Gross, Andrew. “The One Man”, Minotaur Books, 2016.
Ending the War
In 1944 the United States was working hard to develop a weapon to end World War II. There was one man, an electromagnetic physicist from Poland named Alfred Mendl, who had the expertise to separate the uranium isotopes necessary for creating the weapon but he was a prisoner in Auschwitz. With his wife and daughter already dead, he was getting weaker every day yet he was well enough to take a young chess champion with a prodigious memory into his confidence and he taught him the important formulas so that his knowledge would live on if he died not survive.
Meanwhile, an American OSS officer who had some knowledge of the camp (from a map drawn by the only prisoners who managed to escape) devised a plan to rescue Mendl. Lieutenant Nathan Blum, the only member of his family who had managed to escape from Poland and was fluent in Polish and German planned to infiltrate the camp, find Mendl, and escape with him with some help from the Polish resistance. From this point on, we read of Mendl’s efforts to pass on his knowledge and Blum’s attempt to rescue him.
Writer Andrew Gross based is story on the experience of Andrew Gross’s Polish father-in-law, a survivor. He pulls us in with very realistic descriptions of life in a concentration camp; so much so that we actually sense the terror of not knowing whether one will live another day as well as the brutality of the camp guards. Another OSS officer, Strauss, another OSS officer, is the son of a cantor, feels obligated to help fellow Jews even though he had already eschewed his Judaism, agreed to help Blum who was also dealing guilt by rescuing Mendl. Gross gives us a great deal to think about including genocide, the development of weapons of mass destruction, and the efforts to combat these evils. In combining the genres historical fiction and thriller, Gross gives us a very suspenseful read. To make the plot ever more exciting, we learn that Blum has only 72 hours to rescue Mendl and the irony of Blum’s own situation—having been rescued from Poland and now having to return to rescue someone else plays heavily upon him. When he left Poland he learned that his parents and sister are killed. Parachuting in, he had nothing but a large and valuable diamond to aid in his mission. While the
focus of the story is the mission to save an electromagnetic physics professor from Auschwitz, we also get a look at Auschwitz and the depravity of the Nazi party. Above all else is the way Gross tells his story. I actually had to stop reading several times just to relax from the tension I felt.