THE AVENGERS by Rich Cohen

THE AVENGERS

A Jewish War Story

KIRKUS 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.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-40546-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2000




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