A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland
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Review by Gerhard L. Weinberg
When anyone today thinks about the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews living in Warsaw in 1939, the points that come to mind are the ghetto created and closed by the Germans, the killing of most of its inhabitants at the Treblinka killing center, the resistance to the Germans in January 1943, what is usually called the ghetto uprising of May 1943, and German Chancellor Brandt’s kneeling at the ghetto memorial. What this book does is offer the reader a view of developments through the experiences of a number of individuals who actually lived (and some died) through the events of those years, their thoughts and reactions, the difficult choices they had to make, and the impact of the people—Germans, Poles, other Jews—among whom they lived and died. The Isaac of the book’s title is Isaac Zuckerman, a central figure in one of the Jewish resistance organizations.
Whether it is the incompetence of the pre-war Polish government, the divisions within the Jewish community, the policies and procedures of the Germans, the differing attitudes and actions of the non-Jewish Poles, the reactions and actions of Catholic clergy and nuns, the account offered here is measured and fair. On the one hand the author wisely, and in this reviewer’s opinion, correctly, stresses the incredulity of most in the Jewish community when first hearing of the initiation of systematic slaughter of Jews by the Germans in the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 and the industrial murder of Jews from Warsaw at Treblinka in the summer of 1942. On the other hand, the various forms and organizations of Jewish resistance are shown as at times competing and at times cooperating with each other. The author is also unafraid to show some Jews who try to save their own lives by assisting the Germans. The Polish resistance is described as divided with some assisting the Germans in the capture and killing of Jews while others dedicate themselves at great risk to helping and saving Jews.
All these kinds of developments are brought into focus as they affect the lives and terribly difficult choices made by individuals who are identified at the beginning of the text. The efforts of some to emigrate illustrate the problems attendant in practice to that choice. The conduct of resistance raises terrible choices for others. The two open fights against the Germans of January and May 1943 are provided with a human face. The surviving individuals are followed through the Warsaw uprising of 1944, eventual arrival of the Red Army, and the problems and hatreds faced by Jewish survivors thereafter. This examination, through the experiences of specific individuals of numerous issues that are still controversial, will quite likely provoke further controversy, but it offers those interested with insights into a question that may occur to many readers: what would I do if ever confronted with such choices?
Hardcover Book : 496 pages
Publisher: Random House Inc. ( October 02, 2012 )
Item #: 13-673232
Product Dimensions: 6.125 x 9.25 inches
Product Weight: 29.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
For years I regarded the titanic struggle on the Eastern Front as a mystery that would never be completely resolved. I still think that it can never be completely understood or comprehended, but there has been a spate of good books in the last few years, and this book can take its place among them. Its survey of the Polish experience, both Jew and Gentile, is excellent. Reading it, one can begin to understand--but never completely--the passion of the Poles to be independent and free, how they built an impressive state in a mere twenty years, and their bitter resentment at having that taken from them by the Nazis and Soviets. Faced with total defeat, they simply refused to quit fighting, and resisted in every manner possible. The prewar Polish government was stridently anti-Jewish, but even so the contributions of the Jews to the Polish State was profound--and before, during, and after the war the Polish Jews proved themselves to be just as tough as any Polish Gentile (that's saying something), and perhaps anybody, anywhere.
If you like reading books about people who refuse to be ground under the heel of true evil, and fight on when victory is a distant chimera and mere survival less than doubtful, then this book is for you.
There are many books about the Nazi's in Warsaw. This book involves testimonies from real individuals who personally lived through the war years in Warsaw. It takes you to the end of the war and beyond with individuals and their lives today. A book not easily forgotten.