Among the other burdens I carry with me, the Hotel Polski lies like a stone upon my heart. What others think they know they never speak of and what I know I certainly never speak of. But think about it, that I do. – from The Polski Affair, page 8 –
When the Warsaw ghetto was destroyed in 1943, the surviving Jews fled to the countryside or hid in the homes of sympathetic Aryans. In an elaborate scheme to encourage Jewish citizens to come out of hiding, the Gestapo promised to allow Jews from Warsaw who held foreign passports of neutral countries to leave Poland and travel to South America where they could find refuge. They used the Hotel Polski to house Jewish families who were preparing to emigrate. Nearly 2500 people came out hiding and moved to the Hotel Polski. Instead of finding safe passage out of Poland, Jews were instead transported to Vittel, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz when their passports were not recognized by South American governments. Jews without foreign passports were executed by the Germans at Pawiak prison. Only about 350 Jews who held Palestinian passports survived.
It is this historic event which serves as the backdrop to Leon Gildin’s novel The Polski Affair.
I was eager to read this book – the premise seemed promising and the novel won the 2010 International Book Award for Historical Fiction. Despite my high hopes, I found myself quickly disappointed. The narrator is a woman by the name of Rosa Herzog. She represents one of the few survivors of the Hotel Polski and tells her story in a dry voice, relating the events but lacking any real emotion. Her narrative bounces around quite a bit. Because of this, I felt largely unmoved by her story which read more like a history book than a first person narrative of a tragic event. I was distracted from the story repeatedly because of glaring typos and poor grammar (for example, on page 7 a sentence reads: “Just like Chaim and I.“). I could forgive one or two mistakes, but after stumbling over these types of sentences for 51 pages and finding my mind wandering, I finally put this book aside as one of the rare DNFs of the year.
I wanted to like this one, but I am afraid it is one of those self-published manuscripts that could have benefited from tighter editing.
FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by a publicist for review on my blog.