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Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure

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From a gifted young writer, the story of his quest to reclaim his family’s apartment building in Poland — and of the astonishing entanglement with Nazi treasure hunters that follows Menachem Kaiser’s brilliantly told story, woven from improbable events and profound revelations, is set in motion when the author takes up his Holocaust-survivor grandfather’s former battle to r From a gifted young writer, the story of his quest to reclaim his family’s apartment building in Poland — and of the astonishing entanglement with Nazi treasure hunters that follows Menachem Kaiser’s brilliantly told story, woven from improbable events and profound revelations, is set in motion when the author takes up his Holocaust-survivor grandfather’s former battle to reclaim the family’s apartment building in Sosnowiec, Poland. Soon, he is on a circuitous path to encounters with the long-time residents of the building, and with a Polish lawyer known as "The Killer."   A surprise discovery — that his grandfather’s cousin not only survived the war, but wrote a secret memoir while a slave laborer in a vast, secret Nazi tunnel complex — leads to Kaiser being adopted as a virtual celebrity by a band of Silesian treasure seekers who revere the memoir as the indispensable guidebook to Nazi plunder. Propelled by rich original research, Kaiser immerses readers in profound questions that reach far beyond his personal quest. What does it mean to seize your own legacy? Can reclaimed property repair rifts among the living? Plunder is both a deeply immersive adventure story and an irreverent, daring interrogation of inheritance — material, spiritual, familial, and emotional. 


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From a gifted young writer, the story of his quest to reclaim his family’s apartment building in Poland — and of the astonishing entanglement with Nazi treasure hunters that follows Menachem Kaiser’s brilliantly told story, woven from improbable events and profound revelations, is set in motion when the author takes up his Holocaust-survivor grandfather’s former battle to r From a gifted young writer, the story of his quest to reclaim his family’s apartment building in Poland — and of the astonishing entanglement with Nazi treasure hunters that follows Menachem Kaiser’s brilliantly told story, woven from improbable events and profound revelations, is set in motion when the author takes up his Holocaust-survivor grandfather’s former battle to reclaim the family’s apartment building in Sosnowiec, Poland. Soon, he is on a circuitous path to encounters with the long-time residents of the building, and with a Polish lawyer known as "The Killer."   A surprise discovery — that his grandfather’s cousin not only survived the war, but wrote a secret memoir while a slave laborer in a vast, secret Nazi tunnel complex — leads to Kaiser being adopted as a virtual celebrity by a band of Silesian treasure seekers who revere the memoir as the indispensable guidebook to Nazi plunder. Propelled by rich original research, Kaiser immerses readers in profound questions that reach far beyond his personal quest. What does it mean to seize your own legacy? Can reclaimed property repair rifts among the living? Plunder is both a deeply immersive adventure story and an irreverent, daring interrogation of inheritance — material, spiritual, familial, and emotional. 

30 review for Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jill Meyer

    “Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure”, by Menachem Kaiser, is a bit of a mishmash of family history and Polish history. Kaiser, who is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, was raised in Canada and currently lives in New York City. The number of Holocaust survivors is diminishing as time takes its toll. For many years we had the survivors telling their own stories; then their children took over, and now we’re reading the third generation. Many of these authors never met their “Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure”, by Menachem Kaiser, is a bit of a mishmash of family history and Polish history. Kaiser, who is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, was raised in Canada and currently lives in New York City. The number of Holocaust survivors is diminishing as time takes its toll. For many years we had the survivors telling their own stories; then their children took over, and now we’re reading the third generation. Many of these authors never met their grandparents who suffered, instead using photographs, written materials, and official documents, they put together a narrative of their ancestors’ lives and experiences. Menachem Kaiser becomes interested in his grandfather’s story and was determined to “find out more”. This involved research in both mainly Poland and Israel. There’s also - supposedly - a building owned by the Kajer family in the town of Sosnowiec, Poland. Kaiser visits and picks up a crew of lawyers and historians to help him, first, to find the building, and second, to declare the owners dead, so Menachem and his family could take over the building. But, where IS the building, supposedly built in the interwar period. But the building at the site was definitely built in the Soviet era. More problems turn up and Menachem gets involved with a group of Polish treasure seekers, mainly looking in the Silesia area of Poland. It was then that Menachem Kaiser’s book lost me. The treasure seekers are looking for the often mythical “Nazi Gold” and other wartime souvenirs. They’re wandering around caves and other, secret hiding places. Did the Nazis make a flying saucer in the last days of the war? Maybe... There’s also a family member - a survivor named Abraham Kajer - who was not Menachem’s grandfather, but a close cousin. He was famous in the treasure seekers community, and Menachem stature within the group was enhanced by this connection. I never knew where Kaiser was going in his memoir. A good book editor should have been let loose on the manuscript before publication. It could have been a better book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Sokoloff

