- Hardcover: 199 pages
- Publisher: University of Illinois Press (September 6, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0252025946
- ISBN-13: 978-0252025945
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,402,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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False Papers: Deception and Survival in the Holocaust Hardcover – September 6, 2000
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False Papers tells the story of the Melson (Mendelsohn) family's escape from the Nazi ovens by posing as Polish royalty, a feat they are able to accomplish because Nina Melson, the author's mother, was able to buy false papers. What is unique about their life during the war was that they not only lived openly among the Gestapo, but also became quite friendly with their neighbors. The story of their deception and survival as told through the eyes of Nina, Willy (the author's father) and Bobi (the author's reflections through his own youthful memory) is compelling enough to keep the reader involved in the book. This is only one dimension of the book-an incredibly true adventure story.
Bt there is another important dimension to the book that cannot, and must not, be overlooked: the search on the part of the author-first as young Bobi and later as American Bob-for his true identity in a world that is constantly changing for him. First he knows himself as Count Boguslaw Zamojski the Catholic; after the war as Bobi Melson the Jew until he is enrolled in Le Rosey, an exclusive Swiss prep school, when he must again become Catholic; next to America where he settles in New York as a young Jewish immigrant; then against his deepest wishes he is dragged to Japan where his father has set up a sewing machine factory. Each time young Melson must learn to survive and question "Who am I this time?". Fortunately, he is clever enough to pick up environmental clues to guide his behavior and survival, but the reader feels his sense of pain as he struggles to find his true self.
What makes this a deeply probing psychological exploration of one's search for identity is Melson's ability to step back from the action to view his family dynamics-his father's struggle with his compulsive need for adoration, his mother's deepening depression and her inappropriate use of the young Bobi as her personal confidant, and the parent's obsession with appearances.
It is in the Epilogue that everything comes together. We are told about the deaths of Willy and Nina, how Bobi becomes Robert the MIT PhD, and how Robert finally realizes who he is. The reader feels at peace at the end of the journey.
Of all the writers on the holocaust, his writing style is closest to that of Primo Levi. However, there is a difference: Levi always keeps the cool distance of a scientist in his descriptions of behavior and events while Melson uses warm, personal description of the behavioral scientist that he is. It is a must reading for those who want to know more about the holocaust, family dynamics or a young man's search for self. No matter what your reason is, False Papers: Deception and Survival in the Holocaust is a book you will read, reread, and pass on to others.