Once We Were Brothers: A Novel (Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart) Info

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

"A novel of survival, justice and
redemption...riveting." ―Chicago Tribune, on Once We Were
Brothers

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.


Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Once We Were Brothers: A Novel (Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart):

5

Dec 26, 2013

In reading the reviews for this well written first novel I am totally aghast at the low scores that people are giving this outstanding novel! I have written better reviews for books that are not even in the realm of this book. Well written and historically accurate, the book gets into to your soul and you cannot put it down. I read the entire 389 page book in less than 20 hours! This book was not at all what I was expecting but as I read more of it I became totally absorbed and engrossed not In reading the reviews for this well written first novel I am totally aghast at the low scores that people are giving this outstanding novel! I have written better reviews for books that are not even in the realm of this book. Well written and historically accurate, the book gets into to your soul and you cannot put it down. I read the entire 389 page book in less than 20 hours! This book was not at all what I was expecting but as I read more of it I became totally absorbed and engrossed not only about the historically accurate details but the modern overview of today's court system. The characters are well defined and it's heroes are heroes and it's villains are villains. I felt it was an awe inspiring first novel and I look forward to reading what comes next from Mr. Balson. As this was a first novel I am sure without a doubt that his future works will definitely climb to the top of the charts. I will look forward to his future work and can now acclaim myself a true Ronald Balson fan! His approach to the Holocaust and all that it entails was a breath of fresh air to a redundant often dismal subject and I thoroughly enjoyed every word on every page. Kudos! A soon to be must read for every Holocaust Historian! ...more
1

Apr 04, 2013

Once We Were Brothers - to begin with - was edited by someone without an understanding of punctuation, especially interjections. That aside, if you have never heard of the Holocaust and need a quick but somewhat flawed understanding of the Holocaust in Poland during WWII and do not mind mixing your genocide with a modern day is-he-a-Nazi or isn't-he-a-Nazi accusation that involves a young lawyer and her soon to be SPOILER ALERT..... lover P.I., then perhaps you will not find this book too Once We Were Brothers - to begin with - was edited by someone without an understanding of punctuation, especially interjections. That aside, if you have never heard of the Holocaust and need a quick but somewhat flawed understanding of the Holocaust in Poland during WWII and do not mind mixing your genocide with a modern day is-he-a-Nazi or isn't-he-a-Nazi accusation that involves a young lawyer and her soon to be SPOILER ALERT..... lover P.I., then perhaps you will not find this book too offensive. Balson writes that there was a 26 mile buffer zone around Auschwitz "to hide the camp from the outside world"; however, many of the townspeople lived close to the camps, saw the daily trains, and most of all, smelled the odor of buring flesh. Everyone knew what was happening inside the camp. Balson also was quite easy on anti-semitism in Poland, which had a very, very spotty record of hostility toward Jews involving pogroms, executions, expulsions as well as tolerance at times. Catherine, the well-educated lawyer, even asks Ben what a ghetto is. She thinks she may have heard of Belzec. That defies believability.

Basically the story of Zamosc, a small city in Poland is well told. But Balson allows the narrative to fall into a sappy romance taking us to the pearly gates with all the ends tied-up in a nice bow and everyone - almost - living happily ever after. Justice is restored to the world. The characters were predictable, the plot was predictable. There is enough horror in the Holocaust not to have to fictionalize it. There are outstanding memoirs, histories, documentaries, and other sources for people who are interested in this black period in history to learn about it without having to plow through a sappy, predictable plot. ...more
2

Aug 23, 2014

Say you just got back from the grocery store after witnessing a bickering couple argue to the point of near-violence. You want to tell someone, so you call up a friend. How would you tell the story? You might start by indicating how unnerved the incident left you and let them know the general shape of what happened. You might say 'I just had the most horrible experience at the store and I'm a little shook up. There was this couple there and they were shouting at each other, I thought they were Say you just got back from the grocery store after witnessing a bickering couple argue to the point of near-violence. You want to tell someone, so you call up a friend. How would you tell the story? You might start by indicating how unnerved the incident left you and let them know the general shape of what happened. You might say 'I just had the most horrible experience at the store and I'm a little shook up. There was this couple there and they were shouting at each other, I thought they were going to attack each other!'

Then you might pause and give your friend a chance to assimilate what you'd said and offer comfort. If they sounded willing to hear more, you could fill in the details. But how do you choose which details to include? Probably you'd stick to the elements of the story that stood out to you; 'They kept getting louder as they argued. And every time I looked over he was staring directly at her, I never saw his eyes look away for even a second.' When describing what they said, you would probably paraphrase, only quoting the subjects if a particular line really stood out; 'They were arguing over money, about what they could afford. He thought she was spending too much but she said they had to eat but he didn't need his video games. They were just getting louder and louder and finally he threatened to kill her! I'll never forget her response; she turned to him and said “at least everyone will know it was you!”'

So what would you not include in this story? You probably wouldn't interject statistics about domestic violence and you wouldn't insist upon describing the full chronological order of your day leading up to the incident. These are things you could talk about afterwords if your friend still had time ('and to think, just earlier today I read an article about diminished domestic strife') but would distract from the impact of your narrative if you included them earlier.

In Once We Were Brothers, Ben Solomon has a dramatic story to tell. Ben lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland and because his family is Jewish, they were under constant threat of harassment and murder; a worthy story but a familiar one. The dramatic kick comes from Ben's adopted brother Otto, who betrays the Solomons and absconds with their community's wealth. Sixty years after the war, Ben recognizes Otto (who's taken on the name Rosenzweig) and dedicates himself to exposing his former brother's Nazi past and nefarious crimes. It's a fantastic setup with lots of potential for dramatic twists and a great way to bridge the crimes of the past to the present.