    Menachen Kaiser never met his paternal grandfather, who passed away before Menachem was born. Yet, every year, on the "yarzheit", or anniversary, of his grandfather's death, Menachem and his father would visit the cemetery to say Kaddish / prayers in his grandfather's honour. Menachem, (and for that matter, Menachem's father), did not know much about his grandfather's life in Poland. He had rarely spoke about it. As an adult, on a trip to Poland, Menachem reminds himself of (the one thing he rem Menachen Kaiser never met his paternal grandfather, who passed away before Menachem was born. Yet, every year, on the "yarzheit", or anniversary, of his grandfather's death, Menachem and his father would visit the cemetery to say Kaddish / prayers in his grandfather's honour. Menachem, (and for that matter, Menachem's father), did not know much about his grandfather's life in Poland. He had rarely spoke about it. As an adult, on a trip to Poland, Menachem reminds himself of (the one thing he remembers hearing about his grandfather), that is, his grandfather's failed attempts to reclaim property that their family owned before the war. With the address of the property in hand, Menachem goes to Sosnowiec to acquaint himself with the city (and "home") of his paternal grandfather. #Plunder is Menachem Kaiser's detailed account of his attempt to settle his grandfather's claim. for this property. Ultimately, the need to find out whether Menachem finally succeeds in receiving "reparations" for what his grandfather claimed rightfully belonged to the Kaiser family before the war, is what kept me reading this book right to the end. I will not ruin the book by saying what happens. But it was an extremely interesting read, and it brings to the forefront the complications (and ethical dilemmas) of what belongs to you, after you leave, after a war, and, so many years later.... Besides Menachem's personal search, on his quest he is introduced to a population of Nazi treasure hunters, that most people know little about. In Silesia, Hitler had (mostly Jewish) labourers dig out miles and miles of underground tunnels, where it is believed a train full of gold, as well as many other treasures are hidden. The search for these treasures is real, and highly regulated by the Polish government. The crazy part of this is that these treasure seekers do not connect their desire to acquire Nazi loot, with the evil at the root of the Nazis. This is a very interesting read, Thank you #netgalley for this e-ARC of #plunder, in return for my review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    I hope this memoir wins a Jewish book award or two. It’s smartly written. I don’t mean this at all as an insult, but it lands squarely in a mainstay of 19th century Yiddish literature, the shlemiel narrative. Except in this case, the shlemiel is someone with a way with words, a keen sense of observation and whose grandfather survived the Holocaust. If he were alive today, Mendele would enjoy this memoir. IB Singer wouldn’t enjoy it, but only because he was by nature hyper-competitive and would v I hope this memoir wins a Jewish book award or two. It’s smartly written. I don’t mean this at all as an insult, but it lands squarely in a mainstay of 19th century Yiddish literature, the shlemiel narrative. Except in this case, the shlemiel is someone with a way with words, a keen sense of observation and whose grandfather survived the Holocaust. If he were alive today, Mendele would enjoy this memoir. IB Singer wouldn’t enjoy it, but only because he was by nature hyper-competitive and would view this memoir as a threat. The narrator tries to do the near impossible - recover his grandfather’s Polish real estate - hires incompetents, never learns Polish (for me, this is both hilarious and dumbfounding), and makes a ridiculous number of missteps. Yet he somehow leaves with his dignity in tact mostly because he is mistaken for the grandson of a legendary Holocaust survivor. This is both a thoughtful and maybe unintentionally comic memoir (I did laugh out loud at the missteps).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cherise Wolas

    A fresh, meaningful, and fascinating addition to the trove of Holocaust books, also at times unexpectedly comedic, that begins with the author seeking to know more about his grandfather, who survived the Holocaust though none of his family members did. The grandfather remains unknowable, except that for a couple of decades he, and then the author's father, attempted to reclaim a building in a small town in Poland. Is it where the grandfather grew up? The author visits, meets those living in the A fresh, meaningful, and fascinating addition to the trove of Holocaust books, also at times unexpectedly comedic, that begins with the author seeking to know more about his grandfather, who survived the Holocaust though none of his family members did. The grandfather remains unknowable, except that for a couple of decades he, and then the author's father, attempted to reclaim a building in a small town in Poland. Is it where the grandfather grew up? The author visits, meets those living in the building, finds out its history, except is it the right building? He hires The Killer, a lawyer in a pink track suit, to begin the process of reclaiming the building, but first that means declaring his relatives dead in the Holocaust dead, not an easy proposition. There are Polish treasure hunters and how do they view these vanished concentration camps - as places of death that reverberate with historical meaning, or simply as grounds where they seek lost treasures? There's the familial connection the author uncovers, to a man the Polish treasure hunters revere, a Holocaust survivor named Abraham who wrote a small memoir about his time in the Polish camps while he was a slave laborer in an enormous, secret Nazi tunnel complex known as Project Riese, about which almost nothing is known historically, other than from Abraham's book. History, family, the unknowability of all that was lost in the Holocaust, all the lives and property stolen by the Nazis (and Poles too), the frequent memory-trips Jews must take to find the pasts of their dead relatives, the Polish court system, and more.

  5. 5 out of 5

    maryreadstoomuch

    Menachem Kaiser never knew his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who tried unsuccessfully to regain his lost property: an apartment building in Poland. Years later, Kaiser takes up the quest anew. But along the way, he realizes that his reclamation effort is about much more than just an apartment building - it's about memory, suffering, history, and the legacy of the family members who came before. I've never read another book like this one - Kaiser writes eloquently about his dealings with the P Menachem Kaiser never knew his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who tried unsuccessfully to regain his lost property: an apartment building in Poland. Years later, Kaiser takes up the quest anew. But along the way, he realizes that his reclamation effort is about much more than just an apartment building - it's about memory, suffering, history, and the legacy of the family members who came before. I've never read another book like this one - Kaiser writes eloquently about his dealings with the Polish government, as well as a merry band of Silesian treasure hunters. I could feel his sorrow and frustration as he tried to assemble a picture of the past and reclaim the property that was rightfully his. My one problem with the book is that it got a little repetitive in the last section - there's only so many times you can discuss Polish court happenings and keep a reader's interest. But this is a chronicle of a true historical and legal odyssey, and I am grateful to have learned about Kaiser's family history. 3.5 stars rounded up. Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing an ARC on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ula Tardigrade

    This book was a big surprise for me, but not a disappointment. Basing on the publisher's description, I was expecting a fun adventure story. You can find traces of it, but the book is mostly a blend of very personal memoir and essays on the nature of human memory, heritage, Shoah, conspiracy theories, and many more topics. It is exceptionally well written and insightful, although I have to admit that sometimes the author should listen to himself and "stop being cranky" about some stuff - he can This book was a big surprise for me, but not a disappointment. Basing on the publisher's description, I was expecting a fun adventure story. You can find traces of it, but the book is mostly a blend of very personal memoir and essays on the nature of human memory, heritage, Shoah, conspiracy theories, and many more topics. It is exceptionally well written and insightful, although I have to admit that sometimes the author should listen to himself and "stop being cranky" about some stuff - he can be extremely touchy. I also had sometimes felt uneasy about his attitude towards some of the people he met. Nonetheless, it was a very interesting read. Thanks to the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and NetGalley for the advance copy of this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Masha Shollar

