Subtitle: The Jewish Resistance in Occupied Poland
Rating: ***** (5/5)
Published: Random House, 2012
Genre: Nonfiction / WWII History
Source: Amazon Vine
This is one of the most profound books I have ever read. It is basically the history of Warsaw from the 1939 German invasion through the end of WWII, but its focus is on the bravest of the brave: the Jewish resistance fighters in the Ghetto. The courage of the small force of ZOB fighters under the command of Isaac Zuckerman was inspiring and heartbreaking, but they didn’t begin as a united force.
When the Jews were first sequestered to the Ghetto, there were so many conflicting factions within the community that a defined resistance was never established. But at the time, no one could believe that Hitler would successfully eliminate an entire race. As one Bund leader remarked, “It’s impossible for the Germans to kill us all. Three and a half million Polish Jews!” Once reports of mass genocide reached them, it wasn’t denial that incapacitated the population, but disbelief. It wasn’t until they realities of Treblinka became known that many in the community suffered survivor’s guilt and realized that they had nothing left to lose but to fight back. The formation of a more structured resistance and the acquisition of weapons were critical to success. Just as the Nazi’s began final liquidation of the Ghetto, the ZOB and other resistance organizations were just barely ready to strike back. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising was an awe-inspiring phenomenon.
Despite their best efforts, the Ghetto was completely demolished, and the few remaining Jews were forced into hiding either in the countryside or within Warsaw itself. But when Berlin commands the complete destruction of the entire city, no one is safe. One poor Polish civilian, a pregnant gentile woman, witnessed the execution of her three children then survived being shot in the head. The brutality of the following months is unfathomable.
“From a prewar population of 1.35 million, only an estimated five thousand [Jews] remained hidden in the rubble by the end of October 1944. …the physical destruction [of Warsaw] would surpass that in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.”
While the devastation was staggering, it was the bravery of a few individuals that is the most astonishing. I can’t even begin to grasp everything the survivors endured, but I do feel extremely privileged to have read their stories.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.