The only problem; Ronald Bolson commits every storytelling error imaginable. The bulk of the book involves Ben telling his life-story to his lawyer, the lovely but troubled Catherine, so they can prosecute. So does Ben give her the important information first so that she can start putting a proper case together before Otto can move against them? No! He's going to tell it in strict chronological order even though it takes weeks to get to the important details. Ben even peppers his story with elementary WWII knowledge and statistical analyses that read like Wikipedia entries; if you wanted to know the basics of Molotov-Ribbentrop or how big the German army was vis-a-vis other world powers, this is the novel for you.

But the worst part are the quotes. Ben quotes everyone in his story as if he possessed a perfect auditory memory but no internal editor. At least once, Ben recounts a scene, with quotes, that he wasn't present for. Ben feels like an omniscient narrator which robs his tale of intimacy and drama. The whole account proves awkward and there were so few memorable details that I never cared much about the characters even as most of them met tragic ends.

The modern side of the novel's plot proves to be a fairly standard, but entertaining legal thriller played out at light-speed; major obstacles in Ben's case emerge and are sorted out within the span of five pages. Bolson relegates the legal aspects of the story to a side-show but it's the most compelling part of the book; as he shows a knack for writing about arcane laws with precision and clarity (Bolson is a lawyer; write what you know and all that.) Never thought I'd see a story where the legal details were more powerful than the tale of a holocaust survivor. ...more
2

Aug 13, 2013

Really this is only a 1 1/2 star book and the half star is only because the concept of the story is intriguing. Sadly the execution of telling the story is terrible. This book reads like a cheesy predictable soap opera. The characters are flat and under developed. In fact most of the characters seem like the same person with different lines. The "amazing" lawyer who solves the case and saves the day is portrayed as dimwitted and an emotional wreck. As a reader I'm supposed to believe that this Really this is only a 1 1/2 star book and the half star is only because the concept of the story is intriguing. Sadly the execution of telling the story is terrible. This book reads like a cheesy predictable soap opera. The characters are flat and under developed. In fact most of the characters seem like the same person with different lines. The "amazing" lawyer who solves the case and saves the day is portrayed as dimwitted and an emotional wreck. As a reader I'm supposed to believe that this highly educated intelligent woman doesn't know hardly anything about the holocaust? (At one point she asks her plaintiff, a holocaust survivor, what a ghetto is. Seriously?! and that was just one of the ridiculous questions about the holocaust posed.) The main character seems like a condescending no it all and the bad guy turned from hating the Nazis to being a Nazi in no time at all. Sadly the writer was unable to portray the multi-faceted complexity of the human soul. If you want to read a book about the holocaust there are many awesome books, fiction and nonfiction alike, written about this time in history, unfortunately this isn't one of them. ...more
5

Nov 10, 2013

“We must never allow the world to forget." Page 179

That quote says it all, and Ben Solomon vowed to follow through on this edict, and he definitely was following through.

ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS is a powerful, well-researched first novel that will have you glued to the pages as Ben tells his story of hatred, horror, and the annihilation of his and other Jewish families during WWII.

Telling the story of the horrors of the Nazi occupation of Poland was stressful for the 83-year-old main character, “We must never allow the world to forget." Page 179

That quote says it all, and Ben Solomon vowed to follow through on this edict, and he definitely was following through.

ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS is a powerful, well-researched first novel that will have you glued to the pages as Ben tells his story of hatred, horror, and the annihilation of his and other Jewish families during WWII.

Telling the story of the horrors of the Nazi occupation of Poland was stressful for the 83-year-old main character, Ben, but he had to tell it all, and Catherine, his attorney, wanted to be the one to help arrest Elliott/Otto.

Ben knew he knew Elliott Rosenzweig was not really Elliott Rosenzweig, but Otto Piatek, his brother turned Nazi during the war, and the person who was not accused of his horrific war crimes but living in the United States as a billionaire philanthropist.

ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS moves from present day to WWII in Poland as Ben Solomon tells how his family had to live and survive under Nazi occupation as a Jewish family.

ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS tells how Otto, a German boy, was left with the Solomon family, a Jewish family, because his mother couldn't take care of him. Otto became part of the Jewish home and loved the Solomons like his own family until his mother showed up and insisted he join the Germans.

Mr. Balson did a fantastic job researching for his first book and detailing every scene. ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS is a beautiful way to tell a horrible historical story.

You will feel as though you are inside the pages of the book and connecting with the characters both present and past. This book was amazing.

I am always in awe of the strength of the Europeans during this time period. How did they survive and deal with all that was going on especially the Jewish population?

This compelling WWII book is one you will want to read. It is perfectly relayed, phenomenal, and a part of history that again reveals what WWII was about. I finished this book in ONE day, and that is unusual for me.

Don't miss reading ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS. I definitely needed tissues a number of times and especially at the end and definitely when they told of the freeing of Buchenwald because my father was one of the Americans that freed this concentration camp.

This book is given an unequivocal 5/5.

This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation by the publisher in return for an honest review. ...more
5

Nov 04, 2013

5 STARS



SENSATIONAL... it would make a fabulous movie. Took me a while to get into it, but after the midpoint, I couldn't put it down. Well done. And the narrator was fantastic.
2

Jul 29, 2013

I’m not inclined to pan a book, but here goes...

At a very public event Ben Solomon, an 83-year old Polish concentration camp survivor living in Chicago, attacks Elliot Rosenzweig, a Chicago philanthropist. Solomon claims that Rosenzweig is really Otto Piatek, a Nazi who stole Solomon’s family’s treasures. To complicate matters, Piatek was Solomon’s adoptive brother, left with Solomon’s Jewish family by Piatek’s down-on-their-luck gentile parents. In spite of hundreds of witnesses, Rosenzweig I’m not inclined to pan a book, but here goes...

