ELI’S PROMISE by Ronald H. Balson

From the publisher:

A “fixer” in a Polish town during World War II, his betrayal of a Jewish family, and a search for justice 25 years later―by the winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

Eli’s Promise is a masterful work of historical fiction spanning three eras―Nazi-occupied Poland, the American Zone of post-war Germany, and Chicago at the height of the Vietnam War. Award-winning author Ronald H. Balson explores the human cost of war, the mixed blessings of survival, and the enduring strength of family bonds.

1939: Eli Rosen lives with his wife Esther and their young son in the Polish town of Lublin, where his family owns a construction company. As a consequence of the Nazi occupation, Eli’s company is Aryanized, appropriated and transferred to Maximilian Poleski―an unprincipled profiteer who peddles favors to Lublin’s subjugated residents. An uneasy alliance is formed; Poleski will keep the Rosen family safe if Eli will manage the business. Will Poleski honor his promise or will their relationship end in betrayal and tragedy?

1946: Eli resides with his son in a displaced persons camp in Allied-occupied Germany hoping for a visa to America. His wife has been missing since the war. One man is sneaking around the camps selling illegal visas; might he know what has happened to her?

1965: Eli rents a room in Albany Park, Chicago. He is on a mission. With patience, cunning, and relentless focus, he navigates unfamiliar streets and dangerous political backrooms, searching for the truth. Powerful and emotional, Ronald H. Balson’s Eli’s Promise is a rich, rewarding novel of World War II and a husband’s quest for justice.

A novel that may prove more than a little unnerving to many readers. It’s a well written account of a period in history in which the entire world was ushered into a second world war just 20 short years after the ending of the first round. Adolf Hitler devised the persecution of distinct groups of people as scapegoats for his nation to focus on in order to gear up to fighting a war. Hitler selected Jews, Gypsies and even Catholics to focus hatred on and made genocide a norm as a means of getting rid of his devised enemies.

The book focuses on three periods in the life of Eli Rosen in order to tell the story. The first segment is the time that war and occupation were initiated, the second in a period just after the war and a great many displaced persons were living in camps while awaiting possible reconciliation with relatives, and the third twenty years after the war’s end and occurring in Chicago, U.S.A.

Eli Rosen grew up and lives in the Polish town of Lublin. His family founded a successful brickyard which he manages up to the time that the Nazis conquered Poland and appropriated whatever they wanted in the country. He is thrown from a comfortable position as owner-manager of a good business to employee of a man that was his salesman until the Nazi governor of the area took over the ownership of the business. Eli tries to protect his family by any means from the excesses of the occupational government and is forced to enter into a relationship with Maximilian Polesk,i his ex salesman and now appointed as agent of the Nazis for the brick yard.

Eli’s wife Esther is conscripted to work in a sewing factory working on goods for the German army and forced to come in daily for nine or more hours each time. His young son continues in school but only because Eli has made that a condition for continuing to manage the yard giving Poleski the entire credit for doing that.

The second section of the novel describes the plight of the displaced persons after the war is over. They are thrown together in camps; all seeking visas for other countries in order to try and regain some semblance of normality for the rest of their lives. Mr Balson makes the point that many countries, including the United States set up low and arbitrary quotas for the refugees when they had the room and the need in the light of economies returning to normal as hostilities cease. Maximilian Poleski emerges as a fixer – a man with the contacts and influence to sell visas to people with the money to pay him and allow them to bypass the normal sequence of time needed to get a visa.

The climax of the story occurs in the United States in the city of Chicago. Eli Rosen comes to the area and obtains an apartment. His neighbors see him as a man with some means as all he seems to be doing is staying around the apartment. He becomes friendly with some people in the building he is living in. The reason he is in Chicago is explained and his actions become logical. The ending of the novel provides something unexpected for the reader. It is not just a change from the expected but a means of keeping the key persona in the book as logical as the author obviously intended to make them.

Ronald Balson pulls no punches with his descriptions of the horrors visited on ordinary people by an invading army, and than their being shunted off to a side by many countries that want the war to just disappear. His story is a five star version of a period of history that proved a horror for those living in it.

10/2020 Paul Lane

ELI’S PROMISE by Ronald H. Balson. St. Martin’s Press (September 22, 2020). ISBN: 978-1250271464. 352 pages.







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