After many years of deeply involved work, a local man produces an important historical novel
Story and photos by Jaime Thomas
It’s World War I, and two best friends fighting alongside each other decide they want to learn how to heal people once the war is over. One is Protestant; the other is Jewish. Fast-forward several years and both are doctors, though the former has decided to work for the Nazi regime.
Skopp says the book gets into the head of a good doctor who is loyal, patriotic, and kind, but chooses to put those values into the Nazi state. He wants to find out how and why people did that.
“If it could happen in Germany, which was an exemplary civilization, I’m worried that it could happen anywhere else,” Skopp says.
The Peru-based author and former professor has been steadily working on his historical novel since 1984. He finally decided to publish it in its fourteenth draft after some pushing from Dr. Thomas Moran, a distinguished professor at SUNY Plattsburgh.
“It was then that I realized I had to know what happened.”
Moran says because of its historical accuracy and exceptional craftwork, there are not many other works like Shadows Walking.
Skopp went to Germany to learn the language and to study history when he was about 18 years old. During this time, he saw much of the aftermath of World War II. “It was then that I realized I had to know what happened,” Skopp says. At that point, he committed himself to teaching German history and continued his education in it through his doctorate.
As a professor, Skopp strived to blend a continual scholarly interest in his discipline while maintaining a keen interest in his students. As he does in his book, Skopp tried to make his students understand the Nazi point of view in order to comprehend how such horrors can occur.
“For him, it was a very brave thing to look at something so difficult, so extraordinarily painful, and so outside the large realm of his good personality.”
“The book does something quite different—it doesn’t make the Nazi’s behavior one-sided,” Moran says. Skopp’s book falls into a unique niche. While there are many books that incorporate history in the plot, Skopp took greater pains than most authors to document his sourcing.
“I don’t know of any other historian who has devoted so much of his personal and professional life to researching a subject as thoroughly as Doug has and then put it into the form of a novel,” says Dr. Richard Schaefer, a history professor who specializes in German history.
Filled with at least 70 historical sources, the novel has many real people in it, and the entire plot either did happen or easily could have happened.
As a result of being awarded a Fulbright scholarship as a guest professor in Germany, Skopp was able to do heavy research through speaking with survivors and going through archives.
However, Skopp says the long process of writing this book was not enjoyable. He devoted the better part of dozens of summers and vacations to working on something that was often emotionally painful.
“History is a mirror in which we explore ourselves.”
“For him, it was a very brave thing to look at something so difficult, so extraordinarily painful, and so outside the large realm of his good personality,” says Moran, who describes Skopp as an exceptionally gentle and decent man.
Moran says Skopp wrote the book because he felt people needed to understand the history. He couldn’t leave such monstrous acts bracketed and left to the side of human experience.
Skopp feels a need to put out this ‘cautionary tale,’ to keep people aware of what happened and what could easily happen again. “Doug has always challenged students and faculty to work as hard as we possibly can, to figure out the deepest problems in society, and to confront them as squarely and honestly as we can,” Schaefer says. He believes Skopp’s novel helps us to remember that who we are today is not who we will be in 10 years.
“History is a mirror in which we explore ourselves,” Skopp says.
Lawrence P. Gooley of Peru, N.Y. has written about subjects ranging from mining in Lyon Mountain to a serial killer in the Adirondacks.
James P. Millard of South Hero, Vt. runs a website about America’s historic lakes and has written on such subjects as islands and forts on Lake Champlain.
Gordie Little of Morrisonville, N.Y. has recently published a book on ghosts in the North Country.
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