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Reviewed by Raanan Geberer for Readers' Favorite
Kalisz: a Journey of Return by Rosalind Brenner is an interesting novel that dramatizes the long-ranging effects of the destruction of European Jewry during World War II. It tells two stories. The first is about the early life of Sender (later Alex) Berner, a young man from a religious Jewish family who spends most of his childhood and adolescence in the Polish town of Kalisz. Berner fortuitously leaves Poland shortly before the Holocaust, going to Palestine as an idealistic young Zionist. His ship, which is transporting immigrants illegally, is intercepted by the British, and he then spends six years in the British army. Afterward, he settles in what soon would become Israel, only to marry and move to Australia. The second story is about Alex’s troubled, alcoholic, Australian-born daughter, Rose. Her search for her roots leads her to Poland and to romance.
In addition to being an engaging historical novel, Rosalind Brenner's Kalisz dramatizes several important historical facts. One is that anti-Semitism grew dramatically in Poland during the 1930s, perhaps influenced by the rise of Nazism in Germany. Another is that large numbers of Palestinian Jews served in the British Army during World War II (for those who don’t know, Palestine was a British possession until 1948). In the person of Alex, Kalisz shows the panic that many who had survived the Holocaust felt when trying to find out the fate of their relatives. Also, the post-war Alex is depicted as someone who is more or less dead inside; he has lost both his religious faith and his idealism and is mainly interested in making money. I know from personal experience that this was the case with many of the survivors. All in all, Kalisz is a valuable addition to the literature about the Holocaust generation and its sons and daughters.