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Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H Balson

Once We Were Brothers (2010)

by Ronald H Balson

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Eliot Rosenzweig, a respected civic leader and Welty philanthropist, is attending a fundraiser when is accosted and accused of beings he Nazi SS officer Otto Piatek. Although the charges re considered to be preposterous, his accusers convinc d that he has the right person and hires Catherine Lockhart to help him. Ring charges. ( )
  creighley | Oct 3, 2015 |
Every now and then a writer’s first novel is worthy of a 5-star rating. Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson is such a book. Generally speaking, I do not tend to read first works of new authors. Yes, I realize that every author has a first book and that if nobody read their first, there wouldn’t likely be a second, third or fourth and the author would fade into obscurity in a job as a lawyer or taxi-cab driver. Even Charles Dickens had a first book way back when. Still, it generally takes a writer a book or two to find his footing, to be able to write from the heart while, at the same time, pleasing his readers and making them yearn for more.

Set in Chicago in 2004, Once We Were Brothers is the story of Ben Solomon, now an 83 year-old Polish Holocaust survivor. There is, in the city of Chicago in 2004, a well-respected, wealthy man, a generous patron of the arts, named Elliot Rosenzweig. Ben Solomon is convinced that Mr. Rosenzweig is a former Nazi named Otto Piatek and is determined to bring him to justice. He enlists the aid of attorney Catherine Lockhart and her friend, a private investigator, Liam Taggart. Though set in 2004-2005, a large portion of the book is the telling of Ben’s story, set in the years 1933-1945, and this is what makes this book more than just another legal thriller. The details of that period are extremely well-researched (I double-checked several myself) and I was immediately drawn into the story, into the time. Rosenzweig, of course, has a team of highly skilled, highly paid lawyers who will do whatever it takes to protect their client and his reputation, while Ben has only Catherine and Liam. At the outset of the story, Catherine is one of hundreds of attorneys in a large law firm where billable hours rule the day, and she is impatient for Ben to come to the point of his story, doubtful that he has a case at all. But as Ben’s story unravels, we see Catherine change, subtly at first, then ultimately she becomes wholeheartedly determined to give Ben the best she has to give.

What makes this book extraordinary is Ben’s telling of how the Germans took over the Polish town of Zamość where Otto had spent his childhood with Ben and his family, and the metamorphosis of Otto from brother to betrayer. Though I have read many books about World War II and the atrocities of the Nazis, Ben’s story left this reader with the nearly breathless feeling that I was living through that time at this very moment and gave me a nightmare or two in the process.

I do not write reviews with spoilers, as the purpose of my reviews is to entice the reader to pick up the book and read it for him/herself. Suffice it to say that this is undoubtedly one of the best novels I have read in a long time. Most of my other 5-star ratings have been for non-fiction, historical books, but this novel has both entertainment value and social value, historical value. I highly recommend it and hope that if you choose to read it, you will come back here and let me know what you thought of the book. Mr. Balson also has a new novel (his 2nd) out just this week, entitled Saving Sophie: A Novel. I am eager to delve into this one and I hope it will be as excellent as Once We Were Brothers. ( )
  dennisonjill | Sep 22, 2015 |
Excellent historical fiction about the Holocaust. The characters and the story build up going back and forth to build the history compels you forward. Great read!
  asyouth | Apr 21, 2015 |
My body is exhausted from clinching with anxiety. It is a roller coaster ride through Ben Solomon's retelling of how his closest childhood friend betrayed him and his family during the Holocaust. Each chapter brought us closer to the evidence needed to prove whether or not Elliott Rosenzweig is a former Nazi SS officer. A drama filled tale I won't soon forget. ( )
  NickiSlater | Mar 22, 2015 |
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 |
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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:37 -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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