Review of Leon Uris' novel QB VII
(Queen's Bench 7)

By Andrea Boggs | Posted: 27 January 2015

 

In London, during the middle of the last century, the courtroom where a judge presides over a trial was called the Queen’s Bench, followed by a number. Hence the title of Leon Uris’ 1970 novel QB VII, meaning “Queen’s Bench 7.”

This novel is relatively inspired by 3 things: First, Leon Uris’ heritage as an American Jewish author and one of the most best-selling authors in the world. (Among his other bestsellers he wrote a novel about the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland titled Trinity.) Secondly, the fact that during his career Leon Uris was also sued by a doctor for slander, similar to Abraham Cady, the fictitious Jewish writer who is sued in the novel QB VII. And thirdly, the fact that Jadwiga West, a fictitious concentration camp in Poland has strong similarities to the real concentration camp that was operated by the Nazi’s during WWII called Auschwitz.

In the novel QB VII, a Polish, Roman Catholic doctor named Adam Kelno is forced into a concentration camp in Poland called Jadwiga which is run by the Nazi’s. Throughout the course of the novel as the atrocities committed against Jewish prisoners of the camp unfold, Jadwiga very much resembles Auschwitz. It is a place where gas chambers are used, execution by gunfire occurs around the clock, and experimental medical procedures are conducted on twins. Another fact that resembles the real concentration camps, is a group of prisoners called the Kapos, who were treated with special privileges for helping the Nazi’s with various jobs inside of the camp. Adam Kelno, is a Kapos prisoner/doctor inside of Jadwiga and the extent to which he is involved in the removal of ovaries and testicles of otherwise healthy Jewish citizens is later the basis for the Trial in Part IV of QB VII in which he is the Plaintiff, and charges the Jewish writer Abraham Cady with slandarizing him and further tarnishing his reputation with lies about his past in Cady's book which retells the crimes against the Jewish prisoners in the concentration camps during the Holocaust.

In the beginning of the novel, after being freed from Jadwiga, Kelno spends 2 years in prison after being accused of the wrongful operations but is released during his trial, wherein he is a defendant, when one of the Jewish eunuch’s who was tortured at Jadwiga declines to recognize him as the doctor who performed the operation.

Leon Uris
Leon Uris. (1924-2003)

After being freed from jail, Dr. Kelno moves with his wife and 2 year old son to take a post as a doctor working with natives at a British colony in Borneo, a place then inhabitanted by tribes of tattooed, cannibalistic savages. The time period is the 1940’s, during the British "Empire of the Sun," when England had colonies all over the world.  A memorable line in QB VII occurs when a colleague of Dr. Kelno's says to him, after Kelno refers to the natives as savages:

“Savages, damned savages.”
“That’s rather strange coming from you, Kelno.”
“What do you mean, Lambert?”
“We don’t pry into a man’s past here but you were a prisoner in the Jadwiga Concentraion camp. What I mean to say is, having gone through all of that in Poland, done by an allegedly civilzed people, it is rather difficult to say just who are the savages in this world.”

(Page 61) QB VII by Leon Uris

Abraham Cady is the Jewish novelist in the novel, who later writes the book offending Dr. Kelno. Cady is a womanizer, misogynistic to the extreme, and he is from America.  Abe Cady, like his older brother Ben is a also a fighter pilot, however when Abe is still very young his brother leaves the U.S. to fly for the Spanish loyalists during World War I and dies.  Later Abe names his son Ben, and his son becomes a pilot for the Israeli army.  Abe’s publisher, David Shawcross is in London. Abe is injured while flying in WWII and marries the nurse who helps him recuperate. She is English and they have 2 children together and live in England but Abe is an unfaithful alcoholic and from an editorial standpoint the novel QB VII can be somewhat off-putting to female readers. Abe recovers his morals, divorces his wife, moves to Israel, where his 2 children from their English mother follow him, and he writes the Holocaust book of the century.

Back to Dr. Kelno. Meanwhile, towards the end of Kelno's career in Borneo, where he effectively puts a distance between himself and the Polish communist party for 20 plus years, he is knighted by the British monarchy and returns to London with his wife. His son has already grown up and is by then residing in Australia.

Sir Kelno's life seems to be going well back in England, until Abraham Cady’s book comes out, and Kelno becomes aware of it though Terrence Campbell, a young man whose father worked in Borneo with Kelno and who Kelno mentored into becoming a doctor. Campbell is a student at Oxford, partly thanks to Dr. Kelno, and he is deeply disturbed that Adam Kelno, who has been like a father to him, is being accused of war crimes. Sir Kelno, is also troubled that after spending a quarter of his life in Borneo to escape the rumors about him, he is again being confronted with what he claims are untrue statements regarding his cooperation in Jadwiga, spread by a Jewish doctor who he went to medical school with in Warsaw, who Kelno outed as performing abortions, thereby making himself the subject of the other doctor’s vengeance.

There is evidence throughout the story that Dr. Kelno was anti semetic, and that perhaps he did participate in sterilizing and torturing otherwise healthy Jewish citizens in the Nazi experiments with excessive exposure to x-ray radiation followed by operations to remove their organs. It is shocking what some of the prisoners in the concentration camps experienced, but it is also a historical reminder as to what really occured in the last century to some people still living today. What makes Uris' book QB VII so amazing, is his wisdom and ability in creating characters who cannot clearly be defined as the protagonists or antagonists. Both Kelno, and Cady, are likeable at times and dislikeable at times, with good personality traits and flaws, as real humans have.

On the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the prisoner/survivors from Auschwitz, we honor the talent of Leon Uris, and his amazing novel from 45 years ago, QB VII about the horrible acts committed against Jewish people inside Nazi concentration camps.


By Andrea Boggs

Reference list

  1. Leon Uris (1970) QB VII. Double Day & Co. Inc.: Garden City, New York.

  2. Berendt, J. (28 January 2015) Surivivors remember Auschwitz. U-T San Diego, p. A1, A6.