Once We Were Brothers
by Ronald H. Balsom
(St. Martin’s Griffin 2013)
This is an enchanting story of two boys raised as brothers in a Jewish family in Poland in the 1930s. The blonde boy Otto was essentially abandoned by his parents. He was raised as a member of the family, loved as each of his siblings. Otto’s parents became minor Nazi functionaries, demanding the return of their son as the implications for Jews in Poland became clear.
As Otto himself rose in the Nazi ranks, his one-time brother Ben tried to save his family and his sweetheart Hannah from the ever-expanding atrocities. Otto collected valuables of family members and extended friends, promising to hold them safely. Ben escaped to a mountain cabin with Hannah and a sister, Beka. They were seized and put in a brothel. Otto extracted Hannah but not Beka, who killed herself rather than submit.
Decades later, Ben is a hard-working man in Chicago. Hannah has died. He sees a community leader, Elliott Rozensweig and concludes that it is Otto. Ben enlists the help of a young lawyer, Catherine, clawing her way up the ranks of a major firm. She has no time for claimants not able to pay her high hourly rate. Out of respect for a friend, she listens to Ben’s story. Then becomes entranced in his story, making her own sacrifices to see justice done.
This clever, hard to put down story is endowed with love, atrocity, betrayal, and vindication emerging from the horrors of the Holocaust in Poland. It is clever and well told.
You will find yourself wondering what you would do if you were Ben, Catherine, or Elliott.