Books by Israel Gutman

Released: April 19, 1994

A richly documented short history of the Warsaw Ghetto by Gutman (History/Hebrew University), who is a death-camp survivor and the director of the research center at Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial. There are many well-chosen citations from diaries, underground papers, and other rare documents—along with several maps and photographs (some previously unpublished). The title is the book's major flaw, as if the publisher grasped for the few moments of heroic resistance in an account dominated by hopeless victimization. Gutman himself criticizes the Israelis for giving disproportionate play to armed revolt when commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto. The shots heard 'round the occupied world are first fired more than halfway through the book. The harrowing entries and statistics describing life in the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of the typhus traps carefully planned by the Nazis, make clear that resistance was impeded by the Germans' use of Jewish police (often assimilated or converted Jews) and by the deadening effects of slow starvation and strategically strewn crumbs of hope (``those who cooperate and work will survive''). Gutman moves from the painful details to the larger, ideological picture, such as Himmler exhorting his troops to battle the Soviets, aka the ``Jewish'' Bolsheviks, for the Aryan world ``as we have conceived it: beautiful, decent, socially equal.'' Only after the ghetto is largely depleted from evacuations to the death camps do we hear poet and partisan Abba Kovner ring out with ``Arise! Arise with your last breath!'' The final weeks of armed struggle are brought to life with excerpts from dismayed German generals (referring to Jews as the ``enemy''), rival Jewish militias, and distantly admiring Poles. As the index and bibliography indicate, one would have to read dozens of German, Jewish, and Polish accounts to get what Gutman has gleaned for us here. An essential one-volume read for the layman or undergraduate. Read full book review >