Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Book Review: Reclaiming family property and finding Nazi treasures

 

I don't usually do book reviews, I really don't have time. But this book, "Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure," by Menachem Kaiser, was "not-put-downable."

As Kaiser wrote in his book (the last sentence actually) "Oh my god ..." is my thought of this book!  By that I mean, this book is remarkable. I love the way it was written. At first I was a little overwhelmed by his detailed writing - how he describes his feelings with every adjective possible it seems. But as I kept reading I realized he is writing it exactly how he thinks.

"Plunder" is an incisive and engaging story of a young man returning to his family's ancestral home on the Polish-German border in search of a connection with a grandfather he never met - and the relatives he never knew he had. Taking up his late grandfather's efforts to reclaim the family's apartment building in Sosnowiec, Kaiser finds himself in a "Kafkaesque" legal battle against Poland's mercurial courts and changing government. Kaiser has all the proper paper work that proves his grandfather and great-uncle owned a building in Sosnowiec, however, you see, the courts refused to recognize the deaths of Shoah victims. Kaiser can't prove his family died in concentration camps because there are no death certificates - even though this is three generations later.

Yes they're dead," he writes, "but unfortunately that doesn't mean they're dead. ... People aren't dead just because you believe they are dead, just because you know they are dead, just because they are in fact dead."

Kaiser gets to know the residents of the #12 building and ambles around Silesia, searching for hints of his family's life before the Holocaust.

I loved reading about his relationships with all the people he met and how he met them. He suffers guilt because he felt he was misleading them (he doesn't tell them his family owns the building).

Eventually Kaiser learns the #12 building was the wrong building, which opens the door to another mystery. OK, I'm hooked.

During the court processes and meeting the local residents, Kaiser explores the local World War II landmarks with a team of recreational treasure hunters who seem to think he is related to a famous treasure hunter, Abraham Kayzer. This gains him much respect among the treasure hunters. Kaiser discovers a surprising connection to Project Riese, a mysterious, unfinished Nazi tunnel complex system dug by Jewish slave laborers in the Owl Mountains. The Nazis used Jews to dig the tunnels without any regard for their lives. If one slave died, they'd just grab another person to replace the one lost.

Another adventure Kaiser went on was to try to find 10 golden eggs supposedly hidden in a new friend's father-in-law's attic. Before this man was deported, according to Kaiser's friend (who is given a pseudonym in the book), he took all his gold, melted it down, and formed the eggs which he hid in the attic.

As I finished the book I was left in a dilemma ... will there be a sequel? Did he EVER reclaim his family's property? And did his friend say "oh my god" because Menachem was holding up a gold egg? (I like to think that). I was dismayed that he and Joanna never did discover what was behind that wall in Jacek's cellar (oh yes, that is another story). 

Then I thought, is the book really about the search rather than the find? 

The search seemed to be the treasure hunters' goal - the search was the exciting part; same thought Kaiser's friend had: He came to find the eggs; but it wasn't actually finding the eggs, it was the search for them ...

"Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure" is available on Amazon.

 

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