Jan Eliasberg writes about characters -- often about women who have been erased from history -- in emotionally complex situations that play out across an epic canvas with moral, political, and social resonance.

Author photo © Nina Subin

Mums don’t have time to read: Podcast interview

Listen to Jan's interview here. Jan Eliasberg is the award-winning screenwriter, director and debut author of Hannah's War. This literary spy thriller follows a female Jewish physicist and her work on the atomic bomb during WWII. Jan referred to writing this book as the best creative experience of her life and I can see why! I loved chatting with Jan about the historic New York Times article that sparked her imagination, the exciting task of exploring a male-dominated world from a woman’s point of view, her personal family connection to the source material and her deep need to write a novel after experiencing success in film and television.

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Book tip: “Hannah’s War,” Jan Eliasberg

A few years ago, author Jan Eliasberg read a clip that appeared in the New York Times on the day American forces dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. One sentence alluded to an unnamed female, non-Aryan physicist without whose work on molecular fission the bomb could not have been made. 

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Lise-Meitner by Zsuzsa Szvath

DR. LISE MEITNER: THE MYSTERY OF THE DISAPPEARING PHYSICIST

She split the atom and fled the Nazis. History tried to erase her.

In the August 7, 1945 issue of the New York Times under the headline: FIRST ATOMIC BOMB DROPPED ON JAPAN; TRUMAN WARNS FOE OF A ‘RAIN OF RUIN,’” an article traces the simultaneously terrifying and wondrous development of the atomic bomb, its scientific history, and the race between the Allies and the Germans to attain the ultimate weapon. Somewhere under the fold, buried in a dense paragraph, this sentence appears: “The key component that allowed the Allies to develop the bomb was brought to the Allies by a female, ‘non-Aryan’ physicist.” Who was this woman? Who was the female Jewish physicist responsible for the single most important scientific discovery of the twentieth century whose work had, literally, changed the world? And why isn’t her face staring out of every science textbook?

So began a ten-year quest that took me deeply into the history of the atomic bomb, and the physics that propelled it. My mystery woman was Dr. Lise Meitner, an Austrian female scientist, a Jew, working at the highest levels of research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. I tore through her diaries and letters and discovered that her primary focus, along with that of her long-term partner, Otto Hahn, was radioactivity and nuclear physics. She and Hahn were on the verge of a ground-breaking discovery when Austria was annexed. Meitner’s privileged position, and all the protections her colleagues had promised, evaporated within six terrifying hours, as she fled Berlin within hours of being captured and sent to the camps.

Read the rest of Jan's piece here

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W.A.S.P. (film or limited series)

Logline

In 1942, America was at war and the need for pilots was great. 1,074 female pilots answered the call and, for the first time, began flying military aircraft in a special program known as W.A.S.P. (Women Air Service Pilots). By the time the war was over, thirty-eight brave female fliers had sacrificed their lives in service to our country.

W.A.S.P. focuses on a select few: the first group of women – the “guinea pigs” -- who championed the W.A.S.P. program at great physical and emotional cost, but who also experienced extraordinary adventures and intense camaraderie. These women are war heroes, who fought on two fronts – both against the foreign enemy and simultaneously against the entrenched sexism of the system at home..W.A.S.P. is the war story we haven’t yet seen: about women who are every bit as brave, flawed, and heroic as their male counterparts.


Photo credit with thanks: Nikolas Muray. 

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SALEM (television pilot)

Logline

200 people were accused of witchcraft, 49 went to trial, 20 were executed, 5 died in prison. Their accusers, and the prosecution’s star witnesses, were a small group of adolescent girls – teenagers—and a slave, bought at auction when she was only thirteen.

SALEM is a searing tale of disempowerment, sexual repression, and old-fashioned greed. We will experience the infamous witch trials through the eyes of the women, filtered through a contemporary lens of psycho-sexual politics, and watch – appalled, fascinated -- as the abuses done to these women cause them to act out with a captivating and empowering hysteria.

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BEFORE I SLEEP (film)

Logline

BEFORE I SLEEP is a film about love, loss, and hope, presented in the uniquely American form of a road movie. It follows the complex and unlikely bonds that develop between two women – Miranda, an architect grieving the sudden death of her fiancée, and Ally, his runaway daughter, who shows up on the doorstep bringing a whirlwind of pain, emotional wreckage and real-world violence in her wake.

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THE GEMCUTTER (film)

Logline

Tess Windsor is a rich orphan whose father wills her the family jewelry business. She must rescue the business— and her family’s philanthropic legacy—from the economic turmoil of the Great Depression, by teaming up with a band of ruffian orphans and an ornery, eccentric, legendary Gemcutter who claims 185 A.D. as his birth date. “The Gemcutter” transports its audience from the lush gardens of ancient India to the snowy mountains of Burma; from the wealthiest townhouses of Fifth Avenue to the poorest alleys of the Lower East Side. It’s a story of love, hope, and magic.

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