The Last Witness

TheLastWitness-BookCoverMy father used to take me to the local Jewish bakery where this kindly woman behind the counter would serve us. I remember seeing numbers on her arm, but I was just a boy and didn’t know what those numbers meant. Later I found out. One day in the not-too-distant future there is going to be one person left. One survivor. This is what my novel The Last Witness is about.

I’m like many writers in that an idea for a book may germinate over time before any writing begins. That’s what happened with The Last Witness which is set in the year 2039 when the world is abysmally ignorant and complacent about events of the last century. Jack Fisher is a 100-year-old man whose worst memories took place before he was 5. His story hearkens back to the Jewish ghetto of his birth and to Auschwitz where he had to fend for himself to survive as a little boy after losing all his family. Jack becomes the central figure in a missing-person investigation when his granddaughter suddenly disappears. While assisting police, he finds himself in danger and must reach into the darkest corners of his memory to come out alive.

I did a lot of research to write this book. Even though it’s a novel, I wanted things to be accurate. That meant interviewing such people as noted Holocaust historian Sir Martin Gilbert, meeting real-life survivors who were just children when they were liberated in 1945, and looking into the current state of Holocaust awareness which is not a pretty picture.

Then there is Elly Gotz who spent three years as a boy in a Jewish ghetto in Lithuania. Elly, a remarkable man, was a great help to me with the flashbacks of my novel. Only Elly could tell me that I couldn’t have oranges in the ghetto because there were no oranges in Poland during the German occupation. Only Elly could tell me that German soldiers had rifles, not machine guns, in the ghetto. He could tell me this because he knew first-hand.

Three years ago I wrote an article for The National Post about sagging knowledge of the Holocaust. I found that a 2007 poll in the United Kingdom showed that 28% of young people aged 18-29 did not know if the Holocaust happened. A survey commissioned two years earlier looked at Holocaust knowledge in the United States and several European countries. It found that knowledge was highest in Sweden and lowest in the U.S.

The Last Witness is being released as an e-book and in print through Story Merchant Books, and is now available at Amazon.

Author Reviews

Through the years Julian Fantino has advised, assisted, and supported me as I continue to strive for a more equitable justice system. This book gives some insight into the man who is the embodiment of a dutiful cop.

Priscilla De Villiers, founder of CAVEAT (Canadians Against Violence)

A cop’s cop lets us eavesdrop on the journey of his life from the streets of Italy to a well-earned, stellar international reputation and the top job in four different police forces.

Major General (Ret.) Lewis MacKenzie

While not strictly a business book, the memoirs of former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino, DUTY: The Life of a Cop, outline the executive leadership skills and unwavering sense of law and order that moulded him from humble Italian immigrant into this country’s most high-profile copper.

The National Post: FP Weekend

This book is (also) a tell-it-like-it-is platform for Fantino’s opinions on a wide range of law enforcement issues. If you want to get your head around who Fantino is and what drives him, read this book.

Blue Line Magazine

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino has undertaken to set the record straight in an illuminating autobiography entitled: Duty: The Life of a Cop, which he wrote with the editorial and research assistance of Toronto writer and consultant Jerry Amernic. That Fantino felt the need for such a book is understandable: In recent years, few public figures have been more frequently and viciously maligned than he.  Altogether, Duty: The Life of a Cop is a fascinating and informative account of the life and thinking of one of Canada’s most accomplished police officers. While Fantino might not always be right, his well-informed views on key issues of public safety deserve consideration.

London Free Press

Julian Fantino, currently Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, is probably the highest-profile law-enforcement official in Canada. In this hard-hitting memoir, he tells the story of his life, from his humble beginnings in Italy, his early years as a beat cop in Toronto, his experiences in the drug squad, homicide and other areas of policing, to his leadership of four major police forces. Along the way, he provides insight into the struggles against organized crime, the exploitation of children, police corruption, terrorism, and into the justice system.

Globe & Mail: Books in Brief

It could be the sports version of the Da Vinci Code.

L.A. Daily News

Amernic generates a sepia-tinted Field of Dreams nostalgia. The truly moving scenes show the special bond between Lazo and Stephen – in the loving counsel of old age, the awakening of a young mind, and a friendship that spans generations.

W. P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joes, which was made into the film Field of Dreams

Like all good baseball novels, Gift of the Bambino is a love story that is peripherally about baseball.  Babe Ruth’s first home-run ball is the axis on which this tale of triumph and adversity turns.  It is at times both heart-wrenching and heart-warming, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Globe and Mail

IT’S UNLIKELY that first-time novelist Jerry Amernic, a public- relations consultant living in Toronto, would be flattered to hear it, but “Gift of the Bambino” will make the perfect gift for a young baseball fan. Of course I mean that as a compliment.

While Mr. Amernic’s prose won’t be mistaken for Ring Lardner’s — or even Mike Lupica’s — the story he tells about a young boy’s bond with his colorful grandfather is touching without being maudlin. Putting a new spin on the shopworn Curse of the Bambino myth, Mr. Amernic alternates between the near present and the early 20th century, when Lazo, the narrator’s grandfather, witnessed the first and last home run hit by his hero, Babe Ruth. The sight of Ruth’s blast into a lake near Toronto inspires Lazo to pursue a baseball career, a quest that doesn’t amount to all that much, just 10 years as an also-ran minor leaguer whose fatal flaw was the inability to hit a low-inside fastball.

One of Mr. Amernic’s key themes is bound to rub some adults the wrong way, but it is one that teenagers may respond to. The narrator’s parents, affluent professionals who have little time for him, denigrate the elderly Lazo as a man who wasted his life chasing dreams instead of settling for a steady career. The adoring youth is captivated by his grandfather’s idealism, love of nature and tales of living in New York during the 1920s, punctuated with chance encounters with the Babe. Inevitably the boy learns, as Lazo ages, that time is a precious gift and ought not be frittered away on collecting material goods and achieving social status.

Considering baseball’s enduring popularity, “Gift of the Bambino” has the makings of a family-oriented Hollywood movie, a cross between “The Natural” and “Field of Dreams.” The main obstacle, of course, would be finding an actor to portray Babe Ruth more ably than William Bendix or John Goodman. Actually, that probably wouldn’t be so hard.

Wall Street Journal, Russ Smith

I had absolutely no idea how enjoyable a journey it would be meandering through the pages of this touching yarn of a boy and his grandfather, their mutual love of baseball and, in particular, the game’s greatest Ruth, a.k.a. The Bambino.

The Toronto Sun