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Once We Were Brothers    by Ronald H. Balson order for
Once We Were Brothers
by Ronald H. Balson
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson is a very disturbing book to read but one that should be read by most everyone so that we never allow something like this to happen again. Although, when I think of the situations in various parts of the world, it obviously is happening again. Won't we ever learn?

At any rate, this is a powerful and disturbing book. Elliot Rosenzweig is a wealthy Chicago philanthropist attending opening night opera when Ben Solomon, retired, once a Polish prisoner of war, appears beside Rosenzweig and puts a gun to his head. Solomon accuses Rosenzweig of being former SS officer Otto Piatek!

Things are sorted out but Solomon rants that this man in front of him served in the German army during World War II and was an SS officer responsible for an uncountable number of deaths. Rosenzweig denies it and thus the scene is set for the story of two boys growing up in Poland. Otto Piatek is taken into Solomon's family when his parents no longer want him. They grow up together as brothers.

Then comes the war and everything changes. Ben and his family, being Jews, are sequestered in a ghetto. Conditions are unbelievably harsh. Many die of starvation. Otto joins the German Army; he rises in rank due to his birth mother's influence and becomes an SS officer.

Ben wants more than anything to prove Rosenzweig is truly Piatek. He wants him arrested for having committed horrendous war crimes and tried for the same. Catherine Lockhart, a young attorney tired of the long hours she must put in to keep her job (which she hates anyway) decides to help him prove his case.

With this first novel, self-published, Chicago lawyer Ronald Balson has created quite a stir in the publishing world. St. Martin's Press has taken on the sale of this superb book and they can't lose with this one. I remember that war (I was seven when it broke out in Europe) and was horrified along with my parents and friends when the actions of the German Army, in particular the SS, were divulged. Many of the German high ranking officials fled to South American countries where they lived on the riches they plundered from the thousands and thousands of Jews they stole from.

This is a very sad story told with a surprising delicacy. Balson puts his readers into each scene as they begin to feel a part of the tale. Balson's extensive research must have been such a difficult task. The frustration that Solomon feels is sharp as a sword. He is a man who would give up his life if only he could bring Piatek down. A gentle man but with a purpose to his life. Once We Were Brothers is well worth a read.

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