Once We Were Brothers

( 144 )

Overview

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 is convinced he is right and engages attorney Catherine Lockhart to bring ...

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Once We Were Brothers

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Overview

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 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?

Once We Were Brothers is Ronald H. Balson's compelling tale of two boys and a family who struggle to survive in war-torn Poland, and a young love that struggles to endure the unspeakable cruelty of the Holocaust. Two lives, two worlds, and sixty years converge in an explosive race to redemption that makes for a moving and powerful tale of love, survival, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is as compelling a story as you would ever want to read...This book is different in its passion and its presentation. It is worth your time and you won't be disappointed. Once We Were Brothers is a new look at an old story, and it will stay with you long after you have finished it." —Jackie K Cooper, Huffington Post

"The phenomenal triumph of lawyer-author John Grisham’s legal thrillers has spawned surprisingly few successful emulators; however, Chicago attorney Balson’s first novel, while featuring a young lawyer heroine, Catherine Lockhart, who sees her bar admission as a license to further justice, is no simple imitation of Grisham’s entertaining potboilers..., this novel is uplifting and moving, intelligently written and featuring historically accurate context and an unusual insight into human character and motivations. Highly recommended for all readers." —Starred Library Journal Review

"Balson does a number of things superbly: he crafts a highly readable plotline and makes great use of the Chicago backdrop…many will enjoy this gripping novel for its narrative drive and its emotional storytelling." —Booklist Review

"The author describes the atrocities of wartime Poland and the beautiful, eternal romance between Ben Solomong and his life, Hannah. Balson's first novel is hard to put down." —The Jewish Book World

"A legal thriller...a reader knows he's writing from the inside." —Chicago Jewish Star

Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-15
An elderly Holocaust survivor accuses Chicago's most prominent philanthropist of crimes against humanity in Chicago attorney Balson's novel, originally self-published. An opera gala, attended by the pillars of Chicago society, is disrupted when octogenarian Ben Solomon holds a Luger to the head of Elliot Rosenzweig, a wealthy insurance magnate known for his civic works and beneficence. After Elliot magnanimously drops charges--the Luger was not loaded--Benjamin goes free, but he is determined to press the charge he made at the soiree: Elliot is not a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz who immigrated penniless to the United States after the war, but Otto Piatek, a vicious Nazi who used the Solomon family's wealth as his stake in the U.S. Seeking out Catherine Lockhart, a junior associate at a leading law firm, Ben confesses to her an equally shocking allegation: Otto grew up with the Solomons, who raised him as their own son after his drunken Polish father and his ambitious German mother abandoned him. After the German invasion of Poland, Ben's own father convinced Otto to join the Nazis in hopes that his influence could save his foster family. In a series of meetings, Benjamin gradually persuades Catherine to take his case pro bono--at the cost of her job. For much of this book, the author employs the awkward device of having Benjamin relate his World War II experiences verbatim to Catherine. However, suspense mounts as he reveals each stage in his family's destruction. In spite of the problematic narrative structure and some clunky prose, readers will be riveted by this novel's central question: Will justice long delayed be denied?
Library Journal
★ 10/15/2013
The phenomenal triumph of lawyer-author John Grisham's legal thrillers has spawned surprisingly few successful emulators; however, Chicago attorney Balson's first novel, while featuring a young lawyer heroine, Catherine Lockhart, who sees her bar admission as a license to further justice, is no simple imitation of Grisham's entertaining potboilers. Cut from a better grade of cloth, it tells the haunting backstory tale of two boys, one Jewish and one a budding Nazi, caught in what became the death-scarred bloodlands of Eastern Europe divided between Stalin and Hitler. What happens when the boys meet again, 60 years later, launches a story that will not let readers go until the last page, long after they discover what occurred in Poland all those years ago. VERDICT A self-publishing best seller, this novel is uplifting and moving, intelligently written and featuring historically accurate context and an unusual insight into human character and motivations. Highly recommended for all readers. [With a 100,000-copy first printing.]—Vicki Gregory, Sch. of Information, Univ. of South Florida, Tampa
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250046390
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/8/2013
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 25,403
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

RONALD H. BALSON is a Chicago trial attorney, an educator and a writer. His practice has taken him to several international venues, including villages in Poland that inspired this first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

ONE

 

 

Chicago, Illinois, September 2004

BEN SOLOMON STOOD BEFORE his bathroom mirror fumbling with his bow tie. He was eighty-three years old and getting dressed for Judgment Day. Years had come and gone since he had last worn his tuxedo, but then, Judgment Day was a black tie affair.