    This book was fascinating, though-provoking, and gripping; the humorous absurdism of a Kafka story, the twists and turns of a treasure hunt, questions of memory and the myth-making that is so often baked into the process of forming such memories, are all examined from every angle. The author's closing rumination on fiction vs. non-fiction was so insightful and cut so close to the bone; so often, the stories we want to create and tell are neater, easier, and more inevitable than reality. The true This book was fascinating, though-provoking, and gripping; the humorous absurdism of a Kafka story, the twists and turns of a treasure hunt, questions of memory and the myth-making that is so often baked into the process of forming such memories, are all examined from every angle. The author's closing rumination on fiction vs. non-fiction was so insightful and cut so close to the bone; so often, the stories we want to create and tell are neater, easier, and more inevitable than reality. The true stories are confusing, abruptly tangential, frustratingly open-ended. But more real, too. To read a story like this, told as it really happened is, itself, a kind of gift.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sami

    Menachem Kaiser’s irreverent and poignant (isn’t that a pair of adjectives?) memoir begins with the death of his grandfather, a man he never knew but whose name he shares and whose Holocaust story sent the latter Menachem on a meandering journey through the Polish landscape and legal system in an attempt to understand more and to reclaim a property that belonged to his family nearly a century earlier. Kaiser travels to Sosnowiec, a small town in the region of Silesia, which borders the Czech Repu Menachem Kaiser’s irreverent and poignant (isn’t that a pair of adjectives?) memoir begins with the death of his grandfather, a man he never knew but whose name he shares and whose Holocaust story sent the latter Menachem on a meandering journey through the Polish landscape and legal system in an attempt to understand more and to reclaim a property that belonged to his family nearly a century earlier. Kaiser travels to Sosnowiec, a small town in the region of Silesia, which borders the Czech Republic and is home to countless ethnic populations and a rich history of demographic confusion and love of mystery. In this strange community, Kaiser becomes acquainted with a group of “treasure hunters” whose fascination with Nazi-era memorabilia and artifacts is both admirable and entirely disconcerting, and he discovers a familial tie to these explorers that turns him into something of niche celebrity. As he follows the paper trail left by his grandfather and other relatives, Kaiser makes mistakes and missteps that are frustrating, embarrassing, and exhausting, but he infuses his storytelling with a sense of reflection and humor that emphasized the random significance of family and place. I was impressed by Kaiser’s ability to tease out details of a single moment and mine them for a cohesive story while acknowledging how much was unknown and unknowable. However, I thought the book needed some cleaning up around its transitions. More than once, I had to stop to figure out what we were talking about and how we got there, particularly in the sections about conspiracy theories and drinking in the woods. Certainly, these stories and characters added life and energy and depth to Kaiser’s efforts to navigate property law and legal jargon—in Polish—but it felt disappointingly disjointed and, at times, overly simplified. As Kaiser himself acknowledges towards the end of the book, Holocaust memoirs, biographies, and histories are plentiful, which can have the effect of diluting the undeniable power of each individual story. Both parts of this statement are true, but they hardly apply to this book; Kaiser writes around explicit tragedy and devastation to write a Holocaust story unlike any I’ve read before. I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and author Menacham Kaiser. Opinions stated in this review are honest and my own. Release Date: 16 March 2021

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hal Issen

    The author, a decedent of Holocaust victims and survivors, seeks to reclaim their family home in Poland. Or is it their family home? That premise sets a motif for the book in which nothing is what it appears to be. In order to reclaim the property, his relatives are assumed to be alive and he has to prove that are dead, even though they would have died of natural causes by now anyway even if they had survived the concentration camps. He is befriended by troops of Polish Nazi Treasure hunters, wh The author, a decedent of Holocaust victims and survivors, seeks to reclaim their family home in Poland. Or is it their family home? That premise sets a motif for the book in which nothing is what it appears to be. In order to reclaim the property, his relatives are assumed to be alive and he has to prove that are dead, even though they would have died of natural causes by now anyway even if they had survived the concentration camps. He is befriended by troops of Polish Nazi Treasure hunters, who mistake him for the grandson of their favorite author, an enslaved Nazi laborer, who documented Nazi construction and thus enables their search. The life mission of the Treasure Hunters is to acquire and display Nazi-themed memorabilia, but they profess to loath the Nazis. The author does not speak Polish so all this activity presented through the filter of translation, further contributing to his confusion and mistrust of information, is this really what is happening, and what is going on here? The dualistic theme of Reality versus Illusion is mirrored throughout by other dualisms; Pole versus Jew, American Jew versus Polish Jew, Dead versus Alive, Alive versus Not Alive, and so many more, all occasions for the author to consider their significance in great depths through the book in humorous, self-deprecating , thoughtful, and insightful meditations that make up the bulk of the book. These soliloquies are funny and thought-provoking, and are the reason that I would read any book on any subject by this author in the future. The major gift that the author imparted is to consider our views of nostalgia for family history. Like many other people, I am very curious about the lives of my family that are just out of reach of the memory of anyone still alive; the Civil War, the Great Depression, the World Wars in Europe. This book helps me understand that while I want to know as much as I can about these experiences, my ancestors probably did everything they could to try to forget them. Why would you want to know about that? they might say, it was awful, what more do you need to know? This is the final duality of a book that I picked up due to romantic notions of my own Polish Jewish family; do not romanticize other people’s lives, they are likely to be as prosaic as your own. Do not seek meaning from other people’s lives, try to understand your own instead.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Pc MacDonald

