One Man: Andrew Gross
Death camps bring back memories that will haunt the survivors forever. The screams, the flesh burning in the ovens as millions were marched to their deaths in a place that no one wants to revisit or see Auschwitz, Poland a place that my grandmother described to me in detail as she was one of the lucky ones to survive but the lasting effects were permanent. One man named Alfred Mendl, his wife and daughtere were sent there as the SS officers marched them to their deaths, he was spared to become part of their plan because of his mind and his work. But, the papers that they were given were burned and told they were forgeries just for the sake of folly of these sadistic men. Alfred Mendl, a professor at the Polish University watched his wife and daughter disappear and he became for appearances just another tortured prisoner. But, he was useful to the Germans and to stay alive he complied because he was fluent in the language. A respected physicist in a place where who you were did not matter and what you new counted even less. He and one other have information that only one other person employed by the Nazi’s war machine has and these two men create a plan and their escape just might save others.
This novel takes place in two different time periods as we bring it to the present and meet Captain Peter Strauss working for the Office of Strategic Services an American spy agency. He is Jewish and has spent countless time trying to find Mendl and bring him out of the camp to safety. But, as the start of the novel shows he is given papers that were deemed counterfeit and the plan failed. While Nathan Blum who is a Jewish Intelligence Lieutenant is sitting in the basement of the OSS decoding messages from occupied Poland. Without any family to care for all being killed by the Nazis he has nothing to do and when Strauss comes up with another idea you would think they would foil it. But they don’t. The head of the OSS is nicknamed Wild Bill Donovan and with his guidance and ideas they use Blum who appears to be Jewish and speaks Polish to believe it or not sneak into his horrific camp and hopefully escape with the one man that the Allies need and hope will help them win the war. The author’s father inspires flashing back to the camp itself this story in law who lived it. Rudolph Vrba and Alfred Wetzler escaped and the novel opens with both men as they share the documents, names, numbers and the stories of what happened behind they horrific ovens and the mass murders of so many Jews and many others too. With the camps enlarging and the murders increased will President Roosevelt and his staff listen to what Donavan and Strauss have planned. Donovan is the head of OSS and a chief spymaster and when the news comes front and center and the deaths increased will the US stand up and help?
Nathan Blum finds himself back in Auschwitz while a young 17 year old named Leo befriends Mendl, the physicist and learns what is need to make an atomic bomb and to build it Blum has to get both of them out to the Manhattan Project to build the weapon. Leo is a chess master and has been groomed and taken under the wing of one of the wives of a powerful man. As the plan gets underway and the two men meet you hear the voices of the guards, the indignities the prisoners had to endure and the sad, sick and deplorable way they had to live. The author shares the science with us as we learn the formulas needed the chemistry and physics involved holding our breaths as we wait to find out the fate of both men. The United States Army wants him out of the camp, President Roosevelt signed the order and Blum is his only hope to develop the hydrogen bomb with the information stored in his mind and brain since they SS officers destroyed it all.
When the plan comes into light and the two men decide its time to leave something happens that changes it all as Blum sees a prisoner and the events that happen will challenge him, Mendl and the prisoner who he cannot believe is alive. Time is wasting and things have to move faster but the German’s are in the loop and somehow they learn that someone has broken into the camp and the scenes that follow are heartbreaking, heart wrenching and as I read what they did do the entire camp and the prisoners the anger that wells up inside of you takes you back to the war and inside the camp along with the captives. Captain Peter Strauss orchestrated the plan, has not been able to sleep since it was set in motion and Nathan Blum relives the atrocities one more time in order to save one man. But, will he and will the world ever realize that this really did happen and that so many died at the hands of a few for no reason other than the fact that they were JEWS.
The research into the war, how to create the bombs, the science and the scenes are so graphically depicted you would think the author experienced the events himself. Told from the point of view of so many as you hear Mendl’s voice, understand his plight realize that his life’s work is gone and the hope that through Leo it might survive. As Leo no longer is playing chess with Greta an officer’s wife and finding out what she might be up to might even endanger her as his ire is strong and his ego is even higher. A powerful story with a twist that will bring tears to every reader’s eyes as Alfred Mendl has to make a decision that will change the course of events for Blum, someone dear to him and even Leo. Peter Strauss has Blum’s word that he will not fail as this plan is dangerous but Leo Wolciek is a chess champion with a memory we would all like to have and someone who understands what Alfred teaches him as he convinces him to hold on to the knowledge and pray that one or both of them make it out. But, the guards are brutal and clubbing people to death is their mode of fun and the camp run by Lagerkommandant, whose wife Greta plays chess with Leo turns the story in an entirely different direction when the reason why Blum is there comes to light. The author is so descriptive that you can smell the dirt, the waste, see the decay and wish that the prisoners would turn on the guards. Evil is everywhere and the author throws some unusual curves at the end when Nathan Blum is forced to make a decision that will change it all. Who makes it out? Who betrays his trust? What happens when one man is capable and knows how to create and change uranium into an atomic weapon that could win the war. The place and the people of the Manhattan Project run by Robert Oppenheimer and many physicists like Niels Bohr. But, one thing is missing and the one man named Mendl has it all stored in his brain but the Nazi’s are heartless, brutal and cruel and the scenes are sad, filled with hope and then despair.
An ending so unexpected and three people who fought for freedom but something changes it all and the ending will shock readers as the author takes us back to the prologue and we meet one man who will sum it up for us but in heartfelt words with the help of someone else whose voice needs to be heard. As Nathan Blum and two others are about to board a plane to freedom something happens that will change the course of the mission but the outcome you will have to learn for yourself as author Andrew Gross takes us back inside the lines of fire, the concentration camp and we hear the voice and we learn the fate of ONE MAN!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine