The first English translation of this 1945 Polish novel, the author (1909–83) of which is best known for Ashes and Diamonds; both books were made into films directed by the renowned Andrzej Wajda.
The title is misleading. Yes, this short work does take place just before Easter 1943, but the uprising is merely the backdrop for a story about two Gentiles who shelter a young Jewish woman in their suburban Warsaw home; more precisely, the Jewish resistance provides a litmus test for Polish attitudes toward the Jews. The three principals are architect Jan Malecki; his wife, Anna; and the Jewish Irena Lilien, who was once infatuated with Jan. He meets her by chance outside the burning ghetto; the uprising is under way, and the streets are filled with danger. The once fun-loving Irena has retained her beauty but is now consumed with bitterness; only bribes have saved her from the Gestapo. Jan is cold but feels obligated to take her in. The pregnant Anna has the instinctive humanity Jan lacks. A devout Catholic, she sees the fate of the Jews as a test for Christian conscience. In Warsaw, they generally receive little pity. A contrived scene in Jan’s office covers the spectrum of views. There’s a fascist who defends Hitler, and a gutsy typist who calls the dictator a disgrace; in the middle is Jan, equivocating. The next day, Good Friday, Jan tries to find another refuge for Irena and is gunned down in an improbable wrong-time/wrong-place development. Back home, Irena fends off a neighbor, a would-be rapist, while the neighbor’s wife, an anti-Semite, screams at her to leave. Irena returns her curses before heading back into Warsaw, and likely death.
Skimpy characterizations and a thrown-together ending make for an unsatisfying story, though Andrzejewski’s work certainly has value as social history.