Have you ever finished reading a book and been disappointed? Not because it was poorly written, but because it touched you so deeply you can’t seem to let the story go? I am experiencing this now. I just finished reading, Once We Were Brothers, and I am sad that I am done. I am only disappointed, because I can’t pick it again and keep reading about these characters that I have come to care about and think about even after I have finished the last chapter in the story.
The book, Once We Were Brothers, was written by Ronald H. Balson. It is the story of two boys raised as brothers, who find themselves on the opposite sides of the Nazi occupation. The twists and turns that you endure during this story will keep you up reading well past your bedtime. I felt as if I was experiencing life with friends and quickly grew to care about the characters, thinking about them long after I put the book down. I found myself dwelling on the difficulties that the characters were forced to endure, but I also thought about the society they lived in and compared it our current day society. How do I view those around me? It was sobering to think about how I might act if I was put into such a situation. I pray I would have the strength to endure and help and my fellow man. I pray that I would have fortitude to not care about the repercussions. I can sit here and type that, “Yes! I would be a leader and take a stand.” Yet, when it comes down to it and I am faced with the hardships of caring for my family and preserving the lives of my children, it would be a hard decision to put the lives of others ahead of my own children. I saw my own weakness and it made me feel uncomfortable and repentant. I am thankful that I have a Lord on whom I can draw my strength from in times of trouble. I am blessed to have a God who is strong in my times of weakness. I can call on Him in prayer and know that He will supply me with the strength I need to get through each day. “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart exults, and with my song I shall thank Him.” Psalms 28:7
Once We Were Brothers, is about a family who is profoundly impacted during World War II. It is about how society treated the Jews and about some of the brave heroes who helped this fictional family. Some of us think it could never happen in our country. After all, we are country of educated people and have moved beyond the thoughts of what a person’s skin color or their religion might mean to us. I am sure that the people living in Europe before the start of World War II probably felt the same way. They viewed themselves as advanced and educated, above the pettiness of discrimination. The thing about discrimination is that it starts in small ways. The evil that lurks behind such thoughts does not barge into our homes with big bats and announce itself, it enters quietly takes the time to acclimate itself to our environment before introducing too many changes or ideas. Looking back at how the changes took place in Germany, I have chills. I think about how the Jews stayed because they probably believed that the goodness in people would prevail. Others may have stayed because they had lived in that area for generations and it was all that they knew. I think many stayed because they could not fathom the evil that was lurking in the hearts of men. For some it was too late, by the time they tried to leave although others were fortunate and did escape in time. It is gripping to read the accounts of how history took place in this book, yet reading about the real events and how they impacted this fictional family, makes it even more memorable. I highly recommend that everyone read this book. It was without a doubt one of the best books I have read this year. It will leave you thinking about the families who lost so much, while breathing a prayer of thanksgiving for all the blessings in your life.
Ronald H. Balson is an attorney practicing with the firm of Stone, Pogrund and Korey in Chicago. The demands of his trial practice have taken him into courts across the United States and into international venues. An adjunct professor of business law at the University of Chicago for twenty-five years, he now lectures on trial advocacy in federal trial bar courses. Travels to Warsaw and southern Poland in connection with a complex telecommunications case inspired this novel.