By Deb Silverthorn
Jan Eliasberg’s “Hannah’s War,” a post–World War II-era thriller, is the featured novel for two upcoming events sponsored by the Tycher Library of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas Center for Jewish Education.
In Berlin, in 1938, physicist Hannah Weiss is about to discover the splitting of the atom, but as she is a Jewish woman living under the Third Reich, her research is diminished by her German colleagues, who claim credit for her work. In 1945, Weiss, now in Los Alamos, New Mexico, becomes the prime target of Major Jack Delaney, who is investigating leaks to Hitler’s scientists.
“‘Hannah’s War’ is an exceptionally written and compelling story through which we all get a cursory physics education,” said Karen Schlosberg, Center for Jewish Education coordinator of projects and administration. “It’s science, it’s an unforgettable love story and it shares the empowerment due its lead.”
On March 8, physics professor Lindsay King, of the University of Texas at Dallas, will lead a virtual discussion of “Hannah’s War,” beginning at 10 a.m. for the Tycher Book Club.
“This book puts into context, regardless of Weiss’ brilliance, the bias and attitudes regarding women as scientists and the added backdrop of her Jewish heritage,” said King, who has a Ph.D. in astrophysics. “The science of the novel is not at all off-putting. Rather, it brings true context in a manner that those who haven’t studied science can appreciate.”
On March 21, the author will be interviewed online by the Texas Jewish Post’s Deb Silverthorn for the Tycher Spring Read, offered in association with the JCC’s Margot Rosenberg Pulitzer Dallas Jewish BookFest and Jewish Book Council. Schlosberg is working with the Aaron Family’s JCC’s Rachelle Weiss Crane and Adina Weinberg to host the Tycher Spring Read.
“Hannah’s War,” published at the start of the pandemic, has taken its author on an unorthodox tour to virtually share the story, the characters and the volume which took her more than 10 years to complete.
“Between the research, structuring and writing, it sometimes seemed like an endless quest but, once it was done and [sent] to my agent, things escalated quickly: There was even a bidding war,” said Eliasberg, now writing the screenplay of “Hannah’s War” and a companion book.
While researching another project, Eliasberg found an article published the day America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. What stood out to Eliasberg was that the key component that allowed the Allies to develop the bomb was brought to them by Lise Meitner, a female, Jewish physicist.
Eliasberg found that the credit for Meitner’s work, with fellow scientist Otto Hahn, in discovering the nuclear fission of uranium, went completely to Hahn when Meitner’s name was removed from published papers. Meitner’s story of spending years in an industry where women struggled to rise and receive recognition struck a deep chord with Eliasberg, who was inspired to tell the physicist’s story through her own vision.
“I was taught that nothing is impossible. I wasn’t strong in math or science in school, but I taught myself how to communicate and to teach others,” said Eliasberg. The author is the daughter of Ann Pringle Eliasberg and Jay Eliasberg, both of blessed memory, the sister of Kristin and Peter and mother of Sariel Friedman. “My family valued culture and education and I was a kid who lived to tell stories.”
Eliasberg, a New York City native, earned an undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University and MFA degrees from the Yale School of Drama in Directing and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers in Fiction. While her career spans decades of writing, directing and producing television and film, “Hannah’s War” is her debut novel.
“Early on I realized, as a woman, I’d be limited by what was offered to me and by producers’ ideas of what stories a woman can and should tell, so I decided to write for myself,” said Eliasberg, whose credits include television series “Bull,” “Criminal Minds,” “Parenthood,” “Nashville,” “Sisters” and “Supernatural.” She has written a number of screenplays featuring strong women, including the story of the W.A.S.P. — the Women Air Service Pilots — in World War II, which took her to Meitner’s story.
“I wrote ‘W.A.S.P.’ and ‘Hannah’s War’ in part to show my daughter and her peers that history is filled with remarkable women of towering achievement and deep humanism,” said the author. “We need only look beyond the authorized texts to see them.”
Information and registration for both events, which are virtual, free of charge and open to the community, is available by emailing email@example.com.