Menachem Kaiser’s new book Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure is 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.
Kaiser’s story begins when he takes up his Holocaust survivor grandfather’s former battle to reclaim the family’s apartment building in Sosnowiec, Poland. Soon, Kaiser is on a circuitous path to encounters with the long-time residents of the building, with a Polish lawyer known as “The Killer,” and with a surprise discovery about his grandfather’s cousin that reshapes his quest.
In this program, join Kaiser for a conversation with Stephanie Butnick, Tablet Magazine Deputy Editor and co-host of the leading Jewish podcast Unorthodox, about Plunder and the profound questions it raises about family inheritance.
Watch the program below.
This program’s original recording transcript is below. This transcription was created automatically during a live program so may contain inaccurate transcriptions of some words.
Gia Pace - Hello everyone I'm Gia Pace, public programs coordinator at the Museum of Jewish heritage, a living memorial to the Holocaust.
00:01:57.180 --> 00:02:02.760
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: It is my pleasure to welcome you to today's program with not from Kaiser and stephanie botanic.
00:02:03.210 --> 00:02:10.740
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: we're here to discuss malcolm's new book plunder a memoir of family property and Nazi treasure which was just released last week.
00:02:11.250 --> 00:02:20.340
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: The book is the story of his quest to reclaim his family's apartment building in Poland and the astonishment entanglement with Nazi treasure hunters that follows.
00:02:20.910 --> 00:02:24.570
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: You can order your copy at the link in the zoom chat which i'll put in there and just a moment.
00:02:25.050 --> 00:02:30.990
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: we're not from Kaiser is a writer in brooklyn New York equals an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan.
00:02:31.350 --> 00:02:37.740
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: And was a Fulbright fellow into the mania his writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and elsewhere.
00:02:38.400 --> 00:02:47.460
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: And is in conversation today with stephanie button at the deputy editor a tablet magazine, and the co host of leading Jewish podcast unorthodox.
00:02:47.910 --> 00:02:57.420
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: feel free to share questions in the zoom Q amp a box anytime during the discussion will try to get to all your questions and without further ado welcome and awesome and stephanie.
00:03:00.660 --> 00:03:08.520
Stephanie Butnick: Do yes Thank you so much, and thanks to the Museum of Jewish heritage it's always a treat to do these zoom events for the museum's audience and I want to thank everyone.
00:03:08.850 --> 00:03:15.150
Stephanie Butnick: Who tuned in tonight I don't know if you know this, but tonight is actually the White House seder that Douglas m hop is hosting.
00:03:15.600 --> 00:03:26.760
Stephanie Butnick: So you could have been there tonight, but you're here, instead, and because you're here you actually can't go there you can't like leave now and sign up, so I appreciate it, welcome to everyone and now from Kaiser is great to be here with you.
00:03:27.240 --> 00:03:30.000
Menachem Kaiser: that's so nice to hear thanks definitely and thank you, Joe.
00:03:30.750 --> 00:03:36.750
Stephanie Butnick: So we are here today to discuss this truly fascinating riveting book and you know.
00:03:37.410 --> 00:03:43.410
Stephanie Butnick: You see, you read family property, I was sort of expecting like you know, a family restitution saw them, maybe a little drama.
00:03:43.800 --> 00:03:58.320
Stephanie Butnick: I was not expecting like tunnels, full of Nazi gold and, like the craziest bureaucratic like just insanity and just really the the windows are fast pace of this book and sort of the thriller angle of it so.
00:03:59.220 --> 00:04:07.980
Stephanie Butnick: we'll get to all of that tonight, everyone will know, like it will sort of get all their questions answered i'm going to talk to you for a little bit you're going to read a few a few passages.
00:04:08.310 --> 00:04:16.110
Stephanie Butnick: Are our wonderful attendees tonight can pop questions in the Q amp a oh someone says the seder is already over so it's fine.
00:04:16.590 --> 00:04:25.410
Stephanie Butnick: we're getting to the after party, the after hours crowd from the Center the spillover crowd which we are happy to have so if you have questions from an awesome pop them in the q&a box.
00:04:26.670 --> 00:04:34.920
Stephanie Butnick: will get to them at the end so nothing tell us where you were at the start of this project, when he first started thinking about your grandfather's legacy.
00:04:35.610 --> 00:04:41.100
Menachem Kaiser: Or, I went to Poland really for no reasons that had anything to do with family history in 2011.
00:04:41.760 --> 00:04:49.170
Menachem Kaiser: And while I was there, my father, you know he gave me an address that belonged to my grandfather and i'll mention that I never knew my grandfather.
00:04:49.530 --> 00:04:57.300
Menachem Kaiser: And was really never all that curious about him, it was just sort of like a just like an easy comfortable ignorance, but when I was in Poland.
00:04:58.140 --> 00:05:01.980
Menachem Kaiser: I felt a certain obligation, like a kind of etiquette to go visit his hometown.
00:05:02.340 --> 00:05:12.120
Menachem Kaiser: And so, my father like rummage through some papers and call me back a couple hours later, and it gave me an address and I went and I, at that point, I had no reason to think I would ever return, I felt like I had.
00:05:12.600 --> 00:05:20.460
Menachem Kaiser: fulfilled my memory obligation and, if you will, but like over the next couple of years I ended up spending quite a bit of time in Poland meeting a lot of people.
00:05:21.930 --> 00:05:30.450
Menachem Kaiser: and developing your kind of network and my father kept mentioning that he had these papers and he said, you know we have these documents that my grandfather owns the building and.
00:05:31.080 --> 00:05:41.850
Menachem Kaiser: You know I never really did anything with them, but take a look at it, they kept nudging me and took me four years, so I actually got the papers and then, when I went through those documents, and that was in 2015.
00:05:43.470 --> 00:05:51.120
Menachem Kaiser: It was kind of a revelation I sort of I feel like I met my grandfather, for the first time I saw like the first kind of thing that defined his personality.
00:05:51.570 --> 00:06:06.000
Menachem Kaiser: I saw like 30 years of frustration on his end trying to reclaim the property and getting nowhere, and at that point, I decided, you know I This seems like an interesting way in to explore questions that I was interested in concerning memory contemporary Poland.
00:06:07.110 --> 00:06:10.080
Menachem Kaiser: Holocaust memory, and so I initiated a claim and.
00:06:11.850 --> 00:06:13.110
Menachem Kaiser: To try and get the building back.
00:06:14.550 --> 00:06:28.410
Stephanie Butnick: So we will get to everything that happened after there's a really nice passage on page six that i'd love for you to read the stain or already Menachem on page six your next day new that tells us a little bit about set this whole story up in a really nice way if you don't mind reading.
00:06:30.360 --> 00:06:31.710
Menachem Kaiser: And we knew right stuff yeah.
00:06:33.390 --> 00:06:40.560
Menachem Kaiser: We knew that my grandfather was the only one in his family to have survived the war that his parents and his siblings had been murdered.
00:06:41.160 --> 00:06:50.190
Menachem Kaiser: As was nearly all of his large extended family but as knowledge, this was dark matter we knew nothing about his pre war or interwar life.
00:06:50.760 --> 00:06:59.040
Menachem Kaiser: We didn't know which concentration camps, he had been in or what his father had done for a living, we knew nothing about his parents and uncles cousins.
00:06:59.970 --> 00:07:06.990
Menachem Kaiser: My father and his two siblings, let alone my generation would be hard pressed to tell you the names of my grandfather siblings.
00:07:07.620 --> 00:07:21.570
Menachem Kaiser: They wouldn't even be entirely sure of the number, we knew they had died, we had no idea who they were we did not know where they died or how they died, and so, when my grandfather died they died another sort of death.
00:07:23.430 --> 00:07:34.200
Menachem Kaiser: I went to Poland, for the first time in 2010 for reasons that have nothing to do with family history, I just finished a research fellowship and Lithuania, I was spending Russia shawna in Krakow.
00:07:35.010 --> 00:07:43.200
Menachem Kaiser: But once I was there, I felt I should go to my grandparents home towns, it seemed like something I should do less than obligation really an etiquette.
00:07:43.740 --> 00:07:51.420
Menachem Kaiser: When you're in town you visit your relatives and say hi when you're in Toronto, on your grandfather's yard site you go to his grave and say songs.
00:07:52.140 --> 00:08:01.590
Menachem Kaiser: When you're In Poland, for the first time you make the trip to your grandparents hometowns and take pictures you go and for the rest of your life, you can say you've been there.
00:08:04.410 --> 00:08:15.720
Stephanie Butnick: Thank you, so I did a similar thing I spent a summer in Krakow and I went to I took a day trip to zavvi area, which is where my father's father was from and I sort of did the thing that you describe that a lot of.
