A Gift in the Telling!
Unlike so much of what has been written, photographed, exhibited, dramatized and otherwise depicted in a macro view of the Holocaust, Joanne Gilbert offers us first-person narratives of female Jews who fled the Nazis and fought back; who lost loved ones but never lost hope; who were often able to hook up with bands of courageous partisans in the forests and swamps; who were often taken in and fed by self-sacrificing Gentiles; who refused to succumb not only to the Nazis and rampant anti-Semitism but to starvation and the harsh elements of Polish winters, often without food, shelter and warm clothing… and often alone.
After the war, they found their way to America where they’ve raised families and led full and happy lives. On which note I like what Miriam (the little “pistol-packer”) had to say in concluding her story: “It is through [our descendants] that we can be assured that the Jewish people will endure and thrive…and continue the Jewish legacy of Tikkun [Olam] – healing the world.”
The book is beautifully written, researched and organized. Joanne Gilbert opens with a brief history of Poland and the Jewish people and concludes with an epilog on how Poland and Polish Jews have evolved since World War II. She speaks in the epilog of these four “women of valor” seeing themselves not as heroines but as “…just ordinary people who, when confronted with the senseless Nazi horror, just did the only thing that made sense: they did the right thing.”
A few years ago my wife and I traveled through the South in places like Selma, Atlanta and Philadelphia (Mississippi) where we sought out and met with participants in the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s. In sharing with us their personal stories, I saw the Civil Rights movement in a new and more personal light, as if for the first time. I had a similar experience reading Women of Valor. I think others will feel the same way, for which reason I highly recommend it.
Gripping and inspiring
Joanne D. Gilbert’s Women of Valor: Polish Resisters to the Third Reich . . . is a gripping and inspiring compilation of first-person accounts from four remarkable young women who, equipped with their intelligence and skills, as well as a significant amount of good luck, successfully defied the Nazi-Germans—and survived. Despite the heavy subject-matter, I was mesmerized, unable to put the book down until I had finished the Epilogue. While each account is both compelling and horrifying, they are not depressing, because they show that the women survived and went on to live normal lives.
The honesty, candor, and voice of each woman is clear, as is her need to finally share her experiences with the world, so that what she went through will never be forgotten. A volume such as this is particularly important in an age when many Holocaust survivors and resisters are losing their battle with time. In less than a generation, all that will remain of those who endured the Holocaust will be their words and other recorded memories. It is not only important to future generations that they learn about what happened during World War II, but also important to those who endured; the telling of these stories appears to be both healing and empowering to all. Faye Lazebnik Schulman, one of the resisters whose story is in this book, states, “This education is essential to preventing another Holocaust . . . And whenever possible, as long as I can speak – I will tell the story. To my dying breath . . . I will tell the story.” Gilbert has made these accounts, and their historical context, accessible to readers of all ages and levels of Shoah-related knowledge through detailed and extensive footnotes. Her Introduction also engages readers and encourages them to place themselves in the shoes of the women they will read about, asking them questions such as “Would you risk death to protect your loved ones?” and “Would you accept your fate?”. The accounts themselves are uninterrupted by commentary, but each woman is briefly introduced by Gilbert, and following the Epilogue there is a Reader-Discussion Guide that can help readers process what they have just read. The focus on women, especially those who survived the war as child or teenage partisans, should be especially appealing to readers as it offers a different perspective on the Shoah than has been presented before. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of what truly happened during World War II, and I look forward to Gilbert’s subsequent volumes detailing the experiences and actions of other Women of Valor in Germany, France and the Netherlands.
A memorable and poignant read of Valor and survival
I was born two years prior to America entering the hostilities of WWII and saw my father and uncles sent away to a world event that I could not understand. I just understood over those years that it was a dangerous conflict and there were cruel people trying to take over the world. All but one of my family returned safely. The one that did not was a US Navy pilot. So, my curiosity concerning that period has always been with me.
I have learned much from both historical fiction as well as memoirs and biographies. It was reasonable then, when attending a book signing event, to obtain a copy of what seemed like four short stories of historical significance, ‘Women of Valor’.
I knew, of course, about the Nazi evils and the pogroms against Jews and other groups. I also knew the worst of all the cruelty had taken place along the Eastern frontier. These things I knew in the abstract but I had never heard, or read, a personal account of any survivor who had actively resisted. Now I come upon a book of personal accounts – survivors of the resistance and they were young women!
Author, Joanne Gilbert has successfully captured the vivid trauma, loss, pain, fear, emotions, and bravery of four young (one being very young) Jewish women through actual interviews with these most amazing, now elderly, ladies.
Author Gilbert’s ability to bring out the details of the remembrances of these four women show a talent and empathy that makes for a first class and unique piece of the historical record.
She brings you the lives of Manya Feldman, Faye Schulman, Lola Lieber, and Miriam Brysk in such vivid detail that the reader stands beside them as they move through the forests of Poland with partisans and through the intrigues of the cities, the newly formed ghettos, and personal encounters with the German high command.
This book I highly recommend, as it is most difficult to put down once begun. I would not be surprised if these recounted stories were pick up by other media such as film. Valor and honor such as told in this book should be a part of every human’s consciousness.