At a very public event Ben Solomon, an 83-year old Polish concentration camp survivor living in Chicago, attacks Elliot Rosenzweig, a Chicago philanthropist. Solomon claims that Rosenzweig is really Otto Piatek, a Nazi who stole Solomon’s family’s treasures. To complicate matters, Piatek was Solomon’s adoptive brother, left with Solomon’s Jewish family by Piatek’s down-on-their-luck gentile parents. In spite of hundreds of witnesses, Rosenzweig refuses to press charges and Ben is released.

Ben’s attack was a ruse to bring Otto into a courtroom confrontation. Having failed, he decides to sue Elliot for theft. He goes to a high-level corporate lawyer, Catherine Lockhart. Does Ben have the right man? Can he prove it? Does the case have sufficient merit? Is she the right lawyer to handle it?

These are the questions that Catherine must decide. And it is at this point that the story descends beyond suspension of disbelief to disbelief. We are asked to believe that Catherine will sit for many unbillable hours listening to Ben’s overlong story while she ignores her paying clients and her partners’ demands for billings. Really!? And can a graduate of Northwestern University Law School be as ignorant about the Nazis, about the meaning of “ghetto,” and about so much history? Really?! And do we need to hear the story of Nazi cruelty in Poland at such length—is the supposedly intelligent and highly educated Catherine so clueless that she must be told? No on all counts—Ben’s long-winded story and Catherine’s failure to get to the chase are simply a way to inform the obviously uninformed reader of the sad events in Poland in 1939 and later. The novel is a redundant history lesson posing as a thriller.

The novel’s “bait and switch” and its sclerosis are not its only drawbacks. It is also not well written. The language is clumsy, the trail of unexplained events is long, the internal inconsistencies are abundant, and the voices are formless and opaque. I was prepared to like “Once We Were Brothers” because it was highly recommended by very good friends whose judgment I respect. It just shows that we all see the same story with different eyes. I suppose that is the good news!
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4

Jan 19, 2016

3.5 stars

Once We Were Brothers begins in a very shocking way. It's Chicago, 2004,when Holocaust survivor, Ben Solomon accuses a wealthy businessmen, Elliott Rosenzweig,of being former Nazi SS officer, Otto Piatek, otherwise known as the "Butcher of Zamosc." To no one's surprise, Rosenzweig denies his accuser as nothing more than a sick man dealing with tragedies of the past. Rosenzweig even goes as far as to set up his own investigation into locating the real Otto Piatek.




However, Benjamin 3.5 stars

Once We Were Brothers begins in a very shocking way. It's Chicago, 2004,when Holocaust survivor, Ben Solomon accuses a wealthy businessmen, Elliott Rosenzweig,of being former Nazi SS officer, Otto Piatek, otherwise known as the "Butcher of Zamosc." To no one's surprise, Rosenzweig denies his accuser as nothing more than a sick man dealing with tragedies of the past. Rosenzweig even goes as far as to set up his own investigation into locating the real Otto Piatek.




However, Benjamin Solomon refuses to believe that he's wrong and approaches ambitious litigator, Catherine Lockhart to bring forward his lawsuit and have justice prevail. Catherine is at first, reluctant to accuse the prominent businessman of such horrific crimes,but as Benjamin tells his story and strange events begin to happen, Catherine starts to realize that there may be more to the story than meets the eye.

Wonderfully paced and historically well researched, Once We Were Brothers is a great read. I would certainly recommend to other readers that enjoy WWII era reads to take a look. ...more
4

Nov 14, 2013

A compelling read. Several issues raised by Balson resonate sharply with me as I work through similar issues in my own new novel.

WARNING … POSSIBLE SPOILERS BELOW

,,, Ben hates his former friend and "brother" Otto for failing to save his parents and others from Nazi torture and murder but gives no credence to the enormous risks Otto did take to save Ben and his wife, the unsuccessful but still substantial efforts Otto made on behalf of others, and the numerous warnings he made for all of them to A compelling read. Several issues raised by Balson resonate sharply with me as I work through similar issues in my own new novel.

WARNING … POSSIBLE SPOILERS BELOW

,,, Ben hates his former friend and "brother" Otto for failing to save his parents and others from Nazi torture and murder but gives no credence to the enormous risks Otto did take to save Ben and his wife, the unsuccessful but still substantial efforts Otto made on behalf of others, and the numerous warnings he made for all of them to leave Poland while they still could. In the scenes where Otto was complicit in the murders, it seemed clear from Balson’s description that Otto's only alternative was to try to save them and fail, and in the process commit suicide.

... What could Otto have done? What could any of the small cogs in the Nazi machine have done? Collectively, of course, tens of thousands of Germans could theoretically have refused to carry out Nazi orders, fomented or carried out revolution against Hitler, or fled Germany. Whether such actions were actually possible is highly questionable, but even if successful, they would likely have meant the deaths of the perpetrator’s families and neighbors.

... There should be a distinction, it seems to me, between patriotic actions in furtherance of national war aims and actions that were later termed, correctly in my view, war crimes. Should a patriotic German at a relatively low level in the army or even in the SS or Gestapo be held accountable for failing to distinguish the line between fighting for his country and committing acts against humanity (as later defined at the Nuremberg Trials)? I say yes, the line was clear enough, but the more difficult issue is whether you are obliged to risk not only your own life but also the lives of your own family, especially if you think your protest has no chance to succeed.

Balson raises all of these issues, and more, in stark dramatic form. A very good story.