00:08:16.440 --> 00:08:27.720
Stephanie Butnick: children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and also people who whose family are rooted in somewhere in you know, Eastern Europe, so you described this as memory, tourism, can you tell us what exactly you mean by that.
00:08:28.650 --> 00:08:39.510
Menachem Kaiser: yeah I was sort of using this didn't like the term and the conscious of memory tourism as like people like us, who are sort of going back to you know the homeland of places they've never been but are still sort of.
00:08:39.960 --> 00:08:44.160
Menachem Kaiser: firmly established in their their legends or their sense of history and so.
00:08:44.700 --> 00:08:53.040
Menachem Kaiser: You know I had never been to South divisional my family had ever been to salvage but, in a sense, it's kind of you know where i'm from and that's like a that's a.
00:08:53.760 --> 00:09:01.980
Menachem Kaiser: kind of a place and a kind of coming home to that I was really interested in and really wrestling with and sort of investigating what that means, and like the.
00:09:02.520 --> 00:09:14.940
Menachem Kaiser: The sort of i'm a tourist to this place but i'm not a regular tourists because i'm not really that all that interested in like the restaurant, so to speak, or the sites i'm interested in my particular story and so it's sort of there's like.
00:09:15.450 --> 00:09:31.530
Menachem Kaiser: A layer on top of the place that i'm more interested in which is its memory and it sort of gets really tricky to start talking about that, like How does that memory interact with the physical geographical place and like I got more and more interested in exploring those questions.
00:09:32.520 --> 00:09:39.180
Stephanie Butnick: It is for me right, the question is not what is this place, but what is the meaning of this place, which is a very like fifth song like I like that's like.
00:09:39.210 --> 00:09:47.880
Stephanie Butnick: that's also very, very much of the senior but it's true you go to these places, you want you want some kind of reckoning with them, you want to understand how you relate to them because.
00:09:48.390 --> 00:09:53.340
Stephanie Butnick: i've always felt so strange, you know when I was in Poland, I called my my.
00:09:54.300 --> 00:10:00.840
Stephanie Butnick: paternal grandfather sister, who is the only at that point, the only remaining call customer ever left in our family she has since passed away and I called her I said.
00:10:01.230 --> 00:10:05.250
Stephanie Butnick: i'm in Krakow i'm going to go to live in your chat and she said watch your pocketbook.
00:10:06.180 --> 00:10:12.300
Stephanie Butnick: And I was sort of like oh actually it's very different to come from a place where your family actually doesn't really necessarily want.
00:10:12.690 --> 00:10:26.010
Stephanie Butnick: anything to do with I mean what did your family think about when you sort of started the bureaucracy that the process of restitution that will get you I mean what did they think what did they would your grandfather have wanted to do this, and we would anyone have wanted you back there.
00:10:26.610 --> 00:10:29.430
Menachem Kaiser: that's a good question and one of the thing I really struggle with is.
00:10:30.120 --> 00:10:38.550
Menachem Kaiser: Trying to to sort of relate to what my grandfather wanted like I never knew him and what his desires and his fears and his sense of leaving Poland.
00:10:38.880 --> 00:10:46.710
Menachem Kaiser: Very permanently were never really articulated to me and so like I sort of struggle, but also sort of really hold firm to my ignorance.
00:10:47.220 --> 00:10:54.420
Menachem Kaiser: And I like I don't know and i'm not going to know with my more immediate family, I think there was a kind of been amusement for a while.
00:10:54.900 --> 00:11:01.920
Menachem Kaiser: Like again it wasn't we didn't really have that sense of return passed down three of my four grandparents were Holocaust survivors.
00:11:02.370 --> 00:11:11.040
Menachem Kaiser: And it was obviously a big part of my identity, but it was a completely and detailed part there was never any emphasis on their story because none of us really knew it.
00:11:11.580 --> 00:11:22.080
Menachem Kaiser: And so the idea of going back to Poland was something that is like that was viewed as nice but by no means an obligation and so like I sort of spending a lot of time there and then started.
00:11:23.040 --> 00:11:32.700
Menachem Kaiser: You know, doing these legal battles to reclaim the family property and there was a sense of like this is interesting and potentially something, but there was, I would say, for a few years I kind of.
00:11:33.750 --> 00:11:35.730
Menachem Kaiser: amusement like let's see how this plays out.
00:11:37.710 --> 00:11:46.920
Stephanie Butnick: So let's get into the process that you, you picked up the your grandfather had tried to initiate earlier, but he was sort of stymied by not sending the wrong form when.
00:11:47.250 --> 00:12:02.100
Stephanie Butnick: The government opened up these restitution claims um, can you tell us a little bit about what that was like and then there's a passage, I really want you to read about the very Kafka esque quest to get your grandfather's certainly murder relatives declared legally dead.
00:12:02.670 --> 00:12:15.090
Menachem Kaiser: Sure, so let me specify, so my case is not a restitution claim exactly so in Poland is one of the own I think one of the only or maybe the only country in Europe that doesn't actually have any restitution laws so if a.
00:12:15.570 --> 00:12:30.150
Menachem Kaiser: property was taken or nationalized there are no legal mechanisms to get it back my claim, on the other hand, was a relatively straightforward inheritance claim so basically what we were saying to the courts is my great grandfather Scott mosier Kaiser.
00:12:31.380 --> 00:12:36.720
Menachem Kaiser: He owned the building before the war and he's still the legal owner, and so we were trying to update the registry.
00:12:37.710 --> 00:12:45.510
Menachem Kaiser: You know, right now, if you sort of look in the online and look at the deed it's it's technically owner list so there really isn't a Disputation as to.
00:12:45.870 --> 00:12:50.790
Menachem Kaiser: who owns the building, we were just saying update the registry and then my family.
00:12:51.450 --> 00:12:58.800
Menachem Kaiser: sort of that tree should get established within the Polish cord so Moshe Kaiser diet, it should be passed to the sun and then he died, he asked his children and etc.
00:12:59.310 --> 00:13:04.200
Menachem Kaiser: And so I had sort of these two tracks and the you know, the first track was sort of.
00:13:04.830 --> 00:13:16.470
Menachem Kaiser: Establishing the deaths of everyone who had died in the Holocaust, so there were no records at all, no that's a death certificates, we had no details as to where they died or how they died or when they died, and this proved to be.
00:13:17.880 --> 00:13:30.630
Menachem Kaiser: trickier than I had imagined so to put into context, my great grandparents were born in the 1880s so they'd be between 130 and 140 years old, at the time I was doing this claim, and so I sort of thought that would be a.
00:13:31.710 --> 00:13:40.350
Menachem Kaiser: relatively simple procedure and it turned out to be really complicated and i'll go like I you know, there was a lot of twists and turns along the way in terms of.
00:13:42.060 --> 00:13:51.630
Menachem Kaiser: Did we file the right claim their turn turns out there's two kinds of death declaration within the Polish court system but yeah nothing went simply from the start.
00:13:52.770 --> 00:13:56.490
Stephanie Butnick: So you sort of give us a taste of this on page 98.
00:13:58.170 --> 00:14:00.360
Menachem Kaiser: yeah this is from the argument.
00:14:02.580 --> 00:14:02.880
00:14:05.700 --> 00:14:13.770
Menachem Kaiser: i'll just let me reference my my lawyer is I refer to her as the killer throughout the book so that's who it is in this paragraph.
00:14:15.390 --> 00:14:23.610
Menachem Kaiser: The argument, the killer prepared for the Court was one of common sense that what was plainly real should be acknowledged as bureaucratically real.
00:14:24.510 --> 00:14:36.780
Menachem Kaiser: The only relevant document we had was in 1967 affidavit from rabbi AJ engelhard friend of my grandfather's stating that he had no the kaiser's and sausage and that only my grandfather had survived.
00:14:37.350 --> 00:14:47.880
Menachem Kaiser: which was something, but in terms of evidence, not much because angler doesn't say how he knows, they died he could be and, in all likelihood, was repeating hearsay.
00:14:48.390 --> 00:15:02.940
Menachem Kaiser: or whatever you'd call the and detailed knowledge of the deaths of Holocaust victims, we had no concentration capitalists know testimony that they were in this camp, or that they died their extensive searches of databases of Holocaust victims and survivors turned up nothing.
00:15:05.760 --> 00:15:11.700
Stephanie Butnick: And so, then so someone's actually asking if you are an attorney but we you, you are not an attorney as far as I know, you're a writer.
00:15:12.270 --> 00:15:12.870
Menachem Kaiser: An attorney.
