A Brother for Sorrows
In 1963 Joe Kaufmann is a Jewish doctoral student in history at Indiana University. He is unwittingly dragged into a waking nightmare when he befriends freshman music major Robert Stangarden. At the end of the school year, Joe helps Robert move back to his home in Indianapolis. However, he comes face-to-face with Robert’s parents, Henry and Ada Stangarden, whom he recognizes as Nazi civilians who had worked at the Buchenwald concentration camp where he and his parents had been prisoners in 1944. In mind-numbing shock, Joe descends into a deep depression as he relives those awful childhood memories of seeing unimaginable cruelty and barbarity and losing his parents. He attempts suicide but survives. He then retreats to his home in Ithaca, New York, to put 700 miles between himself and this wicked Nazi civilian and his kind but defeated wife.
However, this is not the end of Joe’s contact with the Stangardens. When fall semester at I. U. approaches, Robert is eager to go back. But Henry must keep Robert away from Joe. He cannot risk exposing his sinister past if the two young men meet again, and Robert learns who his parents really are. So, during their argument, Henry viciously beats Robert, almost killing him. Robert’s mother, Ada, helplessly witnesses the assault in their living room. Because she fears her husband, she takes Robert by taxi to the hospital and abandons him. Later, despite Robert’s subsequent insistence that he and his father just had a “discussion,” wanting just to get back to a normal family life, Henry is arrested for the near-murder of his own son. While the lawyers prepare for trial, tensions build as both Joe and the Stangardens desperately try to hide their toxic past relationship when they are interviewed. Joe is the lynchpin to this whole nasty affair, and he wants no involvement. He fears this Nazi thug will come after him sooner or later. To his utter surprise, Henry Stangarden is convicted of attempted voluntary manslaughter.
Joe is relieved, believing he can move on with his life. But long-buried secrets from Buchenwald remain. Henry’s wife, Ada, knows what happened at Buchenwald. Unable to hold her silence, she reveals the true story of Joe Kaufmann and her only son, Robert. The black cloud of depression and suicidal thoughts appear once again. And Robert’s self-identity is in question.
One family is shattered; another is created out of the embers of a Nazi concentration camp.