    I don't think I've ever given one star to a book I actually finished reading. I'd give it zero stars if that was available. I heard the author on NPR discussing his work; it sounded interesting. Reserved the book from the local liberry. This guy missed the mark. Completely. Totally. How does this happen? He goes on and on (and on and on and on) about the ethics and pathos of reclaiming a pre WW II family owned apartment building in Poland, but fails to tell us if he is successful? Give me a break! H I don't think I've ever given one star to a book I actually finished reading. I'd give it zero stars if that was available. I heard the author on NPR discussing his work; it sounded interesting. Reserved the book from the local liberry. This guy missed the mark. Completely. Totally. How does this happen? He goes on and on (and on and on and on) about the ethics and pathos of reclaiming a pre WW II family owned apartment building in Poland, but fails to tell us if he is successful? Give me a break! He also recounts a "treasure hunt" of ten solid gold "eggs" worth hunderts of thousands of dollars, squirreled away in Poland attic by some guy's father in law, and neither does he tell us how that works out, either. There is ABSOLUTELY NO SATISFACTION to this book, after the effort it takes to slog thru it. ----->>> None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nichts. I wade thru (practically in "hip waders" it is that thick) all of his reasonings, justifications and legal wrangling, and get no satisfaction at the end. Where's the beef? Please forgive the crude language here (but it is appropriate!), but this book was a literary "jerk off." I don't know how he ever got it published. It was an interesting read but it just left out the ending? A book with no ending? What's wrong with this loser? It's sort of like a murder mystery that does not get solved. This book was a serious, vast disappointment. Don't waste your time.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tom Blumer

    I had very high expectations for this book as it was fairly highly lauded in the NYT book review. But it did not meet my expectations. It was written in an odd way. It jumped around with lots of side explanations. There were parts of the book that I really enjoyed. Other parts not so much. My best metaphor would be tasting food. Someone might tell you something is really good. So you taste it and cannot really decide if it is good or not. So you taste it again,and again trying to determine if it I had very high expectations for this book as it was fairly highly lauded in the NYT book review. But it did not meet my expectations. It was written in an odd way. It jumped around with lots of side explanations. There were parts of the book that I really enjoyed. Other parts not so much. My best metaphor would be tasting food. Someone might tell you something is really good. So you taste it and cannot really decide if it is good or not. So you taste it again,and again trying to determine if it is really good or not. That is how I felt about this book. I kept tasting it to see if was good or not. By my final taste I was at the end of the book. My conclusion, not my favorite book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Louise Gray

    I have always wondered what it must have been like for people to return from the camps and find their homes were taken. I have also wondered how the people in those homes felt - perhaps not all of them knew those homes were stolen. This is an I trusting book which offers insights into the rights and wrongs of inheritance and how damage can be perpetuated over generations. Beautifully written, the author tells a story with skill and sensitivity.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I think the best part of this book was the author’s unflinching acknowledgment of his many mistakes. Much respect on that account. Yes, the text was a bit meandering, but that was the beauty of it—much like a treasure hunt is with surprises and disappointments along the way. The musings on memory/history/family were some of the best parts of the book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    L. Bordetsky-Williams

    Menachem Kaiser has written a beautiful tale of loss and remembrance. Everyone should read it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Srishti

    A saga of identity, family, history, myth, bureaucracy, sentiment, attachment and loss is what Menachem Kaiser's Plunder revolves around. On the forefront this seems to be a novel narrating the story of a man in pursuit of reclaiming his lost property, one that his grandfather once owned; however behind this deceptive facade lies an engrossing tale. Set in Sosnowiec, Poland is an apartment building plundered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. While on this trail the narrator, that is the author A saga of identity, family, history, myth, bureaucracy, sentiment, attachment and loss is what Menachem Kaiser's Plunder revolves around. On the forefront this seems to be a novel narrating the story of a man in pursuit of reclaiming his lost property, one that his grandfather once owned; however behind this deceptive facade lies an engrossing tale. Set in Sosnowiec, Poland is an apartment building plundered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. While on this trail the narrator, that is the author himself, comes across concentration camps and treasure hunters, and on one instance he finds himself in the company of 'The Killer', a Polish lawyer and then works in tandem with a troop of treasure-seekers. Plunder is a witty, morally convoluted, hilarious, candid and suspenseful sketch of contemporary history and politics peppered with Kaiser's humour and lots of shady characters. Thoroughly encompassing the theme of love, loss, longing and whether reclaiming a plundered land can put right the schism between people Plunder makes for a highly engrossing read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Suey Nordberg

    I decided to try a non-fiction book for a change, but I kind of cheated, as this one was marketed as "a non-fiction book that reads like fiction," and that was true! The author, Menachem Kaiser, details his personal search to find his grandfather's lost apartment building, located in Poland, that was taken over during World War II. Menachem knows very little about his grandfather, and nearly all other members of his extended family perished in concentration camps. Menacham learns about secret Na I decided to try a non-fiction book for a change, but I kind of cheated, as this one was marketed as "a non-fiction book that reads like fiction," and that was true! The author, Menachem Kaiser, details his personal search to find his grandfather's lost apartment building, located in Poland, that was taken over during World War II. Menachem knows very little about his grandfather, and nearly all other members of his extended family perished in concentration camps. Menacham learns about secret Nazi tunnels that were built during the war to store plundered treasure stolen from Jewish families, and completely by surprise learns that the authoritative narrative on the building of these tunnels was written by a man with his same last name -- who turns out to be his grandfather's cousin, Abraham. Abraham's memoir was written from scraps of bags that he buried in the latrines of the concentration camps he lived in, then later retrieved. It is not unlike other memoirs of concentration camp survivors, except that this book gives details about the tunnels which draw treasure seekers from around the world. Through this unexpected connection, Menachem finds some living family members he did not know about (Abraham's descendants). Menachem hires a lawyer he nicknames "The Killer" to help him re-gain his family's Polish property, but technical issues hinder this process, and as of the writing of the novel, having his clearly deceased relatives (who died in the camps) declared dead has still not been accomplished, an important step to claiming the building. Menachem wrestles with his motives and rights, his family's history and losses, and contradictory worldviews and attitudes toward the Holocaust. His journey of discovery is one I couldn't put down!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elliot Ratzman

