Mendelevski's Box

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
320 Pages
Reviewed on 03/29/2019
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite

Simon is the sole survivor of his family in Roger Swindells’ novel, Mendelevski’s Box. His father was a watchmaker, his talents sought after by wealthy patrons across the Netherlands. The family went into hiding shortly after the Germans invaded, but someone betrayed them and the family was sent to Auschwitz. Simon returns, bent on finding out who betrayed his family, who sent them to their deaths. What he finds is a country struggling to survive after the Germans were routed: people who starved or froze to death for lack of food and fuel, non-Jews who lost family members and were injured in unspeakable ways, and so much suffering. There isn’t much left of his Jewish community: most of the Jewish population was sent to death camps, never to return. His home is owned by a Dutch family (non-Jewish). And there continues to be a lot of anti-Semitic fervor amongst the Dutch people. Home is not what he remembered. Reconnecting with good people, those who helped during the war and others helping him after the war, Simon discovers a box left behind by his father, well hidden. The contents provide the young man with clues to help him unravel what really happened: how they were betrayed and by whom.

Roger Swindells’ novel, Mendelevski’s Box, is a passionate tale that almost reads like a memoir. The sad plight of the Jewish people, and many others for that matter, at the hands of the Nazis during World War II has been written about in countless ways. Earth-shattering and heart-wrenching as it was during the war, what about the aftermath? What happened when those who survived the Nazi death camps returned to their homes? In great detail, the author presents the sad and sorry state of the Dutch people at the end of World War II. He outlines the ongoing distrust and anti-Semitism that remains ripe and he presents an almost unfathomable life. The plot reads like a memoir, a mystery, and a journey of discovery as Simon struggles to define a place for himself in this new world, the aftermath of barely surviving hell on earth. As he follows his goal of unmasking the betrayer, he comes to the sad realization that the Jewish population were not the only ones to suffer greatly. And, many Dutch people were continuing to suffer terribly in the aftermath of the German occupation. As he unravels what happened to his family, Simon discovers a soul mate and, unexpectedly, falls in love. The journey continues as the two seek to find their place in this new world that is rising slowly from the ashes of disaster. A compelling and heart-wrenching tale of courage and survival.

mokum lover

A superb storyline with twists and turns set against world events of Autumn 1945 in an atmospheric Amsterdam struggling to recover from Nazi occupation. Every character is in some way trying to rebuild his or her life. A story of betrayal, jealousy and love which keeps the reader thinking from the first paragraph to the very last when the final twists are revealed. Strong and completely believable characters placed in an area of Amsterdam clearly well known to the author at a time in history which has been outstandingly researched. Highly recommended

Martin Croucher

Essential reading for insight into life in 1945, transition, from prisoner to free man, but still a Jew.

Simon Mendelevski's story is a composite experience which could have been that of any Holocaust survivor returning from one nightmare into that of surviving & rebuilding from nothing. His experiences in 1945 must resonate with many. The book becomes an educational tool; an exciting page-turner as the reader travels with Simon through his days from September to November 1945.

The characters are well drawn from bar-owner Jos, to Grietje & Maaike, all damaged by war yet capable of humanity which brings hope to the whirling malestrom of life in Amsterdam after being under Nazi domination.

There is the feeling of not knowing who is who . Simon's discovery of his late father's box reveals just how Avriel Mandelevski was determined to leave something behind which indeed enables Simon to move forward.

Simon's family were betrayed. His search completed, it is those who have become closest to him bring about rough justice.

The book is written in the language of an innocent who has to re-evaluate everything.

Thank you to Roger Swindells for enabling his readers to explore this period through the urgency of Simon's voice

Nicky Barrett

Just finished reading Mendelevski’s Box, A very good and interesting read.


Not being an Auschwitz survivor (Thank God!) nor a resident of Amsterdam in post-WWII, I honestly don’t know how realistic Mendelevski’s Box actually is. However, as a consumer of historical fiction, I can tell potential readers that Mendelevski’s Box seems right. Though it is fiction, it was inspired by a suitcase (as opposed to a box) left behind in one of the hiding places for Jews when its owners were shipped to the camps. It is clear that Roger Swindells has done his homework.

The main characters have all experienced significant loss. Simon Mendelevski, the protagonist, lost his family, years of his life, real estate, his medical career, his identity as a practicing Jew. Grietje, who seems to be Simon’s benefactress due to some altruistic intention, has lost husband and sons. Maaike, one of Grietje’s hard-working lodgers, has lost family and a leg. At least, all three assume that they have lost everyone.

To be honest, I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. As with In a Field of Blue, a novel of post-WWII tragedy and adjustment set in Australia, what appeared to be something of a mystery forming a foundation for a very emotional story, Mendelevski’s Box appears early on to be more of a “romance novel” than “mystery.” I started reading Mendelevski’s Box to find out what was in the box, hidden at great cost and coming to Simon at great cost. Yet, I found myself caught up in a romantic triangle between Grietje, Simon, and Maaike. During the early section of the book, we become suspicious that Grietje has befriended for a motive beyond altruism. Indeed, there proves to be two motivations, both telegraphed early in the book.

Mendelevski’s Box is more than a mystery; it is a novel of creative survival. Simon is a naïve, idealistic, innocent, virgin. He is obsessed with finding the person who betrayed his family. He uncovers tales of collaborators and black marketeers. It is a time where the poorer Amsterdam residents often hunted for wood to burn in abandoned houses. It is a time when returning survivors of the camps found their former houses occupied by Dutch families. Worse, at any point they tried to reclaim those houses, even the post-war government was more concerned about collecting back-taxes from the Jews than helping them get their rightful property back.

Simon clearly needs a friendly native guide to lead him through the twisting circumstances and complicated rituals of regaining identity, establishing a bank account, attempting to recover his property without immediately having it confiscated as black market profit, and, if possible, finding the one who betrayed his family. Jos, the tavern owner who originally hired Maaike and now, takes a chance on Simon, proves to be Simon’s mediator in the shadow world of murky dealings and with people who may or may not be trusted. And Jos proves to be a vital lynchpin in Simon’s reintegration process.

Mendelevski’s Box hit me harder emotionally than In a Field of Blue. Swindell’s foreward notes that Jews shipped to the camps from the Netherlands had the lowest survival rate of any of the Jewish populations in Europe. Then, to see the shabby way they were treated upon their attempted re-entry into “normal” (or, at least, “normalizing”) society was incredibly sad. Yet, Mendelevski’s Box is about facing up to the odds which stand against one. The novel is about guilt. The novel is about the roots of place and family. And, fortunately for the reader, the novel contains “some” wins and “some” aspects about which it is hard to feel good.

At first, I thought Mendelevski’s Box seemed like it was going to have a plodding pace. Soon, I discovered that if things moved any faster, I wouldn’t be able to take in the full atmosphere and absorb the significant risk involved in portions of the story. Since I can’t think of one thing I would change in the novel (yes, a rarity indeed for such an opinionated individual), I must give it the full five (5) stars.