arrived in Toronto. We attended church in a house in Toronto. We bathed in the same Sauna on Lake Wilcox in the early 1960’s. Reading “Beginning Again at Zero” brought a flood of memories and emotions, that anyone from that time period, or immigrating under similar circumstances, would feel: The childhood memories; Your first love; The homesickness; The loyalty to your Homeland; The excitement and enthusiasm of new beginnings.” – Pentti, Kincardine, ON
“Jack Saarela’s story of a Finnish immigrant in Canada is timeless and relevant. It is set against the background of the tense relationship between Finland and Russia and immigration restrictions in Canada on the cusp of World War II, but it resonates with the experiences of contemporary immigrants seeking to begin a new life in North America as they navigate a new culture, a new language, and the hardships they left behind.” – Linnea, Elkins Park, PA
Reviews of Accidental Saviors (2018):
Making a way out of no way
“Harsh and desperate times call for people of strong character to take a stand using whatever clever measures can be imagined to overcome adversity. Sometimes inertia is not an option. Sometimes taking a sacrificial risk is worth the effort.
Reading this book encouraged me to think about what it takes to make a difference. As the story unfolds, the characters are put to the test. It seems impossible to pull it off. The tension builds, plans are put in motion, and the outcomes are uncertain.
With plenty of drama, vivid details, and engaging characters, this historical novel explores the dynamics of various human—as well as inhumane—interactions during the 1940s in Hitler’s Germany and surrounding regions of occupation. I found the book to be an intriguing reading experience, making me wonder all along the way: “What will happen next?” I had no idea these heroes of Finnish descent could rival the courage of Corrie ten Boom’s experiences as described in her extraordinary book The Hiding Place.” – Vivian, Scotch Plains, NJ
“This is a novel about the second world war with two Finish characters, Algot Niska & Felix Kersten as the heroes of the story and a villainous anti-hero Heinrich Himmler. During the course of the war, we meet our hero Felix Kersten a massage therapist who has a gift for relieving the pain Himmler the SS hatchet man of Hitler.
It is in these unusual circumstances of healing, Himmler that Kersten forms a relationship with this powerful Nazi and begins to convince him to release Jewish prisoners. It is a strange pairing of like and dislike that holds these two people together. Of course, in the end Kersten saves many Jewish lives and perhaps change the fate of thousands of other Jews who might have been blown up had Himmler followed Hitler’s directives.
The other character is Algot Niska who is a former convicted Finish smuggler and he accidentally meets a young Jewish girl. Niska has a sympathy for helping various Jews escape Germany. He is a man who has seen terrible things in Nazis Germany and therefore manages to help smuggle Jewish people out of Germany.
The story is written extremely well and reads like a screenplay. It would be very easy to imagine it as a movie or a play for the stage also. The storyline action is fast and suspense is present. I found it a quick read and very hard to put down. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found the characters very believable. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in historical fiction and the World War 2 period. The characters a bit black and white but given the subject matter it is to be expected. I recommend this second novel by Finnish born author Jack Saarela.” – Marietta, Toronto, ON
“In Accidental Saviors, Jack Saarela has woven a series of facts and real-life people into a compelling tale of historical fiction that pays tribute to two little-known heroes who stepped forward when the Nazi dealers of death ruled Europe. Many people today owe their lives to the life-saving efforts of Felix Kersten and Algot Niska, whom history seems to have forgotten. This thrilling book brings their dangerous struggles and life-saving successes out into the open.” – Marty, Dresher, PA