Book Review: Returning by Yael Shahar

September 27, 2018


Returning by Yael Shahar is a novel in which a former Jewish Sonderkommando (a person who worked in the gas chambers and crematoriums) in Auschwitz tells about his experiences to a rabbi, asking if he could be forgiven. Ms. Shahar is a former member of the Intelligence Community and a public speaker.

Book Review: Returning by Yael Shahar

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About two years ago I read an interesting article about unearthed documents buried by Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz. The prisoner was a Greek member of the Sonderkommando who didn’t expect to live, but wanted to document the Nazi crimes. Unbelievably the man was still alive many years later to witness his testimony being found. When I read the synopsis for this book, it sounded like a similar story (maybe the article inspired the author?), which is fascinating.

Returning by Yael Shahar is not only a gripping read, but a very profound book and an introduction to Jewish mysticism. The aspect of implemented memories, was a great device to reflect upon past events with an active participant.

Alex, who is suffering from guilt of choosing life assisting the Nazi murder machine instead of death lacks the ability to forgive himself. In his quest he turns to the religion which abandoned him when he got to that forsaken place.

This is not an easy book to read, but it’s not meant to be and is not afraid to ask difficult questions – some of which have no answers. Both the memoir part, as well as the kabalistic aspects deserve attention and careful reading to be understood in context.


Alex, a Greek Jew from Saliniki, is sent to Auschwitz where his family is murdered and he is forced to help the Nazi murder machine by cleaning up the gas chambers, or burning bodies. In another time, another continent, a young convert woman named Yael is starting to remember Alex’s experiences, even though she has not been born at the time.

Yael helps Alex contact Rabbi Ish Shalom (man of peace) to both confess and receive punishment/forgiveness from his role in aiding the Nazis.

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Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer:I got this book for free.
*Ama­zon links point to an affil­i­ate account

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Returning by Yael Shahar

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