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.