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5

Aug 21, 2017

Wow This book was so good, it had everything, a good narrative, a good theme and very well written supportive characters as well as a good main character. Is the one person who all know as the richest benefactor of the town secretly a Nazi war criminal who escaped Germany and has been in hiding for the last 60 years , Ben thinks so and in fact he thinks he knows that one man as a child that both his parents took care of when that child was abandoned by his parents in Poland , all because they Wow This book was so good, it had everything, a good narrative, a good theme and very well written supportive characters as well as a good main character. Is the one person who all know as the richest benefactor of the town secretly a Nazi war criminal who escaped Germany and has been in hiding for the last 60 years , Ben thinks so and in fact he thinks he knows that one man as a child that both his parents took care of when that child was abandoned by his parents in Poland , all because they couldn't take care of him at that moment. As the story unfold, a lawyer has to make a choice , stand her ground and risk everything she holds dear or take a plunge into faith by choosing to believe Ben whose mental capacity is tenuous at best . We are transported to War torn Poland , to the polish and Jewish resistance, to the concentration camps , to convents and finally to America, all leading towards an unknown end. I loved this book, highly recommend it!!! ...more
5

Apr 12, 2012

This book reads like a screenplay, and I want to bet it becomes a movie. I believe Chicago lawyer mr. Balson has the wherewithal to make it happen. It's called a "legal thriller". The thrill is perhaps in going through WWII with Ben. We go back and forth in time as Ben tells his story to convince a young attorney than a very rich and prominent Chicago philanthropist is in reality a childhood friend of Ben's named Otto Piatek, who was abandoned by his parents and went to live with Ben's family. This book reads like a screenplay, and I want to bet it becomes a movie. I believe Chicago lawyer mr. Balson has the wherewithal to make it happen. It's called a "legal thriller". The thrill is perhaps in going through WWII with Ben. We go back and forth in time as Ben tells his story to convince a young attorney than a very rich and prominent Chicago philanthropist is in reality a childhood friend of Ben's named Otto Piatek, who was abandoned by his parents and went to live with Ben's family. Ben would have appointments with Catherine, the attorney, and while he is telling his story we are transported back to Poland just as Hitler is coming into power. When his time is up with each session, we are dropped back into the present, like going on a roller coaster. It is also a wonderful love story between Ben and Hannah. Lots of emotion going on here. Had not. Heard of the book, but took it on for a book club. Could it be one of those word-of-mouth best sellers? In which case I would highly recommend it! ...more
4

Oct 04, 2013

I signed up for a chance to receive an advance readers' copy of Once We Were Brothers through Good Reads and was lucky enough to be sent a copy. The opening scene immediately grabbed me as an octogenarian dressed for his first trip to an opening night opera gala that he had paid $500 for but didn't plan to sit through. He, instead, tucked a German Luger into his cumberbund and headed to the formal reception preceding the performance. Although I made rather slow progress through roughly 3/4 of I signed up for a chance to receive an advance readers' copy of Once We Were Brothers through Good Reads and was lucky enough to be sent a copy. The opening scene immediately grabbed me as an octogenarian dressed for his first trip to an opening night opera gala that he had paid $500 for but didn't plan to sit through. He, instead, tucked a German Luger into his cumberbund and headed to the formal reception preceding the performance. Although I made rather slow progress through roughly 3/4 of the book, certainly not due to any lack of interest in the story, but to a busy schedule, I devoured the last quarter or so in one sitting. I didn't intend to because it was the wee hours of the morning when I picked up the book, but I couldn't lay it down.

The story moves back and forth between a Polish Jew's account of his family's experiences during Hitler's rise to power and WWII and a young lawyer's originally reluctant but eventually determined effort to help Ben Solomon receive justice by bringing a lawsuit against a wealthy Chicago philanthropist admired by all and seemingly untouchable. The long stretches in which Ben slowly unfolds events of 60 years earlier might have grown tedious, but didn't. I found Ben an engaging storyteller and convincing character, thanks to Balson's good writing. The novel's present also holds character interest and suspense of its own.

According to marketing information included at the front of the advance readers' copy, the book is being actively marketed to Jewish groups, but I also spotted it on the Barnes & Noble website although not on Amazon at the time I checked. Once We Were Brothers should appeal to a broad audience and should be widely available. It could make an outstanding film if Ben's story were told as a series of flashbacks. ...more
5

Aug 23, 2012

I have read dozens of Holocaust books and found this novel to be well written and captivating. The author presented this story providing the reader with accurate and detailed background details of what happened during this horrific period in history. For readers who know little of the Holocaust as well as for readers who DO know of the Holocaust, the author paints a picture of survival, determination and love. Ben Solomon is an amiable man and is well read and intelligent. He illustrates I have read dozens of Holocaust books and found this novel to be well written and captivating. The author presented this story providing the reader with accurate and detailed background details of what happened during this horrific period in history. For readers who know little of the Holocaust as well as for readers who DO know of the Holocaust, the author paints a picture of survival, determination and love. Ben Solomon is an amiable man and is well read and intelligent. He illustrates determination to seek his retribution for the devastation he suffered and continued to endure as a result of the war and his once friend/brother, Otto, and the Nazis.

Ben, Hannah, Catherine & Liam were compelling.

I was most satisfied with the ending of the novel. It was most appropriate.

I would highly recommend reading this book. I now need to discuss it right away with someone else who has also read it! I need to talk about it! ...more
5

Oct 21, 2016

One of the best audio books I have listened to. I loved this book and would classify as a WWII Crime Thriller. I look forward to more in this series.
4

Feb 13, 2018

Elliot Rosenzweig is a Chicago bigwig. A philanthropist and major donor in many causes, Rosenzweig is on a first name basis with the mayor and other political figures. When he is in attendance of a fundraiser in the opera a man approaches him with a gun and accuses him of being Otto Piatek, a Nazi officer during the war. The man, Ben Solomon, is tackled and arrested and Rosenzweig denies this allegation. Yet Ben Solomon is sure that this man was not just a Nazi but also his brother. In the court Elliot Rosenzweig is a Chicago bigwig. A philanthropist and major donor in many causes, Rosenzweig is on a first name basis with the mayor and other political figures. When he is in attendance of a fundraiser in the opera a man approaches him with a gun and accuses him of being Otto Piatek, a Nazi officer during the war. The man, Ben Solomon, is tackled and arrested and Rosenzweig denies this allegation. Yet Ben Solomon is sure that this man was not just a Nazi but also his brother. In the court of public opinion, will Rosenzwieg's name be tarnished or are those accusations the ramblings of an old man?

