As Nathan Klein recovers from a stroke in a rehabilitation hospital, he finds that he recognizes a fellow patient—Gerhard Reichenberg, a former Nazi who served as commandant in Klein’s Kostowa ghetto in Poland during World War II. Klein, then seventeen years old, hasn’t seen Reichenberg, known as the Dog Catcher, in almost fifty years. Back then, Reichenberg was a man to fear. Deeply agitated, Klein writes letters to Reichenberg expressing his still simmering hate for the man. Reichenberg, who has been a diabetic most of his life, replies in writing as well. Each tells of his own tragedies: Klein of his suffering and the loss of his entire family. Reichenberg of the loss of Esta, a young Jewish maiden assigned to him by the Jewish Ghetto Elders by way of a bribe in hopes to save their lives. Gerhard, gone from the ghetto for a few days, returns to find the entire village annihilated and no trace of Esta, who was pregnant. Ulrica Egberg, the center’s physical therapist, fond of both Klein and Reichenberg, tries to make peace between these two elderly men. The letters, bitter at first, become more tolerant and understanding of each other as they face the truth of their lives and their histories.
Oskar Klausenstock, born and raised in Poland, was seventeen when World War II began. He experienced exile, interment, and several concentration camps. At war’s end, he emigrated to the United States, where he became a radiologist. Klausenstock practiced in San Francisco until he retired at the age of seventy-two.