Friday, July 26, 2019

Blog Tour Q&A: No Woman's Land by Ellie Midwood

Please join me in welcoming Ellie Midwood to Let Them Read Books! Ellie is touring the blogosphere with her newest historical novel, No Woman's Land, based on an amazing true story, and I recently had the chance to ask her a few questions about her inspiration and her research. Read on and enter to win a paperback copy of No Woman's Land!

“It was very dangerous for him, and he knew it. But his love for me was stronger than fear.” – Ilse Stein

This novel is based on the inspiring and moving love story of Ilse Stein, a German Jew, and Willy Schultz, a Luftwaffe Captain in the Minsk ghetto, who risked his life to save the one he loved the most.

When the last of the Jews’ rights are stripped in 1941, Ilse’s family is deported to a Minsk ghetto. Confined to a Sonderghetto and unable to speak the locals’ language, Ilse struggles to support the surviving members of her family. Befriended by a local underground member Rivka, Ilse partakes in small acts of resistance and sabotage to help her fellow Jews escape to the partisans.

A few months later, after losing almost his entire brigade of workers to one of the bloodiest massacres conducted by the SS, a local administrative officer Willy Schultz summons the survivors to form a new brigade. Ilse’s good looks immediately catch his eye, and he makes her a leader of the new unit and later, an office worker. Soon, an unlikely romance blossoms amid death and gore, moving a Nazi officer to go to great risks to protect not only Ilse but as many others as possible and allowing a Jewish girl to open her heart to the former enemy. Knowing that the ghetto would soon be liquidated, Willy Schultz swears to save Ilse, even if the cost would be his own life.

“We live together, or we die together,” – an ultimate oath of love in the most harrowing setting.

Dark, haunting, but full of hope, “No Woman’s Land” is a testament to the love that is stronger than fear and death itself.


Hi Ellie! Welcome to Let Them Read Books!

No Woman's Land is based on a true story. How did you first discover Ilse and Willy's story, and what inspired you to write about them? 

I first discovered their story while doing research for my other novel. As a matter of fact, I think it was an article about a documentary that was made about them in the 1990s (Ilse died soon after). Needless to say, I began searching for the said documentary and found it on Amazon (it’s called The Jewess and the Captain) and ever since I watched it, this incredible story wouldn’t let me sleep until I put it on paper.

Willy Schultz was a member of the Party, and even though he wasn’t a rabid anti-Semite like most of the SS members, he still was a Nazi after all. The fact that he not only fell in love with a Jewish girl from his brigade but later risked his life to save her and the other Jewish people from the ghetto was the most inspiring aspect (in my eyes at least); his very personality and views changed so drastically under Ilse’s gentle influence, it was almost unbelievable given the circumstances. That transformation of his, proved once again my personal belief that love will always win over hatred, if only we allow it into our hearts. I thought it was particularly important to remind people about it today, to inspire them to be kinder to each other, to choose love over hatred and prejudice, to care for the oppressed, and to stand up for what is right. Willy ended up defecting to the Soviet partisans together with Ilse, along with the people he managed to save, and I felt like such a story needed to be told today. That was my main inspiration.

What kind of research did you do to bring them to life as characters in your novel? 

I tried to stay as close to their real story as possible, only using creative license where no source was available to rely on. My main source was, of course, the documentary itself – what can be more reliable than the person who inspired my character telling her own story, right? Luckily for me, their story was also mentioned in B. Epstein’s study “The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943. Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism,” which also helped me immensely to piece together what was happening in the ghetto and between Ilse and Willy during that fateful year. To get all the historical details right (such as what the living conditions were like in the ghetto, what people ate, how the black market functioned, what the resistance movement was like within the ghetto walls, what kind of work the Jewish people were forced to do, etc.), I relied on survivors’ memoirs (We Remember Lest the World Forgets and H. Smolar’s memoir The Minsk Ghetto) and also historical and archival documents, which survived the war and are currently available to the public. This way I could not only present the history of the ghetto and the partisan movement, along with the general atmosphere of occupied Minsk as close to reality as possible, but could also get a glimpse into the antagonists’ minds – the dreaded SS. Some of the orders, issued by the high-ranking officers, survived the war and brought the atrocities, committed by the men in their charge, to life.