I love reading and have a particular affinity with historical fiction. Upon reading the premise of this novel, I was hooked. When Elliot Rosenzweig is approached by Ben Solomon, Rosenzweig shows him his tattoo from being held prisioner in a concentration camp. Yet Solomon is adamant that Rosenzwieg is actually Otto Piatek, the butcher of Zamosc. Not only that but that as boys, they were brothers. Despite Rosenzweig's influence, Solomon does not back down and eventually finds a lawyer that believes him. What ensues is a battle in the public and private courts. With a noticeable lack of evidence, this case goes beyond a court ruling. Its about not forgetting the atrocities committed in the past. As far as the historical content, this work was informative and well researched. I loved Solomon's story, his flashbacks were the cornerstone of the book. As you are reading, there is doubt as to wether Solomon is right about Rosenzweig but he remains likeable none-the-less.

While I like the book there are a few issues. The present storyline that involved the lawyers, while nice, was somewhat predictable and it took a while for the pace to pick up in this book. I found that the romance aspect bordered on cliched. Having said that, once the attention was wholly on Solomon and the pace picked up, it was difficult to put down the book. The conclusion was well executed and even surprised me. All the different parts of Solomon's story tied in nicely with the overall plot. I particularly like that there is nothing inherently obvious about this work. I've since learned that this book is part of a series and want to continue on. Overall, this was a good and solid work. ...more
2

May 08, 2012

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This was a compelling book and I stayed up late to finish it, but I thought it would have been much better if there were more nuance to the good Jews and bad Nazis theme. For example, what was going on with Otto's transformation from son in the family to evil Nazi. Did he always feel like an outsider? Slighted by not being part of the family? Did he suffer for his decision to shoot the father, or did he feel that he was saving him from torture?

Also, am I the only one who finds it difficult to This was a compelling book and I stayed up late to finish it, but I thought it would have been much better if there were more nuance to the good Jews and bad Nazis theme. For example, what was going on with Otto's transformation from son in the family to evil Nazi. Did he always feel like an outsider? Slighted by not being part of the family? Did he suffer for his decision to shoot the father, or did he feel that he was saving him from torture?

Also, am I the only one who finds it difficult to swallow the idea that Ben had lived for nearly three decades in Chicago yet had never come across Otto, a well-known public figure? ...more
5

Aug 28, 2012

A Must Read for anyone interested in the Holocaust. One of my favorites!! As written on Amazon......From Nazi-occupied Poland to a Chicago courtroom 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. Although the charges are denounced as preposterous, his accuser, Ben Solomon, is convinced he is right. Solomon urges attorney Catherine Lockhart to take his A Must Read for anyone interested in the Holocaust. One of my favorites!! As written on Amazon......From Nazi-occupied Poland to a Chicago courtroom 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. Although the charges are denounced as preposterous, his accuser, Ben Solomon, is convinced he is right. Solomon urges attorney Catherine Lockhart to take his case, revealing that Otto 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 that struggles to survive in war-torn Poland. It is also the story of a young lawyer who must face not only a powerful adversary, but her own self-doubts. Two lives, two worlds and sixty years all on course to collide in a fast-paced legal thriller. The author, Ronald H. Balson, is a Chicago trial attorney and educator. His practice has taken him to international venues, including small villages in Poland, which have inspired this novel.
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2

Nov 24, 2012

Once we were brothers by Ronald H. Balson is a novel with a compelling plot about two boys and a family that struggles to survive in war-torn Poland. It is also the story of a young lawyer who must face not only a powerful adversary, but her own self doubts. Two lives, two worlds and sixty years all on course to collide in a fast paced legal thriller.

The book's premise is extremely compelling, and the shifting events from present-day Chicago to war torn Poland and back create an interesting Once we were brothers by Ronald H. Balson is a novel with a compelling plot about two boys and a family that struggles to survive in war-torn Poland. It is also the story of a young lawyer who must face not only a powerful adversary, but her own self doubts. Two lives, two worlds and sixty years all on course to collide in a fast paced legal thriller.

The book's premise is extremely compelling, and the shifting events from present-day Chicago to war torn Poland and back create an interesting narrative that makes for a good paced read.
However I was not keen on the character development in the book as I was uable to visualise Ben or Catherine. Also a few incidents in the book were not believable and this left me a little bemused.

The story however is very well researched historically and is an easy and interesting read. I did enjoy this novel and I would have rated it a 3.5 if I could.
...more
4

Aug 30, 2013

Ben Solomon accuses one of the richest, most philanthropic men in Chicago of being the Nazi, Otto Pietak. He gets a lawyer, Catherine, to bring a law suit against Mr. Rosenzweig. In a very deliberate way, over a period of several weeks he reveals to her what exactly Pietak did and why he wants justice after so many years. It turns out that Ben's family raised Otto when his parents all but abandoned him and encouraged him to become a Nazi to help their family from the inside. But Otto became Ben Solomon accuses one of the richest, most philanthropic men in Chicago of being the Nazi, Otto Pietak. He gets a lawyer, Catherine, to bring a law suit against Mr. Rosenzweig. In a very deliberate way, over a period of several weeks he reveals to her what exactly Pietak did and why he wants justice after so many years. It turns out that Ben's family raised Otto when his parents all but abandoned him and encouraged him to become a Nazi to help their family from the inside. But Otto became enamored of the power being a Nazi gave him and he ended up being as brutal as any, actually sentencing Ben's family to death.

