Sunday, December 5, 2010
The Polski Affair by Leon Gildin
But the past cannot be forgotten. They made their way to Israel after staying in the Hotel Polski. It was touted among the Jews as a refuge in the madness, somewhere that families could stay and get visas to other lands. Desperate to escape, it was always crowded with families, although no one really knew if those who left were taken to jail or the camps, or if they did make it to new lives elsewhere. They are willing to give up their entire fortunes for a chance at survival.
Rosa has no money to try to purchase papers. She lives in the hotel, passing as a Polish maid. Then one day she catches the eye of Colonel Peter Hauptmann, the Nazi who is in control of the hotel. He informs Rosa that she will be his personal assistant and companion. Over the weeks that follow, she does that; dressing in the designer clothing of women killed in the camps and doing whatever he asks of her, including a sexual relationship. She is torn and ashamed, but knows she must do whatever is asked of her to have a chance at survival. When the Colonel is reassigned, he makes arrangements for Rosa and Itzik to be sent overseas. The papers he arranges for them gives them their new identities and Chaim and Anna Adler.
Now the past has returned in two ways. Anna is called after the war to testify at the International War Crimes tribunal about Colonel Hauptmann's role at the Hotel Polski. She testifies that he was involved in the departure of many families; some to be saved; some to be killed. The Colonel is given a prison sentence, but Rosa's testimony keeps him from execution. Then years later, a reunion of Hotel Polski survivors is held and she attends. It is another piece in the puzzle of those years that she constantly works and rewords, trying to make sense of her life.
The Polski Affair is the 2010 International Book Awards winner for historical fiction. The hotel did exist, and the mystery of what the Nazis were doing there has never been solved. What is clear and what Gildin portrays so movingly, is what people will do for survival, and how one can move on in later years to a more successful life. The past will never be forgotten but it can be integrated into the present in a way that doesn't destroy the survivor. This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and for those interested in survival stories.