He uttered a Polish phrase to the man in the mirror and reached into his pocket to reexamine his pricey ticket.

Lyric Opera of Chicago. Opening Night Gala, September 26, 2004. La Forza del Destino. Main Floor, Aisle 2, Row kk, Seat 103—a seat he did not intend to occupy. Truth be told, he didn’t care much for opera. The ticket had set him back five hundred dollars, a goodly sum for a pensioner.

He pulled back the cuff of his shirtsleeve to check the time on his watch, a silver-band Citizen given to him when he retired from the Chicago Park District eight years ago. Four thirty—still two hours until the doors would open. He walked into his living room.

The windows of his modest one-bedroom apartment faced east, toward Lake Michigan and the row of condominium towers that stretched north in a line from the Loop to Thorndale Avenue like a stand of Midwest corn. The late-afternoon sun laid a track of shadows across Lake Shore Drive and onto the lush grass of the Waveland Golf Course, where he’d worked as a starter for almost fifty years. To his right, in the mirrored calm of Belmont Harbor, the luxury cruisers rested comfortably in their slips. He lingered. How he loved that view. He conceded that he might be looking at it for the last time.

Once more he checked his appearance in the mirror. He asked Hannah if he looked all right. Was he dapper? He wished she were there to answer.

Underneath his sweaters, in the bottom drawer of his bureau, lay a cardboard cigar box. Setting the box on the bureau top, he lifted the lid and removed a German P08 Luger, World War II vintage, in mint condition, purchased at an antique gun show for $1,250. Another hit to his savings account. He stuffed the pistol in his belt beneath his cummerbund.

Five o’clock. Time to walk to the corner, flag a southbound taxi, and join up with the glitterati at the “undisputed jewel of the social season.”

TWO

 

IN HIS DRESSING ROOM on the second story of his Winnetka mansion, a generous four-acre estate set high on a bluff overlooking the lake, Elliot Rosenzweig stood fumbling with his cuff links. “Jennifer,” he called out, “would you come help me, please?”

The young medical student, sparkling in her formal evening gown, breezed into the master suite and to the side of her grandfather, who was grappling with his French cuffs.

“Popi, we’re going to be late if we don’t hurry.”

He watched her hands easily fasten the gold links. So supple, so young. Soon to be a surgeon’s hands, he thought.

“There,” she said.

Beaming with profound adoration, he kissed her on the forehead. “I’m so proud of you,” he said.

“For fastening your cuffs?”

“For being my angel.”

“I love you, too, Popi.” She twirled and headed for the closet door.

“That’s a beautiful dress,” he called after her. “I like it.”

“You should,” she said over her shoulder, “it cost you a fortune. Nonna bought it for me at Giselle’s. It’s an original. Is Nonna going tonight?”

“No, I’m afraid not. She has another one of her headaches.” He winked. “She hates these public events.”

Jennifer lifted his Armani jacket from the hanger and held it for him as he slipped his arms through the sleeves. Smiling, she gave a short tug on his lapels and took a step back.

“You look very handsome tonight.” She kissed him on his cheek. “Now we need to go. All our friends are waiting.”

Together, hand in hand, they joined the rest of their entourage under the pink stone portico where the group filed into two limousines that would carry them downtown to the Civic Opera House. The iron security gates parted and the white limousines glided forward onto Sheridan Road and toward Chicago’s Loop.

THREE

 

FESTIVAL BANNERS HUNG FROM the art deco columns of the Civic Opera House’s mezzanine and multicolored buntings looped from the balustrades, all gaily surrounding the opera celebrants gathered in the foyer below. Costumed servers carried champagne and hors d’oeuvres on silver platters. In the corner, a subgroup of the Lyric Orchestra played selections from Rossini overtures.

