The Polski Affair, by Leon H. Gildin is an interesting and fascinating Holocaust novel, and one that is unique in many aspects. Hotel Polski, located in Warsaw, Poland, is the setting for the story line. The novel opens with a woman named Anna Adler, now living in Israel, reading an ad in a newspaper.
The ad is for a reunion of Holocaust Survivors which is to take place at Hotel Polski. Anna, was known at that time as Rosa Feurmann. She was part of a partisan group of individuals who operated out of a cemetery across the street from the hotel. The group had heard rumors that Hotel Polski was being used as a front by the Nazis…a front whereby Jews could purchase their freedom, receive foreign passports, and leave Warsaw for a safe environment in a neutral country. Jews were supposedly taken to the hotel from the Warsaw Ghetto, and interned there for weeks and/or months, awaiting their freedom. Rosa was given an assignment to somehow manage to get into the hotel and find out what was happening there.
Rosa was able to enter the hotel, and finds a broom. She then pretends to be a maid in order to try to find out what is actually occurring at the hotel, and why all the Jewish guests are leaving after staying there for so long. Rosa meets Colonel Peter Hauptmann, the Nazi commandant in charge of the project at the hotel. She ends up becoming his assistant. From that point forward the story takes on a strange twist, and I won’t spoil the events that arise in the hotel, and will leave it at that.
Incidents occur that let the reader know the actual reason for the project taking place at the hotel. It is surprising and puts a new light on what the Nazis would endeavor to do with Jews in order to fit their own purpose and goals.
Rosa eventually leaves the hotel, and leave Poland for Israel, where she begins a new life with a new identity, under the name of Anna Adler. Years later Anna is invited to Heidelberg by the International Military Tribunal, in order to tell her story in a court of law. She would be relating details of her time spent at the Hotel Polski, under the name of Rosa Feurmann. The Tribunal wants to know about her duties and involvement with Colonel Hauptmann. They want to know if she can give them any information that will help them to convict Colonel Hauptmann, or convict any others that might have been involved in the project at the hotel. She was conflicted about going, but did eventually decide to make the journey. I will not divulge the events of the trial.
More events occur years after Anna’s testimony at the International Military Tribunal. Anna learns about certain incidents that leave her feeling unsettled, and the feeling of closure is absent in her life. This gnaws at her, and becomes a thorn in her side. When she sees the ad for the Hotel Polski reunion, she wrestles as to whether she should attend.
Circumstances unfold after the reunion that are both a surprise to Anna, and are painful to her. Through these trials and tribulations she does manage to find a sense of closure, no matter how small it is. The reader is left with a sense that time will somehow lessen her pain. The life she once knew, the name she once was known by, are now windows of time gone by, memories of what once were, and she has moved forward with her life in Israel, although cognizant of the past.
Gildin writes with excellence, infusing vivid word images and descriptions throughout the pages. It isn’t a novel that is a fast read in the sense of it being a page-turner, as many novels of this order are. That doesn’t minimize the story line or the author’s writing. The Hotel Polski was a factual place, and Gildin has given us a story with an actual piece of history within the pages. The Polski Affair is unique in many aspects, and includes a surprise or two. Leon H. Gildin has given us a glimpse into World War II, the Holocaust and the Nazi mindset that is through an out of the ordinary perspective.
I reviewed this book before, on another blog which is no longer in existence. I have recently reread it, and it was just as good a read, as it was the first time.
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March 12, 2012 – 18 Adar I, 5772