    This is a strange and wonderful book that bucks the trend of “returning to the old country” Holocaust memoirs (he calls them “memory-safari”). Kaiser’s family is mostly inured to his sudden visionquest to reclaim a long-lost piece of property. Instead of moral and historical clarity, Kaiser takes us through the “Oh, yah, of course” of ambiguity. A fantastic trip through Polish bureaucracies and the camps of Nazi treasure hunters; forgotten history and perpetual mystery. Kaiser has astute observa This is a strange and wonderful book that bucks the trend of “returning to the old country” Holocaust memoirs (he calls them “memory-safari”). Kaiser’s family is mostly inured to his sudden visionquest to reclaim a long-lost piece of property. Instead of moral and historical clarity, Kaiser takes us through the “Oh, yah, of course” of ambiguity. A fantastic trip through Polish bureaucracies and the camps of Nazi treasure hunters; forgotten history and perpetual mystery. Kaiser has astute observations about lots of things, from the meaning of ritual, to the value of misdirection. The perfect Holocaust memoir for millennials. Some zingers: “WWII is psychically a lot easier when it’s about antigravity and time travel than when it’s about gas chambers and stacks of corpses…The Nazis already *feel* surreal. This is fertile ground for conspiracy theories.” Of a busload of Jewish visitors to Silesia: “Poland was less a destination than something to be overcome, an obligation to be fulfilled."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Menachem Kaiser has not known any of his familial predecessors beyond his father, but has been brought up on the stories of many of his relatives, including his grandfather, during the Holocaust. He decides to investigate and possibly claim any property or valuables he may discover. He is, however surprised by the hoops he needs to jump through as well as reactions of people who now live near the homes of his ancestors. VERY interesting.

  19. 4 out of 5

    vanessa

    This book was surprising in many ways. I expected one thing and got something else, but I’m not mad about it. It goes on little chapter-long tangents about Nazi conspiracy theories, myth making and the limitations of nonfiction, nostalgia and memory. It stopped me in my tracks and made me ponder quite a bit. It’s not really an adventure story; it’s more a memoir of family, but it does have adventure in it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Geve_

    Book about attempting to recover family property "lost" during wwii. The synopsis highlights details that make this sound really interesting: war plunder, weird lawyers, nazi treasure hunters and a long lost relative who survived the camps and wrote a memoir. All those things were certainly written about in this book, but it ended up feeling like a series of seemingly unrelated stories. The beginning of the book was great, the opening chapters about the author and his family were really interesti Book about attempting to recover family property "lost" during wwii. The synopsis highlights details that make this sound really interesting: war plunder, weird lawyers, nazi treasure hunters and a long lost relative who survived the camps and wrote a memoir. All those things were certainly written about in this book, but it ended up feeling like a series of seemingly unrelated stories. The beginning of the book was great, the opening chapters about the author and his family were really interesting. He has a lot of insight into these people, and there are lots of characters in the family. He did, however, start out with a lot of admissions about how he went about things the wrong way, and I'll say a bit more about this at the end. Once he went to Poland, things started taking a turn. The story flipped back and forth between his legal struggles, and this long lost cousin of his grandfather who survived the war, and the nazi treasure hunters (that is to say they are hunting "nazi" treasure, not that they are nazis hunting treasure, although that's not so clear cut...). The original story ended up taking a backseat to what I assume the author thought were more interesting things, but that were only semi related at best to the property story. And a lot of it felt like filler. When the story was on his recovery of the family property, there were whole sections of the book devoted to following along the timeline of what he was trying to discover only to realize that all these details that he's feeding us go nowhere. He chose to tell this story in the natural way it unfolded for him, so we could feel like we were following it in real time, but it was very disappointing to read whole chapters about people who turned out to be unrelated to anything else. We end up with backstory about a building that turns out to not be the actual building that belonged to his family, and while that could be interesting, given the other unrelated components to this book, it ends up being just another side quest that confuses more than enlightens. IMO, this book would have been better told as different stories. They were all interesting in their own way, but really didn't work as a book crammed together with disparate elements. It felt like the author had a lot to say and each component was important to him, but I was lost about what the point was. A book just about Abraham (the grandfather's cousin) would have been great, he seemed like an interesting character and he had a whole story to be told. The way this part took over the rest of the book was really uncomfortable for me, sort of like the author adopted this other person to fill in his book that was otherwise not a full story. So, the author talked a lot about how he went about things the wrong way, was dishonest with some people, including family and the Polish legal system. At some point, this started to feel like he wrote this book as his own way of explaining his motivation for things. It didn't leave me particularly convinced. Especially considering (view spoiler)[ that the book was supposed to be about recovering this family property and by the end of the book that is still at a standstill and we don't know if he will or will not get the property or a payout from the Polish gov. Why publish the book about this if it isn't even finished yet? (hide spoiler)] All that said, there were some very interesting parts to the book. The writing is often quite good and the author is very insightful in many ways. I think this could have used some real editing to give it a better structure and stay on point a bit better. In the epilogue the author says he considered writing this as a fictional story, but chose to go memoir instead. Then he tells a story about meeting up with an American also seeking his family's lost property. It's a whole tale, (view spoiler)[and they end up going to the exact spot the treasure is supposed to be, through some trickery, and are about to possibly lay eyes on it, then the author ends it short, leaving us "in suspense". This felt pretty dirty, and there are details explaining that he's not supposed to tell, he's sworn to secrecy blah blah, then don't tease this. In addition, this is likely a fiction, given that just before he said he'd thought about fictionalizing his own story already. I found this a much less playful way of ending than the author probably thought it was. (hide spoiler)]