I liked this book on many levels. I liked how Catherine was so impatient with Ben getting on with his story at first, then gradually becoming entranced by it. I liked her relationship with the private detective, Liam, who brought Ben and Catherine together. And I liked Ben, who never wavered from his belief and who talked to his dead wife Hannah for direction. The only thing that didn't ring true for me, and it's trivial yet still bugs me, is that Ben puts flowers on Hannah's grave, which is totally a non-Jewish thing to do. Jews put stones on graves, not flowers. This wouldn't have upset me except that there was a flower holder at the grave, which wouldn't exist at a Jewish cemetery. Other than that the story seemed very true to both modern times and the 30s and 40s in Poland. ...more
5

Jul 01, 2013

This is a beautiful and powerful story based on the reality of what happened in the city of Zamosc, Poland in the 1930's and 1940's when Hitler rose to power in Germany and began the persecution of Jews in Europe. It is quite different in the way it covers the material. Ben Solomon and his Jewish family took in a Gentile child named Otto Piatek and raised him as their own son from 1933 on because his father was out of work and the German mom left Poland for her native Germany. The Solomon father This is a beautiful and powerful story based on the reality of what happened in the city of Zamosc, Poland in the 1930's and 1940's when Hitler rose to power in Germany and began the persecution of Jews in Europe. It is quite different in the way it covers the material. Ben Solomon and his Jewish family took in a Gentile child named Otto Piatek and raised him as their own son from 1933 on because his father was out of work and the German mom left Poland for her native Germany. The Solomon father found jobs for the boy's father who was such an alcoholic he couldn't hold on to them. Otto and Ben and his sister Beka were inseparable and Otto had no hatred for Jews or interest in becoming a Nazi. Repeatedly his mother and father showed up trying to get him to come to them but Otto felt the sting and the two now worked for the Nazis in Germany.

Otto's mother disguises herself and comes to Poland one last time. She works for a very high Nazi in Germany and warns them that they must get out of Poland and that Otto cannot live with Jews. She said if the Nazis knew she had come to Poland to warn Jews, they'd kill her but that she knew they would be coming to that town because of what she had seen and overheard in her boss' offices and she wanted her son to get in the program Hitler had for young Aryans and was willing to help the family get fake ID so to leave the country.

In almost all of the Holocaust ficti0n and autobiographies/biographies (nonfiction) I have read, there are characters and actual people who get forewarned and even offers for help but make the stupid mistake to presume nothing will go wrong and turn it down only to find themselves going through hell. While Otto did join the Nazis in the hope of helping the Solomons and other Jews, in the end he was known as the Butcher of Zamosc.

The novel starts with Ben as an 83 year old man who walks into the opera fundraiser in Chicago and sticks an old Nazi gun in the face of the powerful 83 year old man who calls himself Elliot Rosenzweig who is well known as a rich man and philanthropist and accuses him of being Otto Piatek, his once brother turned Nazi butcher and bully.

Catherine Lockhart is a lawyer dissatisfied with corporate law and recovering from a breakdown years earlier and talked into hearing Ben's story by her private detective friend Liam who has loved her for years. This case really is a watershed for her- she discovers the courage to love again (Liam) and to do work that matters and is important (Ben's civil case against Otto who stole his family's jewelry, valuables, and money after it was entrusted to him) and even as she quits her regular job, the rewards she gains are immense.

I'd like to address a couple of issues that I have seen other reviewers complain about. First, both Catherine/Liam and readers get to hear the whole story of what happened in that town to those people as part of the story and while there is a lot of history discussed as it happened to Sam and his family, his future wife Hannah and her family and Otto, that is part of the story and explains Ben's actions in 2004/2005. It IS the story so anyone who can't tolerate learning any history through story needs to go find some brainless chick lit or lightweight humor book. The second thing is that these reviewers make fun of the fact that Catherine is a college graduate and lawyer but asks simple questions about the events Ben is describing. Let's keep in mind that such reviewers don't even know what they don't know about the Holocaust. They had likely never heard about that town before this book and didn't know what happened there specifically. Hey, I have studied the Holocaust for decades on my own before spending last year writing a book length thesis where I was humbled by what I didn't know (and how much I still don't know). Catherine's character was in her thirties and schools teach very little about the Holocaust in grades K-12 and who besides history majors in college even take 1 world history course, let alone a Holocaust course? Of course, she asked questions and the author was educating those readers who aren't Holocaust experts. It is Ben's story that will reach into your heart and grab you just like it did Catherine. This isn't an easy breezy novel for low brow readers. It is a journey of people who suffered intensely and a journey of the heart.

I highly recommend this for intelligent readers who genuinely care about what happened in the Holocaust as well as for those who want to see how that past still has the power to touch and change people today who weren't even born then. It is a rich experience. ...more
5

Mar 18, 2017

I LOVED THIS BOOK! Ben was such a dear heart! The way this story unfolded was like a historical fiction, courtroom thriller. It was so good!
3

May 28, 2019

In Chicago, an old man points a gun at a bigwig and pulls the trigger. The gun is unloaded, and the firing pin removed, but the man is arrested, accusing the bigwig of being a Nazi.

Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart get on the case...and then we get a WWII story set in Poland, about best friends split up by the rise of Naziism.