As a ghetto inhabitant, Ilse’s life was in constant danger, and I felt that it was important to tell her story without glossing anything over, with all the horror she had to witness. Also, bringing the SS antagonists into the story as active participants helped me better demonstrate the drastic contrast in the mindset of the killers and reluctant bureaucrats like Willy. It’s mostly by watching them and their atrocious actions that Willy realized what a terrible regime he was a part of and why he needed to do something to save at least some people from his compatriots.

What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of writing this novel? 

The most challenging aspect was perhaps the research (even though I love this part of the writing process!) just because I felt like I had to get literally every detail right, even down to the names of the officials who worked in the Kommisariat and the type of flag that flew off the Government Building (surprisingly, it was not the usual crimson banner with the swastika but the SS black one – good thing I double-checked it… hahaha!). That double and triple-checking and constantly consulting historical sources took a lot of time but I feel like it’s my obligation, as a historical fiction writer, to get as many details as I can right, no matter how insignificant. So, despite this part being the most challenging, I would never complain – research is extremely important!

The most rewarding aspect was, I guess, the way the novel was received by the readers. Every time a reader or a blogger posted a review in which they said how much they enjoyed the story or when they contacted me directly to talk to me about the characters, who touched them the same way they had touched me, I felt like I did something right. A happy reader is always the best reward to any author and I couldn’t be happier that readers seem to enjoy Ilse and Willy’s story just as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Do you have a favorite scene in the novel? 

I have several, but my most favorite one is where Willy stands up to the local SS official Bröger in order to save the workers under his charge. It was, perhaps, the first time he’d openly challenged an SS official, which was an extremely risky thing to do, but the fact that he finally began standing up for what is right signified just how much his personality and views had changed. The scene is based on a true occasion; real Willy Schultz indeed managed to save over two hundred people under his charge that day.

What are you working on now? 

Right now, I’m getting my newest manuscript, “Auschwitz Syndrome,” ready for my editor. It’s also a Holocaust novel based on a true story but this one is much darker than No Woman’s Land. It has two parallel timelines; one taking place in Auschwitz in 1942-1945, and another in a Denazification Court in 1947. It’s also much more psychological than No Woman’s Land since it’s told using the unreliable protagonist technique and the reader is not sure till the very end whether the main heroine, Helena, is giving an impartial testimony concerning one of the guards in Auschwitz or whether she’s suffering from the still-undiscovered Stockholm Syndrome, which distorts the manner in which she sees the events of the past. One of the points of view in the story is that of an American psychiatrist, and he sure faces quite a challenge since the psychological disorder, from which he suspects Helena suffers, has never been mentioned before in any textbooks or studies. So, while she’s telling the court her story, Dr. Hoffman is jotting down the possible symptoms and is trying to sort the truth from the illusion. Psychology was one of my favorite subjects in college (not counting history, of course), so it was very interesting to write from this perspective.

About the Author:

Ellie Midwood is a best-selling, award-winning historical fiction writer. She’s a health-obsessed yoga enthusiast, a neat freak, an adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew, and a doggie mama.

Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.

Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical Fiction category (2016) – The Girl from Berlin: Standartenfuhrer’s Wife

Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical Fiction category (2016) – The Austrian (honorable mention)

New Apple – 2016 Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing – The Austrian (official selection)

For more information on Ellie and her novels, please visit her website. You can also find her on FacebookAmazon, and Goodreads.

No Woman's Land is on a blog tour!


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away one paperback copy of No Woman’s Land! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules:

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on July 31st. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen. No Woman's Land


  1. What a great interview! Thanks so much for hosting Ellie & her blog tour!

    HF Virtual Book Tours

  2. Fascinating. Looking forward to reading this, very much.


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