Raising her voice to be heard above the din of conversations, Jennifer asked, “How many years have you been coming to opening night, Popi?” She smiled as she accepted a canapé from an Elizabethan palace guard.

“Since 1958, angel. Although in those days they didn’t pay so much attention to me.”

“You mean you weren’t a Platinum Grand Benefactor?”

“I always gave what I could to support the arts, but…” His answer was interrupted by the approach of Chicago’s mayor and first lady, who were being shuttled about by Lyric’s artistic director.

“It’s nice to see you again, Elliot. You’re looking well.”

“Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I think you know my granddaughter, Jennifer,” he answered in the noisy hall. “It always brightens my day to see you and Edith.” Rosenzweig flashed a congenial smile as he warmly took the hand of Chicago’s first lady.

“Quite an event, the Lyric opening, thanks to you and the board,” said Mayor Burton. “The city owes you a great deal, Elliot. You’re a priceless resource.”

“Maybe not so priceless, John.” And the two of them laughed.

While they continued to exchange flatteries, Ben Solomon quietly wound his way through the crowd toward the Grand Benefactor. He was oblivious to the music. He heard no conversations. He saw only his target. Making his way across the floor, he declined a flute of champagne from a seventeenth-century Italian peasant girl and felt for the Luger in his belt. The Lyric quartet pizzicatoed through the delightful strains of La Gazza Ladra.

He paused until the mayor and his wife had moved on to the next grouping and walked directly to Rosenzweig, his heart pounding like a pile driver.

“What did you do with all that jewelry?” he said inches from Rosenzweig’s face.

“Excuse me, sir?” said the esteemed donor with a smile, unsure if this was part of a staged repertoire. Perhaps an opera joke?

But there was no sign of frivolity. “Just curious,” Solomon said. “I asked you what you did with the jewelry—you know, the watches, diamond bracelets, wedding bands. You had a whole chest full. Don’t you remember?”

Rosenzweig looked to his granddaughter and shrugged.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”

In a flash, Solomon drew the polished Luger and pressed the barrel hard against Rosenzweig’s forehead. A woman screamed. The crowd immediately backpedaled into a large ring.

“Popi!” screamed Jennifer.

“Recognize this gun, Otto? Should be real familiar to a Nazi officer,” Solomon said, waving the crowd away with his left arm. “Look at me, Otto. It’s Ben Solomon. Here we are, together again, just like when we were kids. Never thought you’d see me again, did you, Hauptscharführer Piatek?”

Rosenzweig held up his hands in conciliation. The room was silent except for the words he delivered, slowly and evenly.

“You’ve made a mistake, sir. My name is Elliot Rosenzweig. It’s not Otto. Or Piatek. I’ve never been a Nazi. In fact, sir, I am a camp survivor.”

Very slowly, he held out his left arm. “Jennifer, undo my cuff link and roll up my sleeve.”

As she did, his forearm displayed the blackened tattoo: A93554.

The gunman considered the offering, and then sneered. “You’re a lying Nazi murderer and I can see the fear in your eyes, Hauptscharführer. Scream and cry and beg, Otto, like the innocent women and children who cowered before you. Mothers and fathers and grandparents. People who never hurt a soul. And the babies. All the children.” He gestured wildly to the stunned crowd. “Tell them who you really are. Look at them all. They’re listening. The masquerade is finished.”

From out of nowhere, Solomon was blindsided and knocked to the marble floor. The gun slid along the tiles and came to rest against the staircase. Tackled by a Chicago Bears linebacker in formal attire, Solomon lay curled on the floor, weeping, his head shuttered in his forearms.

As he was pulled to his feet by security guards, Solomon screamed, “He’s a Nazi. He’s a murderer. He’s Otto Piatek. He’s Otto Piatek.” The screams melted into sobs as they led the old man away. “He’s Otto Piatek.”

 

Copyright © 2010, 2013 by Ronald H. Balson

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 144 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(95)

4 Star

(26)

3 Star

(10)

2 Star

(7)

1 Star

(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 144 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2012

    Great!!!

