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Women and the Shoah: Review of 'The Light of Days' written by Judy Batalion

by Noel Hershfield, June 20, 2021

 
 
I just completed finishing a book entitled "The Light of Days” written by Judy Batalion, who is the granddaughter of one of the women who took part in active resistance against the Nazis in Poland. The book is very graphic in the description of the treatment of Jews and other minorities by the German Nazis.
 

Emmanuel Ringlbloom’s dairy entry of May 1942 describes the resistance by young women during the Shoah: “Heroic girls boldly travelled back and forth through the cities and towns of Poland. They were in mortal danger every day. They relied entirely on their “Aryan” looking faces with kerchiefs to cover their heads. Without a murmur, without a second's hesitation, they accept and carry out the most dangerous missions. If someone needed to travel to Vilna, Bialostock, Lindberg and other Polish cities, to smuggle contraband such as illegal publication goods and money, these girls volunteer as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Nothing stands in the way of them undertaking their mission and nothing deters them. The story of the Jewish women will be a glorious page in the history of Jewry during the present war. These girls are indefatigable."

 

The book reads like a historical novel and a history book. The author follows the careers of 17 women based in Poland, and members of a group of Zionist youths entitled Freedom. They had kibbutzim across Poland in every city, and moderate sized towns. They had 47 chapters and all of them made the decision  to be part of the resistance after they realized the German Nazis had declared a war on the Jews. The women decided “we will not go like sheep to the slaughter.”

 

The author also describes conditions in the Warsaw ghetto before and after it was locked down by the German Nazis and their Polish collaborators. Before the lockdown, the Jews in the ghettos re-created all of the activities that they had outside the ghetto. The women organized soup kitchens to feed children and poor families of which there were many, they opened underground schools which were prohibited by the German Nazis , and if they were found they would be immediately deported. In addition, there were symphony orchestras, entertainment groups by the dozen, and doctors and nurses who made rounds daily, without any pharmaceuticals or surgical instruments. The women, and young children served as couriers and spies, sneaking out of the ghetto, and trying to organize a sister group with the Polish underground and the communist underground. The Polish underground refused to help them because it felt that they were probably communists, and also because they were Jewish and they didn’t think Jews could fight. The communist group did give them some help, but they were very short on weapons and food and were always under surveillance by the SS. After the ghetto was under lockdown, conditions became impossible. People were starving in the streets, and children were dying from starvation . There was intergroup  fighting amongst the Jews themselves regarding what the response should be to these conditions. It took at least two years for the groups to get together, and make the decision that they would fight the German Nazis to the very end. They constructed bunkers and 18 spots in the ghetto and in the beginning only had one pistol. Over the years they did acquire some arms, but mainly they were fighting with Molotov cocktails and homemade explosives. Many of the resistance groups were led by women, one of them being the grandmother of the writer whose name was Renia.

 

These women served as couriers and actually were able to communicate with the other ghettos, of which there were about 45, throughout the occupation. They sneaked out at night and walked and biked all over Poland, informing the rural Polish Jews that the Nazis had decided to gather them all up and send them to concentration camps, work camps, and death camps including Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor .

 

Much of the book is about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, pointing out that it was really the only ghetto that was able to hold off the Nazis. They held off for almost a month.

 

Nazi commander Jurgen  Stroup, who was commissioned by Hitler to destroy the ghetto, wrote about these women as follows: “They were not human, perhaps Devils or goddesses. Calm. As nimble as circus performers. They often fired simultaneously with pistols in both hands.  Fierce in combat, right to the end. Approaching them was dangerous. One captured maiden looked timid. Completely resigned. And then suddenly, when a group of our men got within a few steps of her, she pulled out a hand grenade from under her skirt and slaughtered the SS while showering them with curses to the 10th generation – your hair stands on end. We suffered losses in those situations, and so I gave orders not to take the girls prisoner, not to let them get too close, but finished them with submachine guns fired from a distance.”

 

Stroup burnt down every building in the ghetto and surrounding areas. They killed all the fighters except for two or three that were able to get away. One fighter was named Jacob  They killed all the fighters except for two or three that were able to get away. One was named Jacob Hirschfield!

 

As I said before, the author’s description of some of the atrocities that were carried out by German Nazi soldiers and their collaborators are almost unreadable.

 

Some of the pictures in the book portray German soldiers and collaborators smiling while they were carrying out their barbaric acts.The first mass execution was carried out at Ponary Forest, where the murders were witnessed by a Polish youngster, who told some Jewish friends. Over 2000 men, women, and children were massacred that day, and thrown into pits that were dug by the victims before the shootings. Of course they didn’t believe him, but shortly thereafter the ghetto dwellers witnessed the deportation of at least 6000 prisoners per day from the ghetto. A Polish army officer actually infiltrated Auschwitz. He told the members of the ghetto what was in their future. He also went to Britain, and the United States and spoke with high foreign office officials, but he was not believed . He returned to Auschwitz and organized an uprising there. After the war he was jailed by the Communists who took over the country and was executed in 1948!

 

I have wondered how citizens of one of the most advanced countries in the world, Germany, which was a leader in medicine, science, philosophy,

and democracy degenerated to the lowest level of evil. I have wondered what drove an advanced society to follow Hitler. It couldn’t be only Hitler, whose speeches were full of anti-Semitism, and his plan for the final solution of the “Jewish Problem”. Was he responsible for the barbaric behaviour of his citizens ?  Was he solely responsible for the collaboration of virtually every country that he overran, who gave their Jews to these monsters? The presence of Jews in Europe was never really accepted, and we all know that in most countries where they were living, Jews were routinely attacked and killed and beaten in pogroms. These actions took place long before Hitler came into power.

 

There is an excellent discussion of women and the Shoah in the Jewish Virtual Library, available online, entitled Holocaust Resistance :Female Jewish Partisans

 

During the most recent  fighting between Israel and Hamas  we have witnessed mobs in our Western cities demonstrating against the State of Israel, filled with anti Semitic rhetoric (i.e. Protesters have shouted “Rape Jewish women.”) Some of these mobs are re-creating what happened in the 1930s that led eventually to the Holocaust, and also to the deaths of over 50 million people.

 

We should take Never Again seriously NOW!

 
 
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