“The Light of Days” by Judy Batalion— Unknown Heroes

Batalion, Judy. “The Light of Days”, William Morrow; 2020.

Unknown Heroes

Amos Lassen

In “The Light of Days”, Judy Batalion brings us the stories of the accomplishments of brave Jewish women who became resistance fighters― unknown heroes whose exploits have never been totally chronicled until now.These women were witnesses to the brutal murder of their families and neighbors and the destruction of their communities. This is a group  of Jewish women in Poland, some of whom were still teenagers, who helped transform Jewish youth groups into resistance cells to fight the Nazis.

The women were courageous and had nerves of steel.  They paid off Gestapo guards, hid weapons in loaves of bread and jars of marmalade and helped in the building of systems of underground bunkers. They flirted with German soldiers, bribed them with wine, whiskey, false seductions and home cooking and shot and killed them. They bombed German train lines and blew up a town’s water supply and yet they nursed the sick and taught children. The most amazing fact is that until now they have largely remained unknown.

Writer Judy Batalion is the granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors. Through her words, she takes us back in time to 1939 and introduces us to Renia Kukielka, a weapons smuggler and messenger who risked death traveling across occupied Poland on foot and by train. Renia was joined by other women who served as couriers, armed fighters, intelligence agents, and saboteurs. They  all put their lives in mortal danger to carry out their missions. We follow them through the destruction of the ghettos, their arrests and incarcerations in Gestapo prisons and concentration camps. There were a lucky few (like Renia, who orchestrated her own audacious escape from a brutal Nazi jail) who survived and made it to the late 20th century and afterwards.

While doing research in the British Library, Batalion found an extraordinary book, “Women in the Ghettos” that was written in Yiddish and published in 1946. It contained the lost accounts of dozens of young Jewish women who fought in the resistance against the Nazis. Even though she  had grown up with stories from the Holocaust, she’d never read stories like these. These stories of Jewish women who fought the Nazis was unknown and the role of women in better-known partisan groups and resistance cells has not been fairly reported.

Using interviews, diaries, and other sources, Batalion gives us an objective view of past events that are just not known about or too quickly being forgotten. We learn about the natures of courage an honor and we are inspired, something we need right now so badly. Much of what we read here is revelatory. We realize that there is still a lot about the World War II era that we know very little about. The women not only had to fight the Nazis but the gender stereotypes that were part on the world in which they lived.

The book includes twenty black-and-white photographs that further illustrate the fight for freedom, bravery, friendship among women and survival in the face of tremendous odds.  

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