    This will be added to my list as one of one of the best books I've ever read. It s a little over 1,000 pages and I could not put it down. I read it in one day. It grabbed me from page 1. Everyone I have recommended it to have loved it as much as I did. If you enjoy holocaust stories this is one not to miss.

    9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

    Well worth the time and money

    This is a poignant and haunting holocaust story that is very well written with rich prose and historical research. It is also a book that lends itself to book group discussion.





    ReaderaddictAO

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 7, 2012

    Highly recommend but --

    I absolutely love this book. But I'm questioning why it is available on Kindle for $7.95 when B & N is charing $9.95.

    That aside, this is a great read. I couldn't put it down.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2010

    Excellent reading!

    When will Ronald Balson's next book be coming out? I hope there is another!

    "Once We Were Brothers" was a thrilling, emotional, sad, suspenseful, romantic; heart-warming, captivating, hard to stop reading type story. I can trufully say that each page forces you to read on.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2013

    Highly Recommend

    This 1,000+ page book 'had' me in the first chapter. It is wonderfully told in the first person. The author drew the characters wonderfully. Historically, I believe it is an accurate accounting of the Nazi Era.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2013

    Outstanding!

    Fabulously written, memorable--you laugh, cry--sheer enjoyment. This story stays with you, long after you have read it. Disappointing tha Mr. Balson has not currently written more books. I highly recommend this book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2013

    Compelling

    Set against the backdrop of Poland during World War II and Chicago 2004, this book tells a compelling story of a man named Ben, pursuing justice (and revenge) against someone he believes to be a Nazi officer. Ben seeks legal representation from an attorney who gains confidence in herself through her representation of Ben. The book is fast paced and reads like a movie. It should be a movie.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2013

    Once We Were Brothers

    A must read. Thought provoking. Could not put it down. Have purchased it for others. Worthwhile reading!!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 15, 2013

    Riveting read!

    This book was recommended by Phylis at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore. This one deserves recognition. This story is about survival and justice against impossible odds over a span of 50 years beginning in the 1940's. The main characters are simultaneously engrossing, heartfelt, tragic and courageous. They will touch you and stay with you long after the last page is read. Well worthy of serious attention. Thank you Phylis!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 5, 2012

    This is a must read

    This was one of the most moving books I've read in years. The way they explained how these people were treated was amazing. You could feel the pain and it was also about love. You must read this!I really could not put it down.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012

    Highly recommended ....NOT to be missed !!!

    One can not tell you exactly what this book is about. You must read this and when it becomes a movie..."Don't miss it either." I hear this from each and EVERYONE that has read this book. To Ronald Balson, PLEASE keep writing............

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2014

    I was very disappointed with this book. It had great reviews and

    I was very disappointed with this book. It had great reviews and was about a subject in which I am interested. Unfortunately, I found nearly every aspect of this book lacking. The characters were simplistic and one dimensional. Most obnoxious was the way the author used the character of Ben as a mouthpiece to write pages about his own opinions concerning various issues surrounding the Holocaust. The writing was very simplistic. I found it a struggle just to get through the book. I do not recommend it to anyone. 

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2013

    Wjat the heck

    Cheat much, Katniss?

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2013

    Wonderful

    Perhaps my favorite book of all time

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2013

    Incredible

    I couldn't put this book down! Very compelling story!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2013

    Loved it! A must read

    Read this for book club, wasn't sure when it was picked if I'd like it or not. It was a very fast read. I felt like I was sitting at the table as Ben was telling his story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 19, 2013

    Loved it

    A really excellent book, characters were very real, plot extremely a time in history. Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2013

    Highly Recommended

    I loved this book! The main story line was about a Jewish man who had been living in Poland during the halocaust and what his family went through. It was a fascinating story. The subplot is about a woman lawyer who hesitantly agrees to represent him and how his story affects her and helps to change her life. I high recommend this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 18, 2013

    For Fictional Holocaust History

    If Holocaust history interests you, this is a good book to read. Although fictional, it includes much history of that era. It is emotional as it involves you in the outcome of the story.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2013

    Touching Story that must never be forgotten.

    Using the real life plight of Polish Jews during World War was well done.
    The story line was definitely something that had happened many times.
    The main character's demand for justice is something we must always remember.
    It had me in tears.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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