00:15:13.020 --> 00:15:22.500
Stephanie Butnick: And you engage the killer who someone who someone in Krakow tells you like this is the, this is the person to go to, and so what kind of process does she sort of embark on on your behalf.
00:15:23.280 --> 00:15:33.060
Menachem Kaiser: Right So the first thing was establishing the deaths of my dead relatives and so basically we were doing from my great grandfather and his brother who were co owners of the building, and so the case actually got.
00:15:33.780 --> 00:15:47.400
Menachem Kaiser: split into two different jurisdictions, based on the last known addresses, and so there was a court case in Belgium, which is the like a Jason city to sustain the pitch and that one the judge you know kind of sailed through the judge never called me for a hearing.
00:15:48.480 --> 00:16:00.960
Menachem Kaiser: We got the death certificates or the death declarations very easily and then incident which we apply to have my great grandparents and his to other children, aside from a grandfather declared as dead.
00:16:01.440 --> 00:16:07.530
Menachem Kaiser: And we lost me sort of the the judge said no, and I had a really hard time understanding why.
00:16:08.850 --> 00:16:15.540
Menachem Kaiser: But you know I at that point, I had like lost all the generosity I come in with, and it really felt like they were out to get me.
00:16:16.200 --> 00:16:27.960
Menachem Kaiser: And we appealed to the regional court which was one court lower than the Supreme Court, and we lost again, and at that point, I was sort of beside myself.
00:16:28.410 --> 00:16:33.180
Menachem Kaiser: I really had sort of got pulled back into like the attitude I have grown up with towards polls.
00:16:33.930 --> 00:16:46.260
Menachem Kaiser: And then I found out that I, we had actually filed the wrong claim, so it turns out there's two kinds of death declarations, one is, for, if you could sort of know where and when the person died and according to those criteria.
00:16:47.460 --> 00:16:55.770
Menachem Kaiser: You know they didn't actually technically get it now becomes a question if the judge could have been more generous yeah that just could have been more generous but it wasn't the same as sort of.
00:16:57.540 --> 00:17:07.440
Menachem Kaiser: out to get me it was like more of a lack of generosity and so we have to file the other claim, which is more like a missing person after X amount of time will be declared dead, so we have to start from scratch, at that point.
00:17:08.070 --> 00:17:10.320
Stephanie Butnick: And this involves like taking out a newspaper ad.
00:17:11.340 --> 00:17:15.060
Stephanie Butnick: Even seen this person who was born in the 18 and then you know.
00:17:16.590 --> 00:17:20.760
Menachem Kaiser: I you know it sounds really silly on some level, it is, but I.
00:17:21.270 --> 00:17:30.810
Menachem Kaiser: To me, I still have i'm still sort of clinging to that generosity of bureaucracies will be bureaucratic and so like I don't know what the process is in Canada today or where i'm from.
00:17:31.410 --> 00:17:40.230
Menachem Kaiser: But like these things their laws are going to be kind of strange and taxing, no, no matter where you are, and so the question is like.
00:17:40.800 --> 00:17:48.600
Menachem Kaiser: I never really felt he the judge was really not generous that I ever feel like anyone who is out to get me not really and I saw a more difficult question was like.
00:17:48.990 --> 00:17:57.240
Menachem Kaiser: Is there something systemic sort of like built into the system even if everyone is well intention that's going to stymie efforts like mine.
00:17:58.800 --> 00:18:08.580
Menachem Kaiser: And that was that I think the answer is yes, like why there should be a law that would help this move along but there wasn't I was like, and so the Holocaust is just this enormous rupture.
00:18:09.090 --> 00:18:22.950
Menachem Kaiser: In continuity and, like the legal system has a really hard time handling it so again, even if all the actors, all the judges and the lawyers and the clerks everyone's like you know working in good faith, you could still just encounter tremendous amount of frustration.
00:18:23.430 --> 00:18:32.040
Stephanie Butnick: You know it's funny when I was in Soviet I had my translator take me to the city, the archive and it was like out of Monty Python she just like didn't have the files for a.
00:18:32.610 --> 00:18:44.790
Stephanie Butnick: period of years between 1939 95, and so I think that is really interesting, but you know you're really part of this there's this trope right of Americans are Jews coming back to these countries.
00:18:45.240 --> 00:18:54.780
Stephanie Butnick: Obviously, everything was a very murky during the war every there's a lot of sort of ambiguity there right let's let's stay on that generous note, I mean the idea of like.
00:18:55.860 --> 00:18:58.890
Stephanie Butnick: Jewish kid knocking on your door and saying like this is my house.
00:18:59.220 --> 00:19:01.230
Stephanie Butnick: This is my grandfather's house that's that's sort of like a.
00:19:01.440 --> 00:19:10.590
Stephanie Butnick: almost like a boogeyman now in certain European countries, it feels like so do you feel like you were like were you conscious of that while you were on this know when you are meeting, the people who lived in the building you thought this was.
00:19:10.740 --> 00:19:22.350
Menachem Kaiser: yeah I was hyper conscious of that, I think, initially, I had gone in again with this sort of default attitude of like what was my was my family remains my family and like not really being conscientious or.
00:19:22.710 --> 00:19:30.780
Menachem Kaiser: Even really given any thought whatsoever to the people who live in the building now and then over the next couple years I encountered quite a bit of pushback.
00:19:31.740 --> 00:19:40.710
Menachem Kaiser: You know on what I was doing just reclamation and you know, and I, you know people were accusing me of appropriation or being insensitive and.
00:19:42.000 --> 00:19:46.860
Menachem Kaiser: I you know it really rankled I really had a hard time with some of these accusations and.
00:19:47.670 --> 00:19:53.490
Menachem Kaiser: Ultimately, like it did move the needle like I did relent someone and not to say that my moral or legal right.
00:19:54.000 --> 00:20:02.130
Menachem Kaiser: is compromised, I like I had a very hard time sort of expecting that I was like you know the counterfactual if my family had been murdered.
00:20:02.640 --> 00:20:17.040
Menachem Kaiser: My family would still own the building so like I that claim to me was sort of preposterous on its face, but the idea of sort of complex defying the narrative and sort of like recognizing that these people have lives that the building has a narrative.
00:20:18.150 --> 00:20:27.150
Menachem Kaiser: That is not just my family's, and so I got more and more uncomfortable with sort of taking over property without any knowledge of who lives there.
00:20:27.780 --> 00:20:38.550
Menachem Kaiser: And so I sort of worked up the courage and knocked on the door and yeah the first few people I knocked on basically slammed it in my face, and they were older.
00:20:39.030 --> 00:20:49.980
Menachem Kaiser: And I you know they see a foreigner, I came with like a photographer and a translator and yeah they were they were not they were very, very suspicious and.
00:20:50.640 --> 00:20:58.770
Menachem Kaiser: But you know, then I didn't meet people who are just unbelievably generous and open and sort of shared with me like their life story, the story of the building and.
00:21:00.270 --> 00:21:09.990
Menachem Kaiser: You know, initially, I had lied not proud of it, but I like had felt too ashamed to come in there and tell the truth, I sort of made up this ridiculous story about being a researcher and.
00:21:10.740 --> 00:21:20.250
Menachem Kaiser: It was all technically, true, but really a lie, but I relented I like I said I couldn't keep that up, I felt too ashamed, and so I told him the truth and we develop real relationships.
00:21:20.760 --> 00:21:28.560
Menachem Kaiser: And that took over two years i've really spent quite a bit of time with some of them and then I found out spoiler that I was in the wrong building.
00:21:30.270 --> 00:21:31.290
Menachem Kaiser: Like that there was a typo.
00:21:31.560 --> 00:21:32.310
Stephanie Butnick: Big twisted.
00:21:32.850 --> 00:21:37.860
Menachem Kaiser: yeah so there was like a typo in one of the documents and, like the real building was down the block and.
00:21:38.700 --> 00:21:43.740
Menachem Kaiser: You know that one I won't spoil it for you, it happens, but I sort of had to re face this moral quandary.
00:21:44.370 --> 00:21:55.110
Menachem Kaiser: Of like and sort of really take stock of like, if I had the energy and, like the fortitude to go into another building and do this from scratch and like it's it's really hard, I think we like.
00:21:55.650 --> 00:22:06.120
Menachem Kaiser: from a distance you read the stories and it sounds like an adventure, but when you're in people's faces and like you're even if everyone's being generous you're still like at the base talking about people's homes.
00:22:07.830 --> 00:22:23.160
Menachem Kaiser: it's really hard, it was just really taxing but to answer your question yeah just I the trope is a common one, if there's been national elections which it's been an issue idea of reclamation there's a tremendous amount of Jewish property that's been given back to the Jewish community.
