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.