Once We Were Brothers
by Ronald H. Balson
Paperback- $11.98

The gripping tale about two boys, once as close as brothers, who find themselves on opposite sides of the Holocaust.

"A novel of survival, ...

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  "Intriguing, Intense, Haunting & Lyrically Beautiful" by zodejodie4 (see profile) 01/23/14

I was fortunate enough to receive an Advance Readers' Edition of Once We Were Brothers. What an incredibly beautifully written, insightful book Ronald Balson has written. The narrative moves seamlessly & effortlessly from WWII Poland to modern day Chicago. The characters are eloquently fleshed out & you come to care about them & or despise them the more you are drawn into the remarkable story told by Ben Solomon. I found myself staying up well past the time I should have been sleeping several nights. Intriguing, intense, haunting & lyrically beautiful are all words that leap instantly to mind when speaking about this book. The juxtaposition of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis against the uplifting & inspiring story of survival as well as the enduring love story makes this story & its characters one that will stay with the reader long after they close the book.

 
  "Once We Were Brothers" by wlreader (see profile) 02/18/14

Book Club members liked the book, found it different from other holocaust accounts, and very real.

 
  "Once We Were Brothers" by Betty56 (see profile) 02/24/14

Be prepared to sit down and read for hours at a time. This is a gripping story and hard to put it down. There is history, drama, romance, suspense all packed into 389 pages.

I have read so many books on the Holocaust that now I tend to only read those that have a unique slant to them. “Once We Were Brothers” certainly has that uniqueness as it is a story of two boys who were once brothers. Ben Solomon is Jewish and lives with his parents in Poland. One day Otto’s father drops him off at the home of the Solomons and asks them to care for him. Times are hard and he can no longer afford to care for his son. Thus, Otto, a non-Jew, joins the Solomon family. Ben and Otto become like brothers. The story revolves around Ben telling about his life in Poland and how Otto’s life eventually went a separate way and they became enemies. The story alternates between the time of WWII and present day 2004. Now Ben is accusing a respected civic leader and wealthy philanthropist of being a Nazi murderer who stole from his family. A young attorney gives up her job in a prestigious law firm to represent Ben Solomon in his attempt to make Otto Piatek pay for his cruelty. All odds are stacked against them.

The story is well-written but does have a couple of points that are a bit unbelievable. One character plays a plot-changing role but there is no explanation of who this guy is. But overall it is an excellent story. Balson writes the characters in such a way that you really care about them. That’s how real they seem to be.

 
  "A compelling novel about a true historic tragedy event." by thewanderingjew (see profile) 04/02/14