00:22:24.240 --> 00:22:32.190
Menachem Kaiser: And there's a lot of private property that has not and so it's when you know when you're sort of in Poland in dealing with these things.
00:22:32.520 --> 00:22:46.020
Menachem Kaiser: The Warren doesn't feel all that far out that's the thing it's like you know, in the US, it does feel more distant really, but when you have like an actual building that belongs to someone that narrative is like a lot leaner.
00:22:47.610 --> 00:22:57.060
Stephanie Butnick: You it's true, I mean the thing that I was most move by when I did my day trip, you know, obviously did not spend as much time there is you ended up, but you know when I was inside of here to there was a like a.
00:22:58.020 --> 00:23:05.010
Stephanie Butnick: cemetery groundsman that there was someone whose job it was a non Jewish pole to just sort of keep the cemetery up just keeps him.
00:23:06.000 --> 00:23:16.830
Stephanie Butnick: And I showed up with my translator and he was so excited to I mean I don't know the last time, someone went to visit I mean I it sounds like somebody who here is in this chat me does a.
00:23:17.100 --> 00:23:25.350
Stephanie Butnick: Has a whole Facebook group for this whole area this whole region of Poland, but he was so excited that someone like the Finally, he could like understand the connection of like this place to.
00:23:25.620 --> 00:23:30.660
Stephanie Butnick: A real living person, and so I do think there's like that we are generosity to me, you know something i'm struck by.
00:23:31.740 --> 00:23:44.490
Stephanie Butnick: it's just this is an emotional journey, for you right you don't know your grandfather you're going back, but you're actually tied up in red tape, like what you're doing is actually submitting forms you're not doing like it doesn't feel super emotional does it.
00:23:45.870 --> 00:23:47.580
Menachem Kaiser: that's an excellent question you know I had this.
00:23:49.080 --> 00:23:53.940
Menachem Kaiser: I don't know and like I that's a really honest answer because, again I didn't have a relationship with my grandfather.
00:23:54.450 --> 00:24:01.920
Menachem Kaiser: And so I didn't know him and I knew almost nothing about him I don't know his Holocaust story and I had the only the biggest idea of what he was actually like.
00:24:02.520 --> 00:24:10.800
Menachem Kaiser: And so what I really you know throughout this whole you know the whole story and the book it's like struggle to articulate that meaning.
00:24:11.190 --> 00:24:24.960
Menachem Kaiser: And I it's there but it's it's very hard to articulate because it's not a personal relationship exactly but like yeah i'm sort of reaching i'm reaching for the memory of him, and like i'm not quite getting there but they're reaching to me is significant in and of itself.
00:24:26.310 --> 00:24:36.480
Stephanie Butnick: So while you're doing this reaching for for this grandfather who didn't know you actually unearth you uncover a relative that you did not know existed and that gets us into sort of.
00:24:36.900 --> 00:24:43.680
Stephanie Butnick: The other half of the memoir which is really I mean fantastic it is truly hard to believe, can you tell us about Abraham Kaiser.
00:24:44.250 --> 00:24:52.260
Menachem Kaiser: sure you know, there was explained a room Kaiser I have to tell everyone about Nazi tunnels and so these are there are these seven Nazi tunnels.
00:24:52.890 --> 00:24:58.770
Menachem Kaiser: Not to tell us what seven underground complexes built by the Nazis using mostly Jewish slave Labor towards the end of the war.
00:24:59.550 --> 00:25:09.390
Menachem Kaiser: These things are called project risa their insight leisha, which is in the southwest part of the country kind of centered around a town called object and none of them are completed.
00:25:10.500 --> 00:25:20.640
Menachem Kaiser: But some of them are closer to completion, those ones are enormous we're talking square kilometers 20 meter high walls and I could show a photo if that's okay stephanie.
00:25:20.790 --> 00:25:23.790
Stephanie Butnick: it's really something I had never heard of seems.
00:25:24.780 --> 00:25:33.330
Menachem Kaiser: And so here's so bone which was on the smaller ones, this one is not open to the public, these a frames are original from the war.
00:25:34.590 --> 00:25:38.010
Menachem Kaiser: I will also want to credit Jason Francisco with taking these photographs.
00:25:39.660 --> 00:25:49.200
Menachem Kaiser: So this is one of the this isn't a sukkah, which is one of the finished one is it is open to the public, you could kind of get a sense of what it was going to become that's reinforced concrete.
00:25:50.400 --> 00:26:00.000
Menachem Kaiser: Here you could see the two tunnel system, these were like layers and hope to give you a sense of scale this ceiling, I think, is like 20 meters tall.
00:26:01.380 --> 00:26:04.140
Menachem Kaiser: So these were really enormous enormous structures.
00:26:05.790 --> 00:26:06.120
00:26:08.460 --> 00:26:22.710
Menachem Kaiser: anyways so the Nazis using Jewish lever to build these tunnels and what's very sort of strange and enigmatic about them is that there is virtually no primary documentation, so we have no sort of documentary evidence as to what the Germans were planning to do with them.
00:26:25.260 --> 00:26:36.630
Menachem Kaiser: Now let me look at one more quick thing before we get David and Kaiser sort of surrounding these tunnels, is a very large subculture of so called treasure hunters who are.
00:26:37.200 --> 00:26:47.070
Menachem Kaiser: Very obsessed with all things mystery, and so we have things like anything that's unanswered anything unexplained particularly particularly that pertains to a World War Two.
00:26:47.700 --> 00:26:55.560
Menachem Kaiser: And so, and these guys and it's a very big community, the numbers, you could have like up to 100,000 people go out with metal detectors.
00:26:56.430 --> 00:27:11.370
Menachem Kaiser: And it's a very wide range of men and it's mostly men, you have one in just the guys with like metal detectors even other and very sophisticated even sometimes sponsored expeditions and so at the Center of this like what we call culture of mystery or these tunnels.
00:27:13.380 --> 00:27:22.530
Menachem Kaiser: And they are obsessed and so these tunnels they've caught a little bit famous in 2015 when to the so called treasure hunters announced to the world.
00:27:22.860 --> 00:27:30.900
Menachem Kaiser: That they had found the so called golden train, which is a sensibility legendary train full of luda Nazi gold, that the Nazis had taken from Francois of.
00:27:31.350 --> 00:27:38.550
Menachem Kaiser: It was on the way to relate it got routed into a mountain and it was buried there and people have been talking about the training for 40 years and a few years ago.
00:27:39.300 --> 00:27:55.650
Menachem Kaiser: These two guys said they found it and the world took them very seriously, so you had like the New York Times, the new yorker BBC fox news sky everyone descended on this little town of object and they became very renowned for a few months now here's where Abraham Kaiser comes in.
00:27:56.790 --> 00:27:59.670
Menachem Kaiser: Basically, because there is no primary documentation.
00:28:00.930 --> 00:28:08.580
Menachem Kaiser: There is a memoir written by a man named Abraham Kaiser it, which was he broke, he was a slave slave Labor on these in these camps.
00:28:09.150 --> 00:28:16.500
Menachem Kaiser: And after he survived and after the war he borrowed a bicycle from the woman who saved them and went around each of the camps collecting these scraps.
00:28:17.340 --> 00:28:24.510
Menachem Kaiser: He assembled them brought them to the editor and it was published as a diary in the early 60s in Poland, and this diary this memoir.
00:28:25.110 --> 00:28:34.590
Menachem Kaiser: ish which translates as behind the wires of death has become a sacred as like i'd like a near sacred texts among the treasure hunter Community because of its details of the tunnels.
00:28:35.040 --> 00:28:46.650
Menachem Kaiser: And so I would meet guys who like have read it 40 times I meet people who have followed his pilgrimage from camp to Camp he's accorded like a really a kind of reverence it's really kind of amazing and.
00:28:47.910 --> 00:28:57.360
Menachem Kaiser: Where I come in as a you know, I was just heard about to build the train and I was just like this sounds weird I was i'd never heard of any of this before like you stephanie.
00:28:57.750 --> 00:29:05.310
Menachem Kaiser: And I was like this feels really compelling I was doing an MFA at the time in fiction, so I was like this sounds like fruitful material.
00:29:05.790 --> 00:29:13.680
Menachem Kaiser: So I reached out to guide and say, could you take me for a couple days and just show me this I had no intention of like anything familial at all.
00:29:14.250 --> 00:29:26.160
Menachem Kaiser: And then she took me and then I met some of the treasure hunters and they brought me to some of the tunnels and broke my brain, it was really kind of astonishing and then afterwards we were just sitting and having a beer and then.
