Leon H. Gildin was working as an attorney in New York about 35 years ago when one of his clients, Abraham Shulman, a columnist at The Jewish Daily Forward, walked into Gildin’s office with his new book, “The Case of the Hotel Polski.” Shulman wrote the book to document events surrounding a 1943 plan to bring Warsaw’s remaining Jews out of hiding with the promise that they would be transported to freedom.
The book contained research about the hotel and what took place there after the destruction of the nearby Warsaw Ghetto, as well as interviews with survivors.
“He gives me this book, which I put away in a desk drawer to be read at some future day,” said Gildin, 89, who now lives in Scottsdale. “I really didn’t want to get involved.”
What Gildin didn’t realize at the time was that the book would eventually inspire him to write three works of historical fiction.
Gildin recalls that when he first read Shulman’s book, which was published in 1982, he was fascinated with the last sentence of the introduction: “The more evidence we have, the less we understand.” At the time, Gildin was also involved in show business, producing on- and off-Broadway shows and collaborating with authors and musicians to develop scripts for the stage. Using “The Case of the Hotel Polski” as inspiration, Gildin attempted to write a play based on the survivors’ interviews, but ultimately discarded the idea.
After he retired in 1996, Gildin moved to Sedona with is wife, Gloria, and wrote his first book, “You Can’t Do Business (Or Most Anything Else) Without Yiddish,” a collection of popular Yiddish words, jokes and cartoons accompanied by Gildin’s comments and observations. After moving to Paradise Valley in 2003, he wrote his first work of historical fiction, “The Polski Affair,” inspired by the narratives of the survivors interviewed in Shulman’s book.
“Not in their entirety, but in snippets,” Gildin explained. He noted that the daughter of one of these survivors now lives in Scottsdale.
“The Polski Affair,” published in 2009, won the International Book Awards for Historical Fiction in 2010 and was translated into Hebrew and sold in Israel.
According to yadvashem.org, the website of Israel’s Holocaust museum, the Gestapo used the Hotel Polski in mid-1943 to house Jews who bore citizenship papers of neutral countries and were to be exchanged for German citizens imprisoned by the Allies.
“Most of these citizenship papers were forged documents prepared by the neutral countries’ consulates in Europe, without the knowledge of their home governments,” according to the site.
Only a few hundred Jews were saved by their documents, most of them exchanged for Germans imprisoned in Palestine. In 2013, a plaque was unveiled outside the Hotel Polski to commemorate the 70th anniversary, according to an article on tabletmag.com.
After “The Polski Affair” was published, people often asked Gildin what happened next to the characters and he would reply, “I don’t know what happened. I didn’t make it up yet.”
In 2011, he released a sequel, “The Family Affair,” but says he was never satisfied with the ending.
After releasing a book of translated Yiddish poems, “The Poems of H. Leivick and Others: Yiddish Poetry in Translation,” in 2015, Gildin returned to the Hotel Polski characters to wrap up the story. “The Final Affair” was released in October, as part of “The Polski Trilogy,” which includes all three books in the series.
In the trilogy’s acknowledgements, the author expresses gratitude to Shulman for inspiring the first book and the interest of readers for encouraging the sequel. He credits his own curiosity for the “The Final Affair,” because he felt there were still issues that needed to be resolved.
“I tied everything up, and that’s that.”
“The Polski Trilogy” ($29 paperback, Dorrance Publishing Co.) is available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and on leongildin.com. Leon H. Gildin teaches classes about Yiddish at the Bureau of Jewish Education and will speak at LimmudAZ in February 2018. This article first appeared on jewishaz.com.