This is a very powerful story about the quest of Holocaust survivor, Ben Solomon, to expose a Nazi Collaborator. When Ben was a 12-year-old in Poland, a local priest recommended that his down and out parishioner, Stanislaw Piatek, who had been abandoned by his wife, bring his son to the home of the Jews, Abraham and Leah Solomon. He said they were good people and would help him. Sure enough, they took the child, Otto Piatek, into their hearts and home, and they treated him as an equal and as a son. He was almost the same age as Ben and they became like siblings. This took place in 1933, and as more than a half-dozen years passed, Otto, embraced the Solomons. He supported them in their struggles when the National Socialists first came to power, even refusing to join the party or his parents, when they reunited and returned for him for the first time, now financially stable, some two years later; he continued to do so as time went by, although his mother pleaded with him tearfully again and again. He was not Jewish and she was able to help him get a good position within the party hierarchy. She could save him. For him, however, the Solomons were now his guardians and mentors. He rejected his parents completely.
Stanislaw and Ilse Piatek’s fortunes continued to improve within the Nazi party, and although Otto always declared his devotion to Leah and Abe and refused to leave them, eventually there came a day when his parents came to claim him and he acquiesced, convinced to do so by the Solomons who were concerned for his safety. He was able to remain in Zamo??, near their home, and he would be in a better position to help them, if need be, if he were not living with them. The Piatecs warned the Solomons to leave Zamo??; the situation was deteriorating for them, and they were in great peril. There was no place for them in Poland or anyplace else in the world of Hitler, but Abe Solomon was an important figure in town, and he wanted to be there to aid the rest of the citizens. The Solomons were motivated by altruism, unlike the Nazis who were motivated by hatred, their own inadequacy and madness. The Piateks were smug and completely arrogant. They supported Hitler and his policies completely. They were totally unappreciative of all the Solomons had done for their son. Rising stars within Hitler’s Germany, they were very impressed with their own power and position. Formerly powerless, unworthy nobodies were suddenly able to call the shots and they were corrupted by their egos and blinded by their incessant greed, as well as their own fears. As Hitler grew more and more successful, they knew full well the depths of his depravity, and although they were complicit in his efforts, they too could be faced with his wrath if they slipped up. Absolute obedience was demanded and received.
Actually, in the end, it was the Solomons who convinced Otto to move out, not only for his own safety, but also because he would be better positioned to help them if they should need help. In his safer position, he hid money and jewelry for several Jewish families, promising to return it to them when the war ended. However, as Otto rose through the ranks of the National Socialist Party, gaining favor and benefits, he began to change, and his loyalty to the Solomons diminished as his alliances with the Nazis grew. He became more concerned with preserving his own position than with the welfare and safety of the Solomons and their fellow Jews. He became a true Nazi and was utterly transformed from a caring young man into a monster responsible for great injustice and evil.
When the war finally ended, years later, Ben and Otto were no longer in touch. Ben had lost most of his family and was living in America where he had a relative who helped him to get a job. He began a new life. Decades later, when in his eighties, he saw a television program about a very wealthy, elderly philanthropist. Ben believed the man, Elliot Rosenzweig, was really Otto Piatek, the boy he grew up with, the man who had become a Nazi war criminal; he believed he was a man whose fortune came from that which he stole from the Jews and a man who was responsible for the torture and murder of countless others, including his father. This man, however, insists he is also a tattooed survivor who came to America penniless, a man who had accomplished the American dream. He amassed a vast fortune and gave huge amounts of money to worthy causes. Ben’s somewhat violent confrontation with this man is the beginning of a massive undertaking by his lawyer, Catherine, her friend Liam, and his friends to discover the true background of Rosenzweig and vindicate Ben’s seemingly irrational behavior. Ben is a spiritual man who sometimes talks with and receives inspiration and advice from his deceased wife Hannah. This causes raised eyebrows and questions about his emotional stability and state of mind. Has he made a false accusation and attacked an innocent man in this muddled condition?
The turn of events, the meticulous investigation and the exposure of the truth is so compelling that I could not put the book down. The culture of the Germans and the Poles is exposed as the history of Hitler’s slow and methodical power grab is explored. The characters were so well-developed that I felt I knew them and was drawn to tears in the end, so closely did I identify with Ben Solomon and his plight. The love stories buried within the tale were captivating. However, the corruption that seemed to exist within the legal system and the court system was disheartening. The level to which most people will descend was for lack of a better word, disappointing; perhaps horrifying would be more appropriate. Each character seemed to be driven by prejudice, self-interest and greed, and even when exposed, driven by the need to save themselves and not necessarily to do the right thing.
On another note, I found that the lawyer Catherine and her friend, Liam, were completely naïve as to the health and capabilities of a man in his 80’s. They dismissed his weakness to exhaustion and stress, not dealing with the reality of his age, as well. Also, they both seemed a bit too ignorant about the circumstances of World War II and the tragedy of the Holocaust. However, they seemed to be driven by compassion, above all else, to help Ben and continued to help him even when outclassed by the money and the power of his adversary. Although this story is fiction, it could easily have really happened which is a sad commentary on the world, even today. The book was excellent and the conclusion was very satisfying, but the story, overall, was not very uplifting, rather it was poignant.

 
  "Once We Were Brothers" by ncvlib (see profile) 04/02/14

Wow another book everyone liked. This was the author's first book and he did a good job with research and character development.

 
  "" by mjnzilinsky (see profile) 04/25/14

 
  "Different view " by arizonamom (see profile) 04/29/14

Our members thought it was a different view of the sufferings of the Jews, because it was not set in the concentration camps, but followed the lives of a few men, and the conviction of a war criminal. Very interesting reading with not too much legalese.

 
  "Very insightful book" by Callie (see profile) 10/01/14

Very well written providing insight into the way ordinary men became monsters and repeatedly perpetrated atrocities on the Polish men, women and children of the Jewish faith and those who helped them. The grave hardships endured by the Polish Jews which they never forgot. This may be a fiction book but it reads as non-fiction.

 
  "" by Christie Lambert (see profile) 09/22/15

 
  "once we were brothers" by Carolynr (see profile) 08/24/16

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 is convinced he is right and engages attorney Catherine Lockhart to bring Rosenzweig to justice. Solomon persuades attorney Catherine Lockhart to take his case, revealing that the true Piatek was abandoned as a child and raised by Solomon's own family only to betray them during the Nazi occupation. But has Solomon accused the right man?

it is interesting to read reviews after reading the book. Seems most loved this or disliked it. One reviewer questions that someone in modern times could be so ignorant about the Holocost. to that I would say yes The longer time goes by the more people forget and wonder if that "history" is true. Another felt it was unrealistic to expect that Ctherine , the lawyer , would sit with Ben for so many unbillable hours . Probably so, but its a story!! Some people are tired of reading stories about WWII - i get that...there seem to be a lot lately. But if you are willing to take another on, this is a good one.

 
  "" by joannking (see profile) 09/27/16

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/09/20

Loved it!

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