This quirky book instantly attracted me. The story is straight-forwardly about property in Poland. Jewish Holocaust survivors made it to the USA. Two generations later a grandson tried to prove ownership rights over a house plundered by Nazis. Kaiser’s book puts his attempts at restitution into an interesting personal context.
His search was focused on an address Malachowskiego 12 in Sosnowiec.1 Seventy years after the war the street had been renumbered and Number 12 had ‘moved’. His sleazy conspiratorial activities at number 12 were literally misplaced “It was, in fact, the wrong building.”2
The actual property, 34 Malachowskiego, wasn’t ‘ancestral’. It was an investment property. This weakened his emotional commitment to stolen family property. Nonetheless he wished to assert ‘property rights’, especially if they were valuable.
Kaiser discovered a sub-industry of Polish and Jewish Nazi treasure hunters. Many were delusional. The search for a Nazi ‘gold train’ featured heavily. Unbelievably, a distant relative and Camp Survivor, had written a book, which was the holy grail for treasure hunters. This connexion made Kaiser a celebrity opening new opportunities. He toured the sites of his ancestors’ camps, most of which had become open fields. This, chillingly, included a shopping mall.
“…this is an astonishing origin story. Abraham risks his life by jotting journal entries on stolen scraps of cement packaging. Whenever he’s set to be transferred to another camp, he hides his ‘diary’ beneath the latrine. Against all the odds he survives, and in the weeks after liberation, he borrows a bicycle from the woman who’d hidden him and he rides from camp to camp, collecting his notes.”3
3 pp207-8 The book is constantly reprinted in Poland and is Za Drutami Smierci (There isn’t an English translation so far as I can see)