00:29:27.330 --> 00:29:34.950
Menachem Kaiser: You know, they were just having like a really fun talk it really light talk, they were talking about things they found they're talking about their day jobs.
00:29:34.950 --> 00:29:36.240
Menachem Kaiser: Their treasure collections.
00:29:36.840 --> 00:29:43.020
Menachem Kaiser: And then, at a certain point my friend my EP you know who was with me and who is a lot more flips but then I do.
00:29:43.530 --> 00:29:49.260
Menachem Kaiser: She has a much more difficult question and she's like you know, this is all really cool and macho.
00:29:49.770 --> 00:29:56.670
Menachem Kaiser: But what do you do about the fact that, like all these Jews died digging these tunnels, because you know they're all very cool the tunnels, but.
00:29:57.060 --> 00:30:04.260
Menachem Kaiser: A tremendous amount of Jews about 14,000 Jews died as slave Labor and at that point they got really sort of agitated.
00:30:04.620 --> 00:30:16.440
Menachem Kaiser: They started speaking very quickly in Polish and I don't speak Polish so I was just kind of waiting patiently for it to be translated, but while I was just letting the Polish wash over me I kept hearing my last name.
00:30:17.820 --> 00:30:20.370
Menachem Kaiser: And they didn't know my last name, so they weren't referring to me.
00:30:20.790 --> 00:30:30.600
Menachem Kaiser: And so, while they were at a certain point, it just kept hearing Kaiser so I actually pause them I said what's what's up who's this Kaiser and they said Abraham Kaiser you don't know who he is I mean he's this great.
00:30:31.170 --> 00:30:42.810
Menachem Kaiser: This great this great Jewish survivor he wrote his diary and they explained to me who he was, I never heard of him, and then I ended up buying his book and because of the legal work I had done with the building I built out a family tree.
00:30:43.290 --> 00:30:48.330
Menachem Kaiser: and realize that Abraham was my grandfather's closest surviving relative he was his first cousin.
00:30:49.620 --> 00:30:59.160
Menachem Kaiser: which was you know in my family kind of a seismic shift in our understanding of who has survived and so like it went from extinct to not extinct, no one in my family ever heard of them.
00:30:59.910 --> 00:31:08.340
Menachem Kaiser: And then yeah at that point, I sort of fell into the world of the treasure hunters they really sort of took to me they really embraced me they were so excited.
00:31:08.790 --> 00:31:23.040
Menachem Kaiser: To have the kin of Abraham Kaiser they sort of went with the story that I was his grandfather that I was his grandson rather at a certain point I stopped correcting them and so um yeah I really went down that rabbit hole.
00:31:23.520 --> 00:31:36.570
Stephanie Butnick: And so I mean this is this is where like the mind many part of this this whole book starts, I mean it all is, but so, in addition to finding this world of treasure hunters, you also find more family members right like you connect with his his descendants.
00:31:36.720 --> 00:31:51.150
Menachem Kaiser: yeah so Abraham had a wife and a son before the war, they were killed in Auschwitz, and so, but Abraham survived and after the war he eventually you know there's a brief period which.
00:31:52.350 --> 00:31:58.890
Menachem Kaiser: there's a pretty wild story, and he sort of stays with the woman who saved him for a few years but afterwards, he immigrated to Israel.
00:31:59.640 --> 00:32:07.830
Menachem Kaiser: and his sister had moved to Israel before the war and so his Abraham got remarried but he didn't have any children, but his sister.
00:32:08.340 --> 00:32:21.360
Menachem Kaiser: had two daughters, one of them is still alive and both of them have children and I met almost everyone in that branch and there's also a brother named hospital he went to Argentina before the war and he grew up he had four kids.
00:32:22.410 --> 00:32:25.830
Menachem Kaiser: Some of them are still alive i'm seeing one of them next week actually he lives in Miami.
00:32:27.840 --> 00:32:30.630
Menachem Kaiser: And so yeah I got to meet a whole new branch on the family.
00:32:32.010 --> 00:32:38.040
Stephanie Butnick: So we're already getting questions from people who like are demanding to know, did you did you reclaim this this property.
00:32:38.400 --> 00:32:46.320
Stephanie Butnick: i'm not going to ask you that because I don't want to actually give away a big part of the book and also because in so many ways it's ultimately besides the point.
00:32:46.950 --> 00:32:57.990
Stephanie Butnick: So I want to know how your conception of who you are where and who you come from and how did that change by the end of the story, and the story, as it ends in the book obviously you know things may have continued since then.
00:32:59.010 --> 00:33:06.360
Menachem Kaiser: Good question and then the way of the come to understand is that is sort of the reverse of a lot of people's stories as like a lot of people sort of like.
00:33:06.810 --> 00:33:15.240
Menachem Kaiser: They have a really firm idea of what they're going after and then they either get it or don't get it, and so either they feel like they have redemption or failure.
00:33:15.660 --> 00:33:23.010
Menachem Kaiser: I had this there you know I thought I was new I have sort of like an earned ignorance like I didn't even understand the questions I was trying to ask.
00:33:23.400 --> 00:33:32.520
Menachem Kaiser: Before I spent five years trying this and then trying to write a book about it and then sort of like ending with nothing concrete but sort of like the material.
00:33:33.000 --> 00:33:45.360
Menachem Kaiser: In order to articulate those questions, and so I have nothing satisfying to offer except like my own frustration, which I hope is that you know range truer than like a neat linear editing.
00:33:46.890 --> 00:33:56.100
Stephanie Butnick: mean towards them to look you really break the four I mean I don't know if you can break the fourth wall in a memory kind of do because you sort of speak to directly directly to this idea of the literary genre of.
00:33:56.610 --> 00:34:06.150
Stephanie Butnick: grandchild goes back and and you sort of pushed back against the idea that, like all story should be should be buttoned up and also express almost like a.
00:34:07.080 --> 00:34:21.900
Stephanie Butnick: An envious of people whose stories were were easier than yours right who grew up here who knew, first of all the details yeah and and also who could start start you so started ahead of you, and then also got there they're happy, in whatever kind of happy closure ending you could get.
00:34:22.320 --> 00:34:33.960
Menachem Kaiser: yeah I, in a way, I feel very lucky actually you know I started in a story that felt familiar like you know here's this building i'm going to go get it back i'm going to either do it or i'm going to fail and like to me that was that was a very familiar Arc.
00:34:34.260 --> 00:34:46.560
Menachem Kaiser: And it felt very easy, but as it's sort of like slipped away from me and I started making mistake after mistake and like errors and things that were my fault or my lawyers fault or no one's fault, and I was just like a typo.
00:34:46.980 --> 00:34:56.460
Menachem Kaiser: There was just like just so many of those distorted became unfamiliar, but I do think it became truer like it started becoming much, much richer and I sort of like.
00:34:57.060 --> 00:35:03.540
Menachem Kaiser: It forced me to interrogate the meaning of what I was doing and so like you know when I started the building just felt like this prize.
00:35:03.720 --> 00:35:04.530
Stephanie Butnick: like this thing I.
00:35:04.800 --> 00:35:05.700
Menachem Kaiser: was going to.
00:35:05.820 --> 00:35:14.820
Menachem Kaiser: REACH for and maybe get it, but as that slipped away I all of a sudden, like the building as a symbol became a much, much trickier question and I feel.
00:35:15.660 --> 00:35:29.670
Menachem Kaiser: weirdly grateful for not having an easy path because otherwise I just you know, like let's say I let's say it took two weeks, you know, for an extreme counter counter example, what would that mean that.
00:35:31.140 --> 00:35:37.380
Menachem Kaiser: I don't know I like I guess it'd be like a good dinner table story, but like I certainly wouldn't been able to sort of probe the way I.
00:35:38.850 --> 00:35:41.610
Stephanie Butnick: wouldn't have been a book that is sort of like a nice booklet in.
00:35:43.350 --> 00:35:44.700
Menachem Kaiser: A pamphlet you.
00:35:45.630 --> 00:35:53.370
Stephanie Butnick: write something in that same passage that I found very compelling and a little bit surprising and I got to read it to you and then ask you about it.
00:35:53.970 --> 00:36:01.410
Stephanie Butnick: You right there can be no completion redemption catharsis because our stories are not extensions of our grandparents stories are not sequels.
00:36:01.650 --> 00:36:09.030
Stephanie Butnick: We do not continue their stories we act upon them, we consecrate we plunder and of course this book is called plunder and you.
00:36:09.900 --> 00:36:19.710
Stephanie Butnick: understand the connection to the Nazi treasure side of things, but it's so fascinating to me like you're in dating us right for plundering these legacies in our own way, so what do you, what do you mean by that.