  21. 5 out of 5

    Umar Lee

    This book started strong and Kaiser is a good writer. Somewhere around a third into the book we started learning less about his family and more about Nazi tunnels, treasure hunters, and the colorful characters of Poland. When the book returns to its central theme it remains strong.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Scribe Publications

    Menachem Kaiser is a young writer and storyteller of stunning talent, originality, and wisdom, and his debut book is gloriously impossible to categorise — by turns hilarious and profound, digressive and suspenseful, intimate and sweeping, it stands as an enviable accomplishment. Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Author of A sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and Hopeful Reparations and treasure hunting: I can’t think of two better metaphors for memoir writing, and I can’t think of a better recent m Menachem Kaiser is a young writer and storyteller of stunning talent, originality, and wisdom, and his debut book is gloriously impossible to categorise — by turns hilarious and profound, digressive and suspenseful, intimate and sweeping, it stands as an enviable accomplishment. Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Author of A sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and Hopeful Reparations and treasure hunting: I can’t think of two better metaphors for memoir writing, and I can’t think of a better recent memoir than Menachem Kaiser’s Plunder, which has heart, humour, and intelligence to spare. Joshua Cohen, Author of Attention: Dispatches From a Land of Distraction A saga of family history and inheritance that reads like a murder mystery, Plunder begins with Menachem Kaiser’s journey to reclaim a Polish apartment building but immediately becomes something far richer and stranger. Probing with unusual insight and humour into questions of memory, loss, and what we owe to the past, this impossible-to-put-down book — part travelogue, part memoir, part meditation on all that history hides from us — marks the debut of a major writer. Ruth Franklin, Author of NBCC Award-Winning Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life Exceptionally well written, this candid and suspenseful work recasts the injunction that one generation of survivors demands of all descendants, never to forget. Plunder is a magnificent and stunning literary debut. André Aciman, Author of Find Me and Call Me By Your Name In a literate, constantly surprising quest, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor returns to Poland to lay claim to the things of the past … An exemplary contribution to the recent literature on the fraught history of the Shoah. STARRED REVIEW Kirkus Reviews A twisting and reverberant and consistently enthralling story. It’s a weird story that gets weirder … Kaiser is a reflective man on the page, with a lively mind. He dwells on the moral seesaw he finds himself on … Kaiser considers the nature of conspiracy theories, in a way that’s highly relevant to our era. (His thinking about reparations of various kinds is as complex and timely.) … Plunder has many stories to tell … many moods and registers. It acquires moral gravity. It pays tender and respectful attention to forgotten lives. It is also alert to melancholic forms of comedy. Tonally I was reminded at times of Jonathan Safran Foer’s excellent first novel, Everything Is Illuminated … Traveling on a private road, closer to the ground, and at a slower pace, [Kaiser’s] walk turns up details that are fresh, unexpected and significant. His perceptions are sharp. We partake of his curiosity. Dwight Garner, The New York Times This is weird, complicated territory — by which I mean it’s fantastic … Plunder thrives as a morally complicated travelogue … it is original, and it finishes strong. Kaiser chases down the facts (fingers-crossed) of Abraham Kajzer’s story, and they devastated me. It’s not spoiling things to say that Kajzer survived the absolute worst humanity had to offer only to abandon life’s greatest reward. From the distance of all these years his choice is incomprehensible. It’s our duty to try to understand anyway. The New York Times Book Review A master storyteller embarks on a journey to learn about his grandfather and to reclaim an apartment building that was stolen during the Holocaust. The odyssey is fascinating and thought-provoking. Christian Science Monitor, ‘The 10 Best Books of March’ With smart, elegant prose, [Kaiser] manages to construct an engrossing chronicle of his foray into an elusive past. His narrative is wonderfully digressive, laced with coincidences and ambiguities, and filled with just enough revelations to keep readers contentedly turning pages. The Forward

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    Beautifully written, fascinating, unexpected.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karin Mika

    An awful lot of Kaiser's quest hit home for me as I have spent several years trying to "find" my father's father. It was a mystery I didn't even know was a mystery until my father was no longer capable of answering any questions about it ... and that's assuming he would have answered questions. Thus, like Kaiser, I've had very little to go on and run into many, many pitfalls and quandaries. One of these is, "How can people we know existed have disappeared from every record anywhere?" Unlike Kaise An awful lot of Kaiser's quest hit home for me as I have spent several years trying to "find" my father's father. It was a mystery I didn't even know was a mystery until my father was no longer capable of answering any questions about it ... and that's assuming he would have answered questions. Thus, like Kaiser, I've had very little to go on and run into many, many pitfalls and quandaries. One of these is, "How can people we know existed have disappeared from every record anywhere?" Unlike Kaiser, I'm not seeking the return of seized property, and unlike Kaiser, I haven't encountered side stories that would interest anyone other than me. In Kaiser's quest, he finds almost nothing about his grandfather, but discovers the existence of a close relative that he didn't know existed. This close relative is known to the Polish treasure hunters, those who traverse the Polish countryside looking for treasures that the Nazis looted and then hid. The author doesn't find gold himself, but really does find many secret places and stories that are fascinating and do connect to the family member he didn't know about. Despite this, Kaiser's quest for more information about the family member he was focusing on went about as well as my quest has gone so far. As a result, the book almost ended anti-climactically until Kaiser encounters another individual who is on his own mission. That person has his own fascinating quest, and the author gets to join him on the quest. I think many will be disappointed in the ending, but I understand why the book had to end that way. It was (and is) all too real to people who are alive today. A lot is at stake for them. Sadly, in wars or occupations, many do lose their homes, and those who take their place in those homes are rarely responsible for the injustice that occurred. It's hard to know just what reparations are due 70-80 years later, or even the significance of a bloodline or family member only recently discovered. A lot of good points were made about the Holocaust, or just those who suffered during World War II. The survivors often blocked off their memories for self-preservation, never being able to think about the "good" of their past lives without also thinking about the horrors. They often didn't tell their children a lot, or may have even conveyed misinformation (or at least misremembered and not fully known information). The next or even third generation are left only with pieces of the history of their ancestors, which presents a vague picture at best. Many embark upon a quest to find ancestors and fill in the gaps in order to understand themselves; however, there is often very little satisfaction, even when some aspects of the quest are successful.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Leah Fidler

