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Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H Balson
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Once We Were Brothers (2010)

by Ronald H Balson

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This novel is as exciting and interesting as historical fiction can be. With a very public opening confrontation between a retired Chicago holocaust victim and one of the most powerful philanthropists in the city, Once We Were Brothers provides a level of suspense that continues through to the last pages of the novel. The story of why the former Park District employee, Ben Solomon, engages in this confrontation leads back to Poland in 1929 and through Ben's experience of the holocaust during the War. It is his fervent belief that his story is true that leads him to seek out an attorney, Catherine Lockhart, and her story in turn and her own discovery of why she needed to help Ben is as inspirational as Ben's own journey from Poland to Chicago.

The novel narrates Ben's journey through flashbacks to Ben's life in Zamosc Poland that begins when he was growing up in a family that had taken in a young German boy, Otto Piatek, who would become as close to Ben as any real brother could have been. In between episodes of this story are interspersed events in current day Chicago, 2004, where we meet Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart, her friend, who assists in finding evidence to support Ben's claim that the wealthy philanthropist, Elliot Rosenzweig, is actually the former Nazi SS officer, Otto Piatek. How these narratives come together and whether Ben is able to prove his claim provide for great reading.

This is not a typical story of the holocaust nor is it just about an old man identified as a former Nazi. It is much more and I would encourage anyone interested in what it means to be human and care about another human to read this novel. It is a fictional portrayal but it has aspects that impressed me as much as the best non-fiction I have read about the holocaust. In the end it was not the history that moved me as much as the character of Catherine and how she changed and grew to know herself in a way that made her a better person. ( )
  jwhenderson | Dec 10, 2014 |
Once We Were Brothers is a novel about an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor who sees a wealthy, respected Chicago Jewish philanthropist and accuses him of having been a Nazi war criminal in Poland during the Second World War. He goes on to sue the man in order to tarnish his name and see justice served. This book got rave reviews and so I recommended it as our next book club read. I am completely embarrassed to have done so. First of all, Once We Were Brothers is so poorly written that it feels as if it may have been scribed by a college freshman for an even younger (and undiscriminating) audience. The basic structure of the novel is implausible: An old man asks a young corporate lawyer to file the suit (for compensation of stolen goods) pro-bono. She is not particularly interested in the case, but agrees to meet with him. She asks for the pertinent details, but he insists on telling her his life story first, which, by the way, takes weeks of sessions that last four or five hours each. She's annoyed, but gives him the time. Really? As we read, we realize that this educated woman (she is a lawyer, after all) is not familiar with what a ghetto was. Or Typhus. Or the fact that Jews needed food. This is convenient, because it allows the man to explain all. He tells his own story mixed-in with not so accurate history. "Hitler had already rolled into Paris, and he had conquered Denmark, Holland, Sweden and Belgium." Sweden? On top of all this, despite the horrific history of WWII Poland, the characters are so wooden that it's hard to develop much sympathy for any of them.
I admit that for the final quarter of the book I read because I wanted to see what would happen (rather than just for my book club obligation) and it occurred to me that this might make a decent movie, because the prose would be absent. Still, the ending was too tidy for my liking and I must say it's a book I would not recommend. ( )
  JGoto | Oct 16, 2014 |
Don't waste your time ( )
  ajax100 | Aug 21, 2014 |
A very powerful WW11 novel! This book revisits the Nazi invasion of Poland and atrocities on the jewish peoplebut also brings it into the present day in Chicago. ( )
  teeth | Aug 10, 2014 |
It seems like WWII continues to be a rich source for stories even decades later. This book revisits the Nazi invasion of Poland and subsequent atrocities on the Jewish people but it also brings it into the present day in Chicago.

Ben Solomon accuses a wealthy philanthropist, Eliot Rosenzweig, of being a Nazi officer who sent many people to the death camps. He recognizes Rosenzweig as being Otto Piontek, a boy that was raised by Ben's father and mother when Otto's parents could not afford to look after him. Ben and Otto were friends and treated each other as brothers, at least until the Nazis entered Poland. Otto, a German by birth, is convinced to join the Nazi army so that he could protect the Solomons. The reality was much different. Ben convinces a female attorney, Catherine Lockhart, to assist him in suing Rosenzweig for return of goods stolen by Piontek. Lockhart has grave misgivings about being able to succeed but Ben's story draws her in against her better judgement.

Initially I was not a fan of Catherine Lockhart because she kept saying she didn't have time to listen to Ben's story and that her firm would question her taking this case. As the story went on though Catherine got more of a backbone and she drove the case to a successful conclusion. Ben's story was the core of the book but the law suit was almost as interesting. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jul 6, 2014 |
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To my wife, Monica, with whom I dance through life.
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Ben Solomon stood before his bathroom mirror fumbling with his bow tie.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0615351913, Paperback)

Elliot Rosenzweig, a wealthy Chicago philanthropist, is attending opening night at the opera.  Ben Solomon, a retired Polish immigrant, makes his way through the crowd and shoves a gun in Rosenzweig's face, denouncing him as former SS officer, Otto Piatek.   Solomon is blind-sided, knocked to the floor and taken away.  Rosenzweig uses his enormous influence to get Solomon released from jail, but Solomon commences a relentless pursuit to bring Rosenzweig before the courts to answer for war crimes.  Solomon finds a young attorney, Catherine Lockhart, to whom he recounts his family's struggles and heroisms during the war, revealing to her that he and Piatek grew up as brothers in the same household.  

Once We Were Brothers is a contemporary legal thriller and a poignant look back into the lives of small town Poland during World War II.  

The author, Ronald H. Balson, is a Chicago trial attorney, an educator and writer.  His practice has taken him to several international venues, including villages in Poland which have inspired this novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:28 -0400)

"The gripping tale about two boys, once as close as brothers, who find themselves on opposite sides of the Holocaust. Elliot Rosenzweig, a respected civic leader and wealthy philanthropist, is attending a fundraiser when he is suddenly accosted and accused of being a former Nazi SS officer named Otto Piatek, "the butcher of Zamosc." Although the charges are denounced as preposterous, his accuser, Ben Solomon, is convinced he is right. Solomon persuades attorney Catherine Lockhart to take his case, revealing that the true Piatek was abandoned as a child and raised by Solomon's family only to betray them during the Nazi occupation. But has he accused the right man? Once We Were Brothers is the compelling tale of two boys and a family who struggle to survive in war-torn Poland and a young love that incredibly endures through the unspeakable cruelty of the Holocaust. Two lives, two worlds, and sixty years converge in an explosive race to redemption that makes for an enthralling tale of love, survival, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit"--… (more)

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Berwick Court Publishing Co.

2 editions of this book were published by Berwick Court Publishing Co..

Editions: 0615351913, 0615341225

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