00:36:23.970 --> 00:36:31.770
Menachem Kaiser: You know I again, I think you know i've grown up with these stories I think they become a very, very familiar of people sort of.
00:36:32.160 --> 00:36:42.570
Menachem Kaiser: dipping into their Holocaust legacy and then you know our age or demographic generation sort of telling those stories and i've always been very uneasy with that and as like.
00:36:43.080 --> 00:36:53.310
Menachem Kaiser: Part of it again is like sort of that jealousy that like I never knew my grandparents I don't know their story I can't actually access it, I certainly can't make meaning out of it and I can't like.
00:36:54.420 --> 00:36:57.900
Menachem Kaiser: I can't build on it, but I do think there's like there's.
00:36:59.850 --> 00:37:05.760
Menachem Kaiser: A little there can often be in something these types of stories, a lack of awareness of that void and I think we sort of.
00:37:06.300 --> 00:37:13.830
Menachem Kaiser: yeah I would stand by that statement like our stores are not sequels you know our stories our own, and that will be as meaningful, as they are.
00:37:14.340 --> 00:37:26.760
Menachem Kaiser: But there there's like a real unknowable void between like what we experience and what the memory, are trying to access and I think everyone knows that intuitively, but I think sometimes in some of these books and films and TV shows.
00:37:27.840 --> 00:37:35.010
Menachem Kaiser: it's a little you know it gets a little too close a little too familiar and it does it threatens to cheapen the experience.
00:37:35.820 --> 00:37:46.500
Stephanie Butnick: No, I think I mean that inciting is just really, really profound and I think a lot of us do feel like we are answering some quite like there's some question, but you know what was interesting to me is.
00:37:47.100 --> 00:37:57.930
Stephanie Butnick: Your family sort of goes along for this ride with you to a point right and then there's what they sort of are sort of trying to tell you this like they are a little bit uncomfortable by by your journey at a certain point okay.
00:37:59.790 --> 00:38:14.610
Menachem Kaiser: um I get I think there's like there was real distance, I think there was like this place was sort of locked away, and I think this this notion of Poland was like more more story than actual country, and so the idea of actually doing legal work on the ground there.
00:38:15.000 --> 00:38:16.260
Stephanie Butnick: were very long time.
00:38:16.800 --> 00:38:21.660
Menachem Kaiser: Really long time I didn't know how long it would take when I started, but I think it was like a very was a very.
00:38:22.950 --> 00:38:24.780
Menachem Kaiser: It was a strange undertaking and so.
00:38:25.830 --> 00:38:32.760
Menachem Kaiser: Now everyone was supportive I wouldn't for sure throughout I didn't encounter any resistance, but certainly I don't think people took it.
00:38:33.390 --> 00:38:38.310
Menachem Kaiser: Seriously, and maybe on some level I didn't take it seriously either until it became a lot more tangible.
00:38:38.730 --> 00:38:45.210
Menachem Kaiser: And then you know the book in a weird way sort of supersedes the story and so like there's a book about it now.
00:38:45.720 --> 00:38:50.970
Menachem Kaiser: So, so these the run along parallel tracks, the actual reclamation and they're a book about the reclamation.
00:38:51.480 --> 00:39:04.860
Menachem Kaiser: And so the book exists, so people read it, and like it's about their family, I mean I mean within my family at least and yeah people I mean people are having their reactions and so far it's been very gratifying.
00:39:05.310 --> 00:39:14.670
Stephanie Butnick: See the great question from a meal who wants to know how your efforts to reclaim this apartment your brand new apartment building kind of shape your relationship with your with your own father.
00:39:17.790 --> 00:39:22.650
Menachem Kaiser: I think it was again, I think it took a while for my father to understand.
00:39:23.970 --> 00:39:36.150
Menachem Kaiser: How real it was, and then I think he ended up being really grateful and I think there was like a real connection we're like it sort of opens a new channel between us and he.
00:39:39.000 --> 00:39:43.740
Menachem Kaiser: I didn't he did it like in his wildest imagination, I don't think he ever saw this happening.
00:39:45.090 --> 00:39:50.490
Menachem Kaiser: And I think he's very he's very proud of sort of like his legacy.
00:39:51.690 --> 00:39:57.510
Menachem Kaiser: Being trying to work like the what's the good version of exploited like like celebrated.
00:39:59.070 --> 00:40:03.690
Menachem Kaiser: Pro and sort of plot yes yeah plums and sort of like.
00:40:03.810 --> 00:40:15.960
Menachem Kaiser: Items yeah like creating something was created, even if it's the building wasn't reclaimed or something something was created out of it and there's like I yeah I think he's very, very happy about that.
00:40:17.460 --> 00:40:19.950
Menachem Kaiser: But yeah you know relationships are complicated but.
00:40:21.540 --> 00:40:23.670
Menachem Kaiser: commemorated someone said, Sam had them and so.
00:40:23.700 --> 00:40:31.740
Stephanie Butnick: it's not really commend I mean it's it's it's it's like you're using it as as as a source material almost right and, depending on what.
00:40:32.160 --> 00:40:39.450
Stephanie Butnick: yeah but yeah I mean it's this idea, like it goes both ways I mean to me what's thinking about this idea of.
00:40:40.590 --> 00:40:46.320
Stephanie Butnick: Thinking about your your story is different illuminated I like this, we got a lot we got we got a lot of synonyms coming online.
00:40:47.520 --> 00:40:58.290
Stephanie Butnick: And it's what you have now is your own story write your own relationship with this place very much like you have you have a lot of contacts there you have oh conquer ties cemented those are good words.
00:40:59.460 --> 00:41:10.020
Stephanie Butnick: That actually is really, really nice and I think that thinking about it, as your own story is so much more powerful because it's it's then it's your Sir right in a way.
00:41:10.950 --> 00:41:12.930
Menachem Kaiser: I totally agree and I think.
00:41:14.190 --> 00:41:24.540
Menachem Kaiser: I think again, it was never something that was emphasizing my family Holocaust history, so I think there's like a real like surprise in the best possible sense and like happiness within my family that.
00:41:25.740 --> 00:41:32.460
Menachem Kaiser: We now have something to hold on to and it's like again, I never really got closer to my grandfather's through all this, but yet.
00:41:32.940 --> 00:41:43.680
Menachem Kaiser: I there's something really meaningful in articulating that ignorance and then the there's just this whole misha gas with the treasure hunters an apron Kaiser and like it's it's it's like what a rich story to have.
00:41:44.520 --> 00:41:50.460
Stephanie Butnick: I like the part of you know your family sort of found an old What was it like slides in the basement somewhere.
00:41:50.880 --> 00:41:59.040
Menachem Kaiser: yeah we're not a particularly sentimental family and so those family videos I don't know if they've ever been watched the world super rates hanging out of the basement that.
00:41:59.460 --> 00:42:10.650
Menachem Kaiser: You know, when I was doing this for a few years already they're like hey we have these videos and I want them to have the digitized and they were just family videos but family videos when your it's your family.
00:42:12.150 --> 00:42:16.470
Menachem Kaiser: they're like it's like time travel, I mean it's really something really amazing and you.
00:42:16.530 --> 00:42:28.170
Stephanie Butnick: got to see some footage of your grandfather In it I think it's the kind of thing where your family wouldn't have remembered that they had that in the basement or the attic had you not sort of gotten them in that direction, so I do think there's a really interesting.
00:42:28.500 --> 00:42:32.940
Stephanie Butnick: yeah nothing to see change but it's something cracked open your family.
00:42:33.480 --> 00:42:41.130
Menachem Kaiser: yeah I think there's like sort of a lot of us doing and like smaller scale of sort of we take a history and we sort of open it back up.
00:42:41.820 --> 00:42:52.740
Menachem Kaiser: So we we know a lot of things, but yet you know your your knowledge probably isn't all that accurate and so at a certain point, sometimes we choose to dig into our stories and.
00:42:53.640 --> 00:43:00.000
Menachem Kaiser: You don't know what's going to happen to you guarantee it's going to get richer and like weirder and stranger and less familiar, not more familiar.
00:43:01.050 --> 00:43:13.140
Menachem Kaiser: So you're right, yes, like I don't those videos probably I certainly never would have asked for them, I might have been like less compelled to watch them and I not been like neck deep in this work, but yeah.
00:43:14.880 --> 00:43:22.260
Stephanie Butnick: So we have a bunch of questions coming in i'm going to switch over to them, some of them are very specific and logistics, some of them are more.