    Came for the Tweet, stayed for the book! Omg, this guy is so adorable. I hope he meets a nice, Jewish girl soon. The book. Right. More than just a sexy, Jewish, single man. Of course. He can write! The Book is really interesting. It is detailed and slow at times. The ending was....well, what happened with the eggs???!!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carmen212

    Amazing book, so unlike other Holocaust memoirs or searches for the dim past of departed ones. The book is set in stages: at the beginning we have the extended family, cousins coming out of the woodwork. Houses close by and houses open to all, at any hour, in any state of hunger. Next Menachem, the great nephew of Abraham. Abraham a survivor of many camps and an escape artist. So there is a house that 4 members of the pre-war family went in on. So Menachem the Toronto nephew goes to Poland to su Amazing book, so unlike other Holocaust memoirs or searches for the dim past of departed ones. The book is set in stages: at the beginning we have the extended family, cousins coming out of the woodwork. Houses close by and houses open to all, at any hour, in any state of hunger. Next Menachem, the great nephew of Abraham. Abraham a survivor of many camps and an escape artist. So there is a house that 4 members of the pre-war family went in on. So Menachem the Toronto nephew goes to Poland to suss out the house with many misgivings, and has many many adventures, some of them weird. Everyone keeps saying as if this explains everything and anything: well, this is Silesia. Houses mis-numbered, Polish courts refusing to say that these people (who would be 140 today) were dead. The great mysteries of Silesia -- the tunnels in the mountains where the Nazis were believed to have stored the Gold Train. A lot about explorers and fortune hunters--it's a cottage industry. And then big chunks of the book considering consequences, motives, facing not very pretty truths about oneself, and this part was particularly fascinating to me.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    Some reviewers hate the way Plunder ends, but the fable-like story of a man in search of 10 golden eggs hidden in the attic of his family's ancestral home in Poland encapsulates everything that Menachem Kaiser is trying to say about his own search to reclaim the property that was taken from his family by the Nazis. Kaiser's tale of being thwarted by the Polish laws and court system (and his own failings) is more dastardly than anything Kafka could envision. The sections on his adventures with the Some reviewers hate the way Plunder ends, but the fable-like story of a man in search of 10 golden eggs hidden in the attic of his family's ancestral home in Poland encapsulates everything that Menachem Kaiser is trying to say about his own search to reclaim the property that was taken from his family by the Nazis. Kaiser's tale of being thwarted by the Polish laws and court system (and his own failings) is more dastardly than anything Kafka could envision. The sections on his adventures with the treasure hunters seeking Nazi gold in the same area of Poland were less compelling, but were necessary to read through to get to the very touching personal story of his distant relative Abraham Kajser. I love this quote where Kaiser grapples with why he persists in his quest: "What matters here is less the name on a deed than trying and failing but trying still to understand what it means to have, to lose, to take, to take back, to intrude, to inherit, to define your legacy, to declare your legacy, to impose your legacy, to misread your legacy, to impute value---historical, material, sentimental--and then immediately doubt that value, to assume the role of the protagonist in a story that isn't yours and that you can never understand..."

