The Avengers : a Jewish war story /

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Main Author: Cohen, Rich.
Format: Book
Published:New York : Vintage Books, 2001.
Edition:1st Vintage books ed.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

As a child visiting an Israeli kibbutz on a family vacation, Cohen met a relative who had survived the Holocaust and emigrated to Israel. Slight and gray-haired, Ruzka looked a lot like Cohen's grandmother, but her stories introduced him to a little-known, remarkable group of Jews: the Avengers, who fought Nazis in the gloomy forests of Eastern Europe and later battled for Israel's independence. As Cohen notes, these "were the kind of people who inspired Joseph Goebbels to write in his diary, `One sees what the Jews can do when they are armed.'" An ardent Zionist, Ruzka left her home in Poland in 1939, as German troops were occupying the country, and made her way to Vilna, Lithuania, where she hoped to find passage to Palestine. Arrested as an "illegal immigrant" upon her arrival, she was released through the efforts of a Zionist youth group who gave her shelter in their headquarters. There, Ruzka met Vitka Kempner, another young girl on her own, and Abba Kovner, a charismatic young man whose steadfast belief in resistance and canny strategies inspired the Avengers. In period-perfect detail, Cohen portrays scenes of ghetto life in Vilna, the efforts of a Jewish leader who thought he could help his people by collaborating with the Germans and, above all, the riveting story of the Avengers' escape from the ghetto, their acceptance of a renegade German officer who hated his army and their eventual emigration to Palestine. Cohen (Tough Jews: Father, Sons and Gangster Dreams) delivers a compelling story that not only amplifies the accepted version of Jewish experience in the Second World War, but also provides a terrific narrative of courage and tenacity. Photographs. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A muddled history of a little-known resistance WWII movement, organized by Lithuanian Jews. In 1942 in Nazi-occupied Lithuania, a Jewish underground movement arose. Led by a charismatic young poet, Abba Kovner, it expanded into a guerrilla band that wreaked havoc on German supply lines. Cohen (Tough Jews, 1998) came across Kovner and other survivors in Israel and learned their story. Based in the Vilna ghetto at first, Kovner's group accumulated arms and attempted to frustrate the Nazi deportation and slaughter of the Jews. In this they failed. By the time they fled to the forest in September 1943, the few hundred resisters were almost the only survivors among Vilna's 30,000 Jews. Although effective as partisans, they could not rely on the peasants whose hatred of the Germans did not diminish their anti-Semitism. Even Russian and Polish partisans looked down on them until they proved their mettle. After the war, the group helped organize the massive migration of Jewish refugees across Europe to Israel. Finally, Kovner organized a massive revenge operation that fell through but not before poisoning several thousand Nazis in one prison camp. It's an inspiring story, and inspiration should be the reader's major goal--because much of the history here is dubious. The broad outlines of the story seem true, but the author chooses to tell it as a docudrama: he re-creates not only conversations, but also the emotions, thoughts, internal monologues, and dreams of the main characters. His description of life in the ghetto, the forest, and the chaos of postwar Europe is a mixture of horror and heroism, but many of the details are clearly invented. One should approach it as one approaches a movie whose credits end with ""based on a true story."" A good story badly told. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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