Posted Apr. 12, 2016 at 3:02 PM
YORK — At nearly 85, author, historian and longtime Maine political figure Neil Rolde shows literally no signs of slowing down. He is wrapping up the second in a trilogy of nonfiction books about the exodus of Jews to America and Israel during World War II. And he has just published his third novel, also set in WWII.
His research on the books can take him to Washington, D.C. or to New York City – “although only when it’s warm. This isn’t a good time of year to be in New York City” – and he’s traveled extensively in Europe as well.
“Every day I can, I write – sometimes many hours a day. And I walk a mile, sometimes two miles a day. I used to walk 3½ miles but those days are gone. Memory is a bit of a problem, as you might imagine. I occasionally have a difficult time remembering names and places, but they always do come back to me,” he said. Despite a cluttered office, he said, “I know where everything is and I know where I’m going in the book and what I need to do.”
Rolde is both a prolific writer, with 15 books to his credit, and a longtime Democratic Party advisor. A former Maine Speaker of the House, he has also run campaigns at the local and state level for various candidates over the years. He began writing books more than 40 years ago, many of them concerning Maine’s history. A few of his earliest books are about York’s past.
His most recent book, the novel “Crimes of War,” is one he said he’s been trying to write since he was in college and learned about the German SS massacre of the entire population of the French town Oradour-sur-Glane during World War II.
The Germans had enlisted a group of Alsatians into the SS, claiming the Alsace region of France as part of Germany. These Alsatians were among those who exterminated the people in Oradour-sur-Glane.
“There was a huge trial in 1953, and Look magazine devoted a big spread to it,” he said. “The question is, were the Alsace soldiers forced to do it? The idea of people being forced to commit an atrocity and then being held responsible is what caught my attention.”
He said he tried writing a novel about this story several times over the years, “but it was very, very difficult. ‘Crimes of War’ is the fourth version. But I kept coming back to it and I finally figured out the right way to write it.”
He created a fictionalized town and set of circumstances that generally follow the series of events leading up to the massacre. The protagonist is based on a real person – a doctor who refused to pick out hostages to be killed and said he chose to be killed instead.
Rolde said he’s happy with the book, which was just released this week and is available on Amazon. Now he’s returned to his trilogy on Jewish refuges and is putting the finishing touches on the second book. The final book, still to be written, will chronicle the illegal immigration of Jews to what would become Israel – territory then governed by the British – in the years after World War II.
He said he’s looking forward to tackling that book, “that is, if I live that long,” he said with a smile.