  28. 4 out of 5

    Martin Koenigsberg

    In this memoir, Menachem Kaiser, a journalist/writer tells about his experiences trying to regain possession of his Grandfather's stolen Polish Property. His family, like members of mine, was dispossessed of their holdings in the Holocaust/WWII and his Grandfather had started the process of legally regaining it. As he enters the byzantine world of Polish Courts, survivor memoirs, the present tenants of the building and work his relatives may have participated in as concentration camp victims, he In this memoir, Menachem Kaiser, a journalist/writer tells about his experiences trying to regain possession of his Grandfather's stolen Polish Property. His family, like members of mine, was dispossessed of their holdings in the Holocaust/WWII and his Grandfather had started the process of legally regaining it. As he enters the byzantine world of Polish Courts, survivor memoirs, the present tenants of the building and work his relatives may have participated in as concentration camp victims, he takes us along on his haunted journey. The ending may not be what anyone was looking for, but the narrative is really engaging and evocative. Traveling around Silesia- the area his family lived and died- he learns about modern Poles' relationship to WWII and the Holocaust- as well as a series of mysterious underground bunker complexes that have entranced the locals with dream of Nazi gold. Its an interesting brew and even more artfully told. It becomes clear that the Poles do not consider the Jews who made up at least 10% of their interwar population as Polish. The obvious subtext to that is a substantial Polish participation in the Holocaust- my good friend's Grandfather often told the story of his Villages' destruction at the hands of their Polish neighbours- even as they in turn would begin to be persecuted as well by the Germans anyway. Modern Poles have no interest in restoring stolen art/money/property to the Jews- it would just open up uncomfortable history. Kaiser makes the attempt so many Jews want to - but lack either the resources/time/emotional strength to plumb the depths of their worst memories for legal ends. He's done it for us- shown us the Polish undisguised disdain- shown us the semi fetish for Nazi works and totems in Eastern Europe. It's a really interesting story- and now I don't have to do it myself. Our family's decision not to pursue our losses was confirmed as I read this book. He's tried to do it- so we don't have to think about it. This book is full of adult themes and has a some graphic passages about concentration camp life, so it best read by the Junior Reader of 13/14 years. Not a book with any content for my Gamer/Modeler/Military Enthusiast crowd- although it does expose some facets of WWII and the Nazi Empire. This is a book for any level of WWII reader- novices will learn a lot about the Holocaust- experienced readers will fill in a few gaps of knowledge, But I do think any nonfiction reader can get a lot out of this Memoir/Mystery. A good read and well written.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    A memoir of an extraordinary journey in present-day Poland and into the past. Menachem Kaiser is a 30-something Jewish Canadian whose grandfather, the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust, attempted to reclaim family property in the city of Sosnowiec but was unsuccessful. The grandfather died before Menachem was born, but throughout his childhood, his father, aunt, and uncle kept alive the family's ties to their Polish origin through constant discussion. Menachem decides to pursue t A memoir of an extraordinary journey in present-day Poland and into the past. Menachem Kaiser is a 30-something Jewish Canadian whose grandfather, the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust, attempted to reclaim family property in the city of Sosnowiec but was unsuccessful. The grandfather died before Menachem was born, but throughout his childhood, his father, aunt, and uncle kept alive the family's ties to their Polish origin through constant discussion. Menachem decides to pursue the matter and travels to Poland, does what he can to assemble the required paperwork, and hires an attorney, an elderly woman known as "The Killer" who files claims with the government to go forward in the process. The result is a tale more surreal than any writing by Kafka or painting by Dalí. The courts and the reparations process lead Menachem through an endless maze of bureaucracy, forms, and documents, and along the way he visits the building bearing the address of the one the family once owned, and meets many of its residents, some of whom have been living there more than 60 years. Two particular things come to light in this account of endless ambiguity: the building Menachem visits turns out not to be the one his family owned, despite its having the same house number as the documentation and the address the family has always discussed; and, through one of the residents, he hears of an intriguing cult-like, loosely organized small army of treasure hunters, who are concentrating on the Nazis' Riese Tunnels, a vast underground complex in the Owl Mountains in Silesia, adjacent to Sosnowiec, built during the war by Jewish slave laborers who experienced horrendous working conditions and brutality. Rumors had spread that there were vast stores of stolen gold and other valuables hidden there, but Menachem's connection is the discovery that a cousin of his grandfather's generation, Abraham Kajzer, had written a memoir of his imprisonment that has become the stuff of legend among the fortune hunters. Menachem's book first reads like a picaresque tale of an attempt at the righting of wrongs, but then very gray areas of morality intrude in his thoughts. While it's certainly true that the Kaiser family owned a building in Sosnowiec before the war and that they have never been compensated for what was taken from them, there are others to consider: those that live in the building who are innocent of any wrongdoing and would fear displacement from their homes. The war ended more or less 75 years ago and the world has moved on: how do we balance the wrongs of the past with the needs of those in the present? I couldn't help but think of African-Americans who seek their rightful place in our modern society after their ancestors were brought here as slaves 400 years ago, or of the factions in Israel and Palestine who are at odds over territorial rights, home ownership and ancient claims of a homeland stolen over and over through the millenniums of history. Where does it all end, and what is fair? Does anyone really have the answers to these questions? I must mention that I was drawn to this book by the author's name and the subject matter. My family includes many named Kaiser/Keyser/Keiserman, etc., and while we didn't originate in Poland, but rather in Moldova/Ukraine, and my great-grandparents fled many decades before the Holocaust, the family suffered the effects of pogroms and other brutalities, and some distant cousins who survived World War II have recently come to light. Nothing is truly clear, and certainly nothing is simple.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Kennedy

    The writing in this book is top notch. I settled into it, happy that I'd have something substantial and enjoyable to read for a few days. And Menachem Kaiser's story of searching in Silesia for a building that his grandfather owned before World War II is compelling. He takes a photographer friend and a translator with him, and in their hunt, they find people willing to speak to him of what they know of the old days. But along the line, he becomes involved with Polish "treasure hunters," an eccent The writing in this book is top notch. I settled into it, happy that I'd have something substantial and enjoyable to read for a few days. And Menachem Kaiser's story of searching in Silesia for a building that his grandfather owned before World War II is compelling. He takes a photographer friend and a translator with him, and in their hunt, they find people willing to speak to him of what they know of the old days. But along the line, he becomes involved with Polish "treasure hunters," an eccentric but skilled troupe of bounty hunters looking for Nazi treasure, and the book's narrative splits. The chapters about the bounty hunters have absolutely nothing to do with the author's hunt for his family's property, until he learns of a man having his last name who might be a relative, and who is revered by the treasure hunters. I think the author might have intended the treasure hunt chapters to be a stand-in for the grandfather he knows nothing about, and can know nothing about. The potential relative is more easily known, as he wrote a book, and the author tells his story completely. I was relieved when the possible relative's Holocaust story took over from the treasure hunting chapters. That was worthwhile reading about, as all Holocaust stories are. I skipped the treasure hunting chapters so I could read the apartment building hunt as a through line. The legal system in Poland and the author's extensive efforts to meet the requirements to reclaim the building make for interesting reading. He never mocks the Polish system, even when it seems ludicrous, so he doesn't come across as an ugly American. He considers the moral and ethical questions of what he's doing -- potentially displacing persons who live in the building for financial gain -- and answers them fully, excusing nothing about his motives. No matter how interesting you find the author's attempts to reclaim lost property, if you read the Epilogue, you'll have far more interest in the story he tells there. It's a cliffhanger! I wish that story could be fully told. Because I wasn't interested in half of this book, I would have given it three stars, but the writing makes it a four-star book.

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