Searching for Lost Jewish Property in Poland, and Finding Confusion

July 13, 2021 | Grace Linden
About the author:

In Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure, Menachem Kaiser recounts his attempts to press a legal claim to an apartment building in Poland once owned by his great-great-grandparents, who perished in the Holocaust. Grace Linden writes in her review:

The bureaucratic, Sisyphean struggle warps reality, and Kaiser’s story resists a straightforward, linear telling. He begins by telling it chronologically, but quickly the narrative overlaps and doubles back, owing in part to his incorporation of diary entries, poetry, and theoretical conversations and encounters.

Kaiser spent most of his life oblivious to this building’s existence. While his family is entitled to what was stolen, the people who live in the apartments are also entitled to their lives. What seems a straightforward decision—go to Poland, file a claim—is far from simple, and Plunder is really about moral complexity any of making such a claim.

[Moreover], the story of “the grandchild trekking back to the alte heym on his fraught memory-mission,” is one that Kaiser finds suspect, and rightfully so, even if it is also his story. His grandfather, whom he never met, rarely discussed the war; neither did his parents. To go digging may lead to answers, but it also is an intrusion; few who do so ask if it is a mistake.

Kaiser had hoped this process would bring him closer to understanding his grandfather. Instead, he writes, “at every step [his] legacy seemed to retreat.”

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