00:43:23.100 --> 00:43:33.150
Stephanie Butnick: I don't know philosophical, but so someone wants to know how you figured out that you were in fact related to Abraham the guy who kept his diary of his his slave Labor that was.
00:43:34.020 --> 00:43:43.860
Menachem Kaiser: When I bought his diary when it, you know it's a published book I bought it at the gift shop at one of the tunnels that sold all over the place, and so basically had a preference and the preface was.
00:43:44.910 --> 00:43:53.130
Menachem Kaiser: Like a working real scholarship done by the Museum of gross rosen but, again, it was in Polish I don't speak Polish so I Google translated it with my phone.
00:43:54.210 --> 00:44:02.580
Menachem Kaiser: Like that night and I found that whose parents were an Abraham his father was named five ish and then I had all.
00:44:03.390 --> 00:44:13.710
Menachem Kaiser: The sort of records of all the kaiser's in the region sort of any anything that popped up as a death certificate or marriage certificate of birth record I had all that on a spreadsheet.
00:44:14.190 --> 00:44:24.360
Menachem Kaiser: And so what I was able to do and I never done this before, because I never really had to was I took my great grandfather Moshe Kaiser and I looked for everyone else, with the same.
00:44:24.360 --> 00:44:30.990
Menachem Kaiser: Parents and so what I was able to do is figure out all of Moshe sibling so I figured out motions parents with devin and Esther.
00:44:31.410 --> 00:44:43.800
Menachem Kaiser: And Devon and Esther had four children that I could find maybe more and I found their marriage records and then one of the most five ish, and so they were first cousins is just truly truly.
00:44:44.670 --> 00:44:45.210
00:44:46.260 --> 00:44:49.500
Stephanie Butnick: I don't know such I mean I don't even know what what is the word for what that is.
00:44:50.430 --> 00:44:51.240
Menachem Kaiser: about the childhood.
00:44:51.570 --> 00:44:54.930
Stephanie Butnick: We get guys, can you give us synonyms for what you think this is when you.
00:44:54.990 --> 00:44:57.840
Stephanie Butnick: When you find out about a famous very famous.
00:44:59.010 --> 00:45:00.690
Stephanie Butnick: former concentration camp.
00:45:01.860 --> 00:45:07.110
Stephanie Butnick: It made who wrote a memoir that you end up being related to um so yeah we're accepting those submissions in the chat.
00:45:07.500 --> 00:45:12.570
Stephanie Butnick: Someone over share that's a good one, I was gonna say Karma like again it's a shared I think that's that's a good one.
00:45:13.380 --> 00:45:22.830
Stephanie Butnick: We have a great very specific question from someone whose family was also for assessing image and they want to know what was the building and it's a very complicated question I know it's not as simple as it seems.
00:45:23.460 --> 00:45:31.020
Menachem Kaiser: Well, the building I originally thought it was was a it's an apartment building it's like four stories tall probably like 10.
00:45:31.560 --> 00:45:42.000
Menachem Kaiser: Maybe 15 units, the building has a remarkable story history actually so during Communist times as designated by the government as housing for people who worked at the theater.
00:45:42.900 --> 00:45:52.890
Menachem Kaiser: So there's like a renowned for visual theater just around the blog and that and so everyone who live there for years and years and years was the director and actor costumer admin.
00:45:53.460 --> 00:45:57.660
Menachem Kaiser: And so, and it was a place where everybody knew each other and they just like remarkable stories.
00:45:58.230 --> 00:46:13.290
Menachem Kaiser: Like how the the building is like one larger family to these days it's you know it's no longer only theater people, but, most people in the building still have roots in the theater she had like the grandson of the director, and so, like everyone really knows each other.
00:46:14.820 --> 00:46:20.460
Menachem Kaiser: The building it actually is is down the block it's a corner building three stories.
00:46:21.690 --> 00:46:26.100
Menachem Kaiser: On the ground floor is a pharmacy and the top two floors are resonances.
00:46:28.470 --> 00:46:31.050
Stephanie Butnick: sounds offer has the word for to this which I really, really like.
00:46:34.290 --> 00:46:44.460
Stephanie Butnick: So okay let's see so someone wants to know about the killer about your eternity about your attorney um how did you find the killer.
00:46:45.300 --> 00:46:52.170
Stephanie Butnick: Sure you're like what what's the story, are you, and then there are also asking, are you flew in a Polish and was kind of your family's Polish name.
00:46:52.950 --> 00:47:07.140
Menachem Kaiser: Oh great questions I sort of when I got those documents from my father, I was like Oh, I need a lawyer, and so I there was a guy this Swedish guy like a pretty much a matar in Krakow who's like just knew a lot of people when I was like.
00:47:07.140 --> 00:47:13.530
Menachem Kaiser: hey in the book I call him, you feel like you feel I need a lawyer he's like I know just the one and he's like the killer.
00:47:14.250 --> 00:47:18.690
Menachem Kaiser: And so that's how I got it connects to the killer I didn't do a lot of legal research and.
00:47:19.230 --> 00:47:26.910
Menachem Kaiser: I am not fluent and Polish it's one of the greatest lakhs of foresight, I had no idea and we spending this much time there if I had I definitely would have studied.
00:47:27.480 --> 00:47:39.930
Menachem Kaiser: My Polish is non existent so everywhere i've gone i've used a translator unless the person i'm speaking to speaks English and then Kaiser is the was the Polish name, but it was spelled with.
00:47:39.990 --> 00:47:41.070
Stephanie Butnick: Polish like.
00:47:41.100 --> 00:47:52.890
Menachem Kaiser: phonetic like a Jay Z er, and so I actually had to provide documentation that the my family name was changed from K js er to K Ai SCR.
00:47:54.180 --> 00:47:55.800
Stephanie Butnick: we're also getting synchronicity and.
00:47:55.800 --> 00:48:06.810
Stephanie Butnick: serendipity really this is this is this is great i'm someone wants to know more about your grandfather, this is a tough one, but why did you not know what happened to him and What did happen to him after the war.
00:48:08.820 --> 00:48:18.150
Menachem Kaiser: So my grandfather died in 77, and so I was not born, yet, and he died when my father was in his early 20s, and so I didn't know.
00:48:18.540 --> 00:48:23.520
Menachem Kaiser: You know, for that simple reason why did I not know about him, it was just like there was no real way.
00:48:24.510 --> 00:48:32.010
Menachem Kaiser: You know just he was never really described to me I didn't really know memories of him were passed down and he never spoke about his more time experience.
00:48:32.430 --> 00:48:47.010
Menachem Kaiser: So the very few details i've been able to get are from documents I found in my house of his applications, the German Government for medical assistance after the war, and so they are he just sort of listed like bullet point like what camps, he had been in but like no I had nothing.
00:48:49.560 --> 00:49:00.510
Menachem Kaiser: And then, what happened after the war he this part I mean, I know I know the basic outline so he survived the war he moved to Munich he married my grandmother.
00:49:01.650 --> 00:49:06.960
Menachem Kaiser: They stayed there for a few years, then moved to New York and then in the early 60s move to Toronto.
00:49:09.210 --> 00:49:16.470
Stephanie Butnick: So someone is confirming that the standard practice in Poland is to return Jewish communal property, but not private property, and that the case of Jews.
00:49:16.740 --> 00:49:29.790
Stephanie Butnick: who have received any sort of restitution for privately owned property has been few and far between and Poland and that's I would love for you to just like explain that a little bit more we're hearing from a lot of people who have this experience in Germany, where it's sort of.
00:49:30.000 --> 00:49:33.000
Stephanie Butnick: Different So why is pulling distinct in this way.
00:49:33.120 --> 00:49:34.680
Menachem Kaiser: So let me re emphasize that.
00:49:35.670 --> 00:49:41.400
Menachem Kaiser: there's restitution we're in restitution illegally is reclaiming property that had been taken and so that would be.
00:49:41.490 --> 00:49:51.330
Menachem Kaiser: Which is nationalized or there's a new owner that you're trying to displace my case is not a restitution case my cases as much as a relatively more straightforward inheritance claim, so my thing is like.
00:49:51.600 --> 00:49:56.280
Menachem Kaiser: A great grandfather owned the building he still owns the building therefore his heirs now on the building.
00:49:57.300 --> 00:50:11.970
Menachem Kaiser: Poland does not have any restitution law, most of the other countries do, and something that could be more or less difficult to sort of exercise but Poland yeah if a property was taken as long as not Jewish communal property.
00:50:14.640 --> 00:50:17.370
Menachem Kaiser: it's very difficult to get back.