I guess this is the formula for most of the series.
2

Nov 20, 2014

I've read a lot of books, both fiction and non-fiction, set in this time period and this just failed to pack a comparable punch. The premise was good and the ideas for characters were good, but the characters themselves were one-dimensional. I didn't feel much for any of them, which is pretty unfortunate in a Holocaust tale. I also didn't care at all for the structure of the book. It was told in flashback from the point of view of the central character, but the author chose to do this with I've read a lot of books, both fiction and non-fiction, set in this time period and this just failed to pack a comparable punch. The premise was good and the ideas for characters were good, but the characters themselves were one-dimensional. I didn't feel much for any of them, which is pretty unfortunate in a Holocaust tale. I also didn't care at all for the structure of the book. It was told in flashback from the point of view of the central character, but the author chose to do this with constant quotes, which got annoying. There were quotation marks everywhere in this.


In addition, I found a lot of the dialogue either unbelievable or just clunky. The author is trying to teach the reader about the history, which is important, but in doing so, he makes one of his characters seem horribly uneducated about the most basic of details. This would be fine if the character were 12, not 39. Many of facts presented read like Wikipedia entries rather than plausible dialogue. Structurally, I think it would have been much better to start the narrative in Nazi Europe, giving all of the necessary details, and then bring us to the present chronologically, culminating with the lawsuit. Or even a non-linear structure would have worked better. The chosen style just made the whole thing fall a little flat for me, which is too bad, because I really liked the idea. ...more
4

Jul 17, 2013

4.5 stars.

**Received from GoodReads first reads giveaway.

I really enjoyed this book about Ben Solomon, a Polish Holocaust Survivor who goes to the opera and puts a gun to the head of Elliot Rosenzweig whom he really believes is Nazi Otto Piatek. Ben and Otto have a past - they once lived in the same home. Otto having been taken in my Ben's family. The story is told in a series of flashbacks and during interviews with attorney Catherine Lockhart who is listening to Ben's tale to see if he has a 4.5 stars.

**Received from GoodReads first reads giveaway.

I really enjoyed this book about Ben Solomon, a Polish Holocaust Survivor who goes to the opera and puts a gun to the head of Elliot Rosenzweig whom he really believes is Nazi Otto Piatek. Ben and Otto have a past - they once lived in the same home. Otto having been taken in my Ben's family. The story is told in a series of flashbacks and during interviews with attorney Catherine Lockhart who is listening to Ben's tale to see if he has a case against Rosenzwig/Piatek for stolen property.

This book was extensively researched and I learned quite a deal about the invasion of Poland by both Germany and Russia. This book was rich with details but essential ones- they did not bog down the story but for me enhanced it. The writer is also an attorney and it showed in the legal battle.

This book was enthralling and hard to put down at times. This book is part history book, part legal thriller, part love story and full of drama. I highly recommend this book. ...more
4

Mar 20, 2018

"Otto, who is much younger, taller, and stronger than Stanislaw, steps forward and blocks Stanislaw's approach. 'Don't you ever push anyone in my house,' he says. 'Ever. Or I'll break you into little pieces...'
Catherine shook her head. "The Otto you're describing in your story, he's..."
"Once we were brothers," said Ben sadly.

This was not my normal read, I have to admit. Not that I specifically stay away from these types of books, but historical fiction just doesn't seem to appeal to me as "Otto, who is much younger, taller, and stronger than Stanislaw, steps forward and blocks Stanislaw's approach. 'Don't you ever push anyone in my house,' he says. 'Ever. Or I'll break you into little pieces...'
Catherine shook her head. "The Otto you're describing in your story, he's..."
"Once we were brothers," said Ben sadly.

This was not my normal read, I have to admit. Not that I specifically stay away from these types of books, but historical fiction just doesn't seem to appeal to me as much. And I have to say, a word of advice to Ronald H. Balson. Pssst. People like beautiful covers. And yes we all know the old adage, never judge a book by it's cover, and yes we've all been fooled into buying and being super excited about a book with a bright gorgeous cover and then it turns out to be terrible, but even when the interior is terrible, the exterior is not and most book lovers will still be excited to own it just for the sake of it's beauty. I have to admit that when I'm excited about a book, when the cover is particularly appealing, it just makes me all the more excited to read the book. Once We Were Brothers, while depicting a time in history that is admittedly one of the, if not thee darkest and ugliest time in modern history, has a pretty boring cover. I get that Poland, while under influence and attack from Nazi Germany does not bring to mind bright and pretty scenery, but Once We Were Brothers had plenty of jewels and beautiful moments and I don't think it would have hurt the author any to depict that as opposed to the dark and dreary Polish streets with the nazi flag billowing in the distance. I'd seen this book dozens of times before but of course it never caught my eye, it wasn't until browsing Barnes and Noble with a history teacher that my attention was called to this book at all. After reading the blurb and checking it's deets on Goodreads, I was sold on the concept and overall pretty excited about getting into this one, and I reiterate, I would have only been all the more excited and attracted to the book all the sooner if the cover had had even a little aesthetic appeal. To each his own I suppose, some people might see this cover and be immediately drawn to it. If you're a historian. Or a Nazi.

