Once We Were Brothers

By – September 26, 2011

Ben Solomon, a Holo­caust sur­vivor, pub­licly accus­es Chicago’s well-con­nect­ed, famous phil­an­thropist, Elliot Rosen­zweig, of being the Nazi Otto Piatek, the butch­er of Zamosc.” Solomon has to con­vince Cather­ine Lock­hart, a young attor­ney, to help him find a way to sue Rosen­zweig and expose him for war crimes. Solomon emo­tion­al­ly nar­rates the his­to­ry of his fam­i­ly dur­ing World War II Poland which includes his rela­tion­ship with Otto Piatek. The author describes the atroc­i­ties of wartime Poland and the beau­ti­ful eter­nal romance between Solomon and his true love, Han­nah. Ben Solomon’s tale is grip­ping, but the read­er gets a respite from the ten­sion by the inter­spersed snip­pets about his grow­ing friend­ship with Cather­ine and about her rela­tion­ship with the case’s pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor, Liam. We read about the pol­i­tics and pres­sure in big law firms and about fol­low­ing one’s heart and intu­ition. Balson’s first nov­el is hard to put down.

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams is a Cuban-born, Brook­lyn-raised, Long Island-resid­ing mom. She is Hadas­sah Nas­sau’s One Region One Book chair­la­dy, a free­lance essay­ist, and a cer­ti­fied yoga instruc­tor who has loved review­ing books for the JBC for the past ten years.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of St. Martin’s Press

    1. Does it trou­ble you to think that rem­nants of the Nazi era may remain? Of the six hun­dred thou­sand SS mem­bers remain­ing at the end of the war, only a few thou­sand were actu­al­ly brought to jus­tice. Most escaped. Some to Amer­i­ca. Only one hun­dred or so have been found and deport­ed. Was Ben’s quest after all these years, in spite of Rosenzweig’s civic con­tri­bu­tions, justified?

    2. Respond­ing to some­one who said, I can’t believe any­body cares about those events of so long ago,” Eli Rosen­baum, for­mer head of the U.S. Office of Spe­cial Inves­ti­ga­tions, stat­ed, I think there’s par­tic­u­lar val­ue in show­ing would-be per­pe­tra­tors that if one dares to per­pe­trate such crimes, there is a chance that he or she will be pur­sued for the rest of his or her life to loca­tions thou­sands of miles from the loca­tions of their crimes.” Where do you stand? Do you think we should con­tin­ue seek out and pros­e­cute now-elder­ly Nazi war criminals?

    3. It is said that first impres­sions are last­ing ones.” What were your first impres­sions of the prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters? At what point did your opin­ion change? Why?

    4. Ben’s fam­i­ly had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to leave Europe at cer­tain times in the sto­ry. When cousin Zig­gy told them of the per­se­cu­tion in Ger­many and when Uncle Joseph came from Vien­na, they could have all escaped through the moun­tains into Slo­va­kia. Why didn’t they take advan­tage of each of those oppor­tu­ni­ties? Why did Jew­ish fam­i­lies remain?

    5. From the diaries of sur­vivors, there are many sto­ries of extra­or­di­nary hero­ism, of ordi­nary peo­ple who, in the dark­est moments, find unbe­liev­able strength and courage. Have you known such peo­ple? Where do you think they find such courage?

    6. If you had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak to any of the char­ac­ters at any moment in the sto­ry, to whom would you choose to talk, what advice would you give, and what would you say?

    7. Ben was a reli­gious man, as was Cather­ine. If reli­gious doc­trine preach­es that God is all- know­ing and omnipo­tent, how does a reli­gious per­son accept the exis­tence of the Holo­caust in God’s world?

    8. Eth­nic slaugh­ter, the oppres­sion of minori­ties, did not cease with the end of World War II. Does the world com­mu­ni­ty today do enough to respond to the oppres­sors? What should be done?

    9. Why did Elis­a­beth decide to turn against her hus­band? Did it have any­thing to do with her fear of fac­ing Ben?