As a historian, Gilbert is well-versed with the Holocaust, much more than knowledgeable, and her opening chapters that set the scene in Poland are very well done, detailed and informative. One can argue that this book could be used in a course on women’s studies, for it has much to say about gender and gender roles.
Ms. Gilbert has three overarching themes, which I will sum up as that Gentiles and Jews did help one another and that this was not uncommon; that shared miseries crossed religious boundaries; that Jews abetted in their own destruction is a lie. Gilbert writes to take testimony from these survivors, to add to the collective archive of Jewish memory.
Terror immobilizes, it paralyzes, cells freeze up, the mind cannot fathom, cannot respond; first there is the horror, and then there is terror. One indelible insight I uncovered as I read the book is how each of these women idiosyncratically experienced sheer terror, grappled with it and stood their ground. Somehow and in some fashion, they metabolized this fear, unlocked themselves, fought back at attempted rapes, learned to shoot a gun, to outwit and outsmart the Hun. In short, to act. Each one moved from real fear and the pungency of terror so as to unlock her self and fight back, to resist, to self-actuate one self. Quite remarkable. And since women throughout the ages have suffered the collective backhand slap of men, it even takes on a larger measure of strength, character and that great word, resolve.