So despite this not being my typical read, I really really enjoyed it. Ben Solomon spots billionaire and philanthropist Elliot Rosenzweig on television one random evening then makes his way to a charity event in order to confront him with an (unloaded) gun and accuse him of being Otto Piatek and the butcher of Zamość. Ben lived in Zamość, Poland with the rest of his Jewish family and friends when the war broke out in Germany. Despite having had a history of being friendly to the Jews, after the death of a politician who protected the Jews during his entire career and life they became vulnerable and soon began to see the effects of the war flush into their country. Ben's father was in a position of power in the Jewish community and was appointed a figurehead and intermediary for the Jews and the Nazis and took on the job of finding help for misplaced Jews & just those who'd lost everything and needed help. Otto's dad was one of the many people Ben's father helped find work, and seeing the pitiable state that Otto was in, Ben's mother and father took pity on him and offered to give him a meal and a place to sleep for the evening, tho of course an evening turned into two and two turned into three, and so on and so forth. Otto was basically abandoned by his father, and it wasn't until a couple years later that Otto's parent's both reappeared, dressed to the 9's, while so many were homeless and starving, and demanded that Otto go with them. Otto having spent the last few years being cared for by the Solomon's refused and continued to live with and be cared for by the Solomon's for 6 years. By then, Poland was being crushed by the Nazis and the quality of life for Jews decreased more and more all the time. What began as a segregation of the Jews, evolved into a stripping of their homes and valuables and ultimately to the murders and extermination of entire towns full of Jews and their being sent away to labor and work camps. When Otto's parents make another appearance 6 years later, his mother holds an important position as secretary to a very important Nazi and has been receiving bits and pieces of info that she has pieced together to form a solid idea of what's to come for several Polish cities, including Zamość, and insists once again that Otto leave with them, only this time her pleas are desperate. Despite putting herself at risk, tho solely to repay the debt of their having cared for Otto & not out of any love for them or the Jews, she reveals to the Solomon's that Zamość is at risk in an attempt to convince Otto to return with her, but he steadfastly refuses. He intends to stay and fight with his people, his family, which he considers the Solomons rather than his own parents. Here he is determined to stand with and protect the Solomons and makes gesture after gesture of solidarity with the Solomons and the Jews. The situation in Zamość and all of Poland being so dire, Ben's father suggests that Otto leave with his mother and take a position in the Nazi army in order to be in a position to potentially help them if they should need it. Otto initially doesn't want to, but as he respects the Solomons and defers to them as he would a parent, he finally agrees.
This, is the beginning of the end. Where Otto seems to begin with good intentions, he is very quickly corrupted by the power and influence of the Nazi's and his aid to the Solomon's and people of his village trickles less and less all the time. As things in Zamość worsen, Otto arranges to hide the Solomon's valuables for them so that when the Nazi's demand that they all be handed over to them they wont be stripped of the entirety of their life savings. It's when Ben begins making arrangements to flee town with his girlfriend Hannah and sister Bekkah that Ben first sees the blatant signs of Otto's turnaround. Otto seems conceited, self absorbed, wrapped up in the lives of the soldiers, mistreats his girlfriend Elisbieta and when Ben asks for some of the money that Otto had supposedly hidden away, Otto seems annoyed by the request and makes excuses for why he cannot hand it over immediately. In Otto's final gesture of assistance he gives Hannah, Ben and Bekkah a ride out of Zamość to Ben’s uncle's cabin out of town where they set up camp for the time being and wait for the rest of their family to join them. What follows this is a very sad story, the kind of stories most holocaust survivors have full of death and horrific cruelty and crimes, but also for Ben a story of a family betrayal that cuts so deep it haunts him for a lifetime, and of a love that endures even the most atrocious circumstances. When Ben, at age 83, hears voices (that he insists are his Hannah, communicating with him from beyond the grave via moments of inspiration) telling him to turn on the tv, and he spots Elliot Rosenzweig, he is sure that this man is Otto Piatek, his former brother and the butcher of Zamość. Rosenzweig is a prominent member of Chicago society, whose history with the city, charitable donations and involvements and connections in politics make this accusation initially seem wildly misplaced. Rosenzweig of course denies the allegations, and publicly expresses sympathy for Ben rather than anger and pushes to have the charges against Ben dropped. Ben, insisting that Rosenzweig is avoiding facing him in court, continues on his quest to out Rosenzweig for the Nazi that Ben believes he is. This is where Liam and Catherine come into play. Liam is a private investigator who only agrees to investigate the matter further on the basis of knowing and respecting Adele, a very close friend of Ben's, who basically begs for help from Liam on the matter. Liam then seeks out his longtime friend and unrequited love, Catherine, a semi recently disgraced lawyer who is still reeling from the messy breakup with an ex whose aftermath caused her her career that she is only very recently beginning to come back from. What begins as an agreement to simply listen and give her advice gradually turns into a case that both Catherine and Liam become wholly invested in, risking not only time and money but their careers, reputations and even lives.

The story is embedded within another story, I'm not sure if there is a specific term for this form of narration, a story with a story. A character in the narrative becomes the narrator of a second narrative text, still framed by the first one. In this manner Ben's story is revealed bit by bit, and the book is split into two parts, Part I which consists of Ben's retelling of his and Otto's history, and Part II which contains the trial. When the story began I wondered how it could possibly go on for 400 pages, but much to my surprise the pages flew by easily, I was completely wrapped up in the story. My hate for Otto propelled me forward and I have to own up to the fact that about halfway thru the suspense overtook me and I just had to look at the end to see if whoever Otto was was ever found and brought to justice. Often, when I make this mistake, it spoils the surprise & ruins the entire reading experience but in this instance that wasn't the case at all. I was every bit as engaged as I had been prior to sneaking a peek.

This was a fun change of pace for me, tho I hesitate to use the word fun when I'm reading a holocaust survival story but the truth was I enjoyed this very much. Some might think there were slow bits in the story where things lagged, but personally I was interested in every last bit. The side story that was going on with Catherine and Liam remained mostly secondary, I might've liked to have gone a little more in depth into Catherine and Liam's histories, both separately and together but other than a wanting for more I have no complaints. I loved this, and this little foray into the historical fiction genre has me clicking around and investigating other books in this genre. It's been so long since I've read a book that I would consider putting on my "loves of my life" shelf, but this is as close as you can get to that without actually landing on the shelf.

4.5 stars. A heartbreaking, powerful tale of family, & a betrayal that haunted one man for a lifetime and how that man's love for his wife and family led him on his unwavering quest to bring the man who betrayed them all to justice. Masterful storytelling. Loved it. ...more

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