00:50:19.200 --> 00:50:26.160
Stephanie Butnick: So we have a question from someone who has already read the book, who has not just heard about it tonight and is going to buy it they've already purchased and read it so.
00:50:26.430 --> 00:50:36.210
Stephanie Butnick: now wants to know, I mean the book ends in an interesting way you sorry there's something happening outside look into an interesting way we tell us about the epilogue and why you chose to end the book with someone else's story.
00:50:37.470 --> 00:50:42.990
Menachem Kaiser: yeah so basically the the epilogue was a story that happened to me when I was in cracker one of the last time I was there, I met a guy.
00:50:43.380 --> 00:50:56.220
Menachem Kaiser: In the book or calm Steve and Steve have this like really remarkable tale that his father in law had hit 10 golden eggs and he was in Poland, for the first time, and he had a map of where they were and.
00:50:57.360 --> 00:51:02.670
Menachem Kaiser: You know, things you know stephanie you've been there weird things happen when you're in Krakow and so.
00:51:03.810 --> 00:51:06.870
Menachem Kaiser: We ended up going searching for the eggs together and we sort of went.
00:51:06.930 --> 00:51:19.980
Menachem Kaiser: To the place we went, it was a small house and Ben Ben gene which is again right next to assess the bench and I had this kind of opportunity of literally removing bricks in a woman's attic.
00:51:20.010 --> 00:51:20.880
Menachem Kaiser: searching for these.
00:51:20.970 --> 00:51:22.200
Menachem Kaiser: 10 golden eggs.
00:51:23.460 --> 00:51:40.920
Menachem Kaiser: Why did I end up like that I can't answer that in satisfyingly but like it felt right it just it had this feeling of this like literal treasure and it wasn't my story and that sort of was felt freeing and.
00:51:43.350 --> 00:51:56.190
Menachem Kaiser: I don't if it just it like had like this sort of emotional resonance I never planned that but it just like it had I don't know I don't know it's one of those weird things just like it felt like a fit.
00:51:56.790 --> 00:52:01.830
Stephanie Butnick: And book ends on a true cliffhanger because we do you pull away the final break and we do not know what it is that you.
00:52:01.830 --> 00:52:05.070
Stephanie Butnick: Say will you ever tell us what you saw there.
00:52:05.340 --> 00:52:06.000
Menachem Kaiser: yeah I.
00:52:06.030 --> 00:52:07.890
Menachem Kaiser: You know i'm waiting for these family.
00:52:08.610 --> 00:52:18.630
Menachem Kaiser: To read the book so Steve read the chapter before it was submitted it's a it's a story that in his family is guarded very, very closely they're very protective of the story, but.
00:52:19.890 --> 00:52:26.250
Menachem Kaiser: A lot of people are asking, and so i'm going to wait for permission from Steve either way.
00:52:27.150 --> 00:52:31.080
Stephanie Butnick: And and follow up and then I think we'll we'll sort of wrap things up so.
00:52:31.500 --> 00:52:38.490
Stephanie Butnick: That again wants to know I mean did that epilogue give you the kind of resolution that you felt was missing from your these are good questions that you should be leading this.
00:52:39.450 --> 00:52:47.040
Stephanie Butnick: we're missing from your own story that neat tidy ending where you pull away the final break and your your your answer definitively yes, these are here, no, these are not here.
00:52:48.120 --> 00:52:49.200
Menachem Kaiser: it's a good question.
00:52:49.710 --> 00:52:51.540
Menachem Kaiser: sort of in a way it's sort of like.
00:52:51.600 --> 00:52:58.860
Menachem Kaiser: indulging the adventure also I think there's like the strain of adventure in the story that I never really let myself or the reader indulge in.
00:53:00.120 --> 00:53:12.900
Menachem Kaiser: Like everything's more complicated everything's trickier everything's like more and more tenuous but with this story, I was like here's here it is like here's this like an unmediated adventure treasure like you know attic.
00:53:13.860 --> 00:53:24.750
Menachem Kaiser: I want to say i'm getting some negative reaction to it to people or i'm getting some people, people have read the book were upset about this and I understand that they're like you're cheapening things by like having it be this adventure three.
00:53:25.080 --> 00:53:29.670
Menachem Kaiser: I wasn't I didn't intend to make an adventure three it just like that it's what happened.
00:53:31.470 --> 00:53:38.730
Menachem Kaiser: So that's an interesting question again maybe i'd like if readers took that from the I would i'd like that it'd be very gratifying.
00:53:39.150 --> 00:53:48.720
Stephanie Butnick: Well, what I mean what I took from it, I mean it's you we've already gone through this book several hundred pages of you of you learning the system being stymied by the system kind of understanding the system.
00:53:49.140 --> 00:53:57.840
Stephanie Butnick: Getting pulled on this treasure hunt, and it all sort of comes together with another person like you, who is doing this memory, tourism, who has the hand drawn nap.
00:53:58.410 --> 00:54:07.410
Stephanie Butnick: From the father in law, who says here and we were all you know even your grandfather had said after the war right like the he had hidden they had jewelry and the walls of the building so.
00:54:08.010 --> 00:54:18.930
Stephanie Butnick: yeah it's so metaphorical but also very real, in this case, and so I thought I liked that you were like don't like do this don't do this I can sort of like an old hand by the end of it.
00:54:19.890 --> 00:54:29.040
Menachem Kaiser: it's so common it's just like such it's it's kind of remarkable like how many people have this kind of story in their family, I like I don't think more so many people have stories of finding treasure.
00:54:29.640 --> 00:54:36.000
Menachem Kaiser: But so many people, and not just Jews like people who have a displaced person narrative in theirs and their family story.
00:54:36.420 --> 00:54:47.220
Menachem Kaiser: Have like a sort of either material or totemic object that was left behind that they are yearning for, and there was something like the golden days are just like can you get.
00:54:47.850 --> 00:55:04.440
Menachem Kaiser: More like it's, just like the actual object is just like such that you can get more treasury like material sentiment that's crazy, and so I had a building which is something you know you can't find exactly and Steve had these golden eggs.
00:55:05.580 --> 00:55:13.200
Stephanie Butnick: it's interesting because we're all sort of going back to find something right, but these are just much more explicit things you're looking for.
00:55:13.500 --> 00:55:27.240
Menachem Kaiser: yeah it does it compromises the metaphor, but I and but it doesn't get undermine the metaphor either it's sort of like build on top of that, and so yeah I just found it to be like such a compelling thing that really like rhymes with my story.
00:55:28.920 --> 00:55:42.690
Stephanie Butnick: Well, we hope that everyone here read your story in the book is plunder a memoir of family property and not to treasure i've marked all the good pages, so if you want to email me and i'll tell you what they are not from Kaiser Thank you so much for being with us here tonight.
00:55:42.870 --> 00:55:56.640
Menachem Kaiser: i'll add one quick thing is that if anyone wants to get in touch with me directly, if I have like more specific questions are looking for resources, please email me at plunder book talk at gmail COM I think gee I can put it in the chat.
00:55:57.720 --> 00:56:07.470
Menachem Kaiser: yeah if you looking for sort of if I want to hear your stories i'd like to if you need help with stuff or get pointed in the right direction yeah i'd love to i'd love to hear.
00:56:08.610 --> 00:56:09.330
00:56:10.890 --> 00:56:12.420
Stephanie Butnick: All right, God take us home.
00:56:13.590 --> 00:56:21.900
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: Thank you everyone for joining us this evening, and thank you Menachem and stephanie is very interesting talk and.
00:56:22.800 --> 00:56:33.720
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: Welcome, I missed the email address when I was going to come back on So if you want to put that in the chat now, so we can assure everyone with that i'm so sorry, or you can repeat i'll put it in.
00:56:36.000 --> 00:56:38.310
Stephanie Butnick: Now i'm someone saying, you are quite the mench.
00:56:39.210 --> 00:56:41.700
Menachem Kaiser: it's the highest where I come from us, the highest compliment.
00:56:42.630 --> 00:56:45.330
Stephanie Butnick: And we know where you were where you come from because we read a lot.
00:56:46.500 --> 00:56:48.660
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: Okay Thank you everyone good night.
00:56:49.200 --> 00:56:51.360
Menachem Kaiser: What did I just send it to all panelists or everyone.
00:56:52.620 --> 00:56:52.830
Stephanie Butnick: Just.
00:56:53.310 --> 00:57:02.670
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: Everyone again, I will do this right now okay Thank you so much okay you're all set i'll give everyone a second to take a look at that and.
00:57:04.020 --> 00:57:11.940
Gia Pace - MJH Public Programs: Thank you very much once again it's plender dot book talk at gmail COM have a good night everyone thanks guys, thank you.