“I’m reading Menachem Kaiser’s ‘Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure,’ about a young man’s effort to reclaim a building in a small Polish town that was owned by his family members before they were deported to Nazi death camps.

His grandfather – who survived the Holocaust – died before the author was born, after unsuccessfully trying for years to be compensated for the loss of this property. Kaiser’s story starts off focused on taking back title to a single building, but widens as one discovery after another leads him to realizations about history, heritage and his family ties.

“He meets residents of the building, which for decades was home to the town’s theater community and the site of legendary parties; he becomes involved with Polish explorers and ‘treasure hunters,’ and with them explores a network of underground Nazi sites carved out by slave labor; and he works with an elderly lawyer in Krakow nicknamed ‘The Killer’ for her skill in pursuing claims for property restoration.

“Kaiser’s tone is conversational. Reading this book is like sitting down and listening, rapt for hours, to a born storyteller.

“When I taught ESOL in Poland a number of years ago I learned a great deal about some Poles’ strong feelings of ‘how long is long enough?’ for those who took over property that belonged to Nazi-deported Jews to know they won’t have to return it to victims’ descendants who are seeking restitution. That’s what drew me to this book. However, anyone of any background who is interested in family history will be quickly drawn in, as will anyone who thinks about these questions: What do we inherit from our forebears – and from the past?

“Parenthetically: I’m only up to page 70, and I’m completely hooked. Throughout most of the pandemic I’ve been reading novels because I have needed to be taken ‘worlds away’ (Emily Dickenson). This is the first non-fiction in a while, and it has thoroughly transported me.” — ELLEN D. MURPHY, Portland


Mainers, please email to tell us about the book on your bedside table right now. In a few sentences, describe the book and be sure to tell us what drew you to it as the pandemic and its ripple effects recede in Maine. Was it a need to escape, a need to dig deeper? Something else? Send your pick to [email protected], and we may use it as a future Bedside Table.


 


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