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Isaac's Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Matthew Brzezinski

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46None250,209 (4.83)1
Member:Stbalbach
Title:Isaac's Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland
Authors:Matthew Brzezinski
Info:Random House (2012), Hardcover, 496 pages
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Rating:****1/2
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Isaac's Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland by Matthew Brzezinski (2012)

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Juden haben Waffen! Juden haben Waffen! I hope they always do.

The book is a journalistic account of the Jewish resistance, with the stated goal of reading like a novel (I’m not sure why so many writers feel like they have to make this a goal—written history is a narrative by necessity unfortunately). Because it is a journalistic account that tries to focus very specifically on the Jewish resistance in Warsaw it sacrifices any real analysis, not only on the wider themes of the war, anti-Semitism, and Zionism, but on the narrower themes of the resistance itself. For example, the author states repeatedly that the resistance was splintered between different factions of political ideology but provides no real background on or exploration of the causes and motivations for the differences. This isn’t a detriment, exactly, and would likely have pulled the book far afield from its focus, but it’s worth pointing out; the result is a sort of vagueness of detail and a concentration on externals and actions.

The aftermath of the Nazi’s retreat with the consolidation of Soviet power and its effects on Jews and Poles was given a brief treatment, which is slightly unusual and welcomed; the balancing act required to show non-Jewish Poles as they were—both victims and perpetrators—is handled well; the writing is competent. It’s probably a must-read for anyone interested in the subject.

4.5 stars

I won this in a goodreads giveaway; my opinion would be the same regardless. ( )
  Michael.Xolotl | Mar 5, 2013 |
Kirkus said Isaac's Army is "as moving and powerful as any novel." It's about the Jewish element of the Polish resistance over the course of the entire war (most books focus on the few months of the Ghetto Uprising). It includes the events of the 1939 invasion, Holocaust, Ghetto Uprising, Warsaw Uprising, and story behind the mass Exodus to Israel after the war. Seeing it from this perspective - normal citizens at the start and end - makes it more real. The focus is around a small group of rebellious teenagers who decided to fight back, 95% of whom never survived the war. This is the story of the few who somehow survived nearly 6 long years in Nazi occupied Poland.

The narrative follows an arc of continuously mounting brutality, when things can't get any worse, it gets worse, reaching a crescendo of violence even the Nazi's were sickened by. Warsaw in the end saw destruction more complete than Hiroshima or Nagasaki, no other major city in WWII was more completely destroyed. This is my third book about Warsaw (The Pianist, Jacob the Liar) and the more I read about the resistance movements, Jewish and Gentile, the more I want to learn. It's one of the most interesting stories of WWII since it involved the largest underground resistance movement for the longest period of time, from 1939-1945, the entire war, with people from all over the political and racial spectrum creating a variety of conflict and alliance. The Jewish element was quite small and militarily inconsequential, but had huge consequence politically due to the Ghetto Uprising, in the establishment of Israel and the story of the Holocaust and Jewish prestige. Really just an amazing book, it starts off slow but picks up to high speed by page 200 with the establishment of the Ghetto walls not letting go through to the end. It's a humane account, the last sentence is devastatingly beautiful. ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Nov 4, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553807277, Hardcover)

Starting as early as 1939, disparate Jewish underground movements coalesced around the shared goal of liberating Poland from Nazi occupation. For the next six years, separately and in concert, they waged a heroic war of resistance against Hitler’s war machine that culminated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In Isaac’s Army, Matthew Brzezinski delivers the first-ever comprehensive narrative account of that struggle, following a group of dedicated young Jews—some barely out of their teens—whose individual acts of defiance helped rewrite the ending of World War II.
 
Based on first-person accounts from diaries, interviews, and surviving relatives, Isaac’s Army chronicles the extraordinary triumphs and devastating setbacks that befell the Jewish underground from its earliest acts of defiance in 1939 to the exodus to Palestine in 1946. This is the remarkable true story of the Jewish resistance from the perspective of those who led it: Isaac Zuckerman, the confident and charismatic twenty-four-year-old founder of the Jewish Fighting Organization; Simha Ratheiser, Isaac’s fifteen-year-old bodyguard, whose boyish good looks and seeming immunity to danger made him an ideal courier; and Zivia Lubetkin, the warrior queen of the underground who, upon hearing the first intimations of the Holocaust, declared: “We are going to defend ourselves.” Joined by allies on the left and right, they survived Gestapo torture chambers, smuggled arms, ran covert printing presses, opened illegal schools, robbed banks, executed collaborators, and fought in the two largest rebellions of the war.
 
Hunted by the Germans and bedeviled by the “Greasers”—roving bands of blackmailers who routinely turned in resistance fighters for profit—the movement was chronically short on firepower but long on ingenuity. Its members hatched plots in dank basements, never more than a door knock away from summary execution, and slogged through fetid sewers to escape the burning Ghetto to the forests surrounding the city. And after the initial uprising was ruthlessly put down by the SS, they gambled everything on a bold plan for a citywide revolt—of both Jews and Gentiles—that could end only in victory or total destruction. The money they raised helped thousands hide when the Ghetto was liquidated. The documents they forged offered lifelines to families desperate to escape the horror of the Holocaust. And when the war was over, they helped found the state of Israel.
 
A story of secret alliances, internal rivalries, and undying commitment to a cause, Isaac’s Army is history at its most heart-wrenching. Driven by an unforgettable cast of characters, it’s a true-life tale with the pulse of a great novel, and a celebration of the indomitable spirit of resistance.

Advance praise for Isaac’s Army
 
“Told with care and compassion, Matthew Brzezinski’s Isaac’s Army is a riveting account of the Jewish resistance in wartime Poland. This is an intense story that transcends the horror of the time and finds real inspiration in the bravery of those who fought back—some of whom lived to tell their stories. Highly recommended.”—Alan Furst, author of Mission to Paris

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:30 -0400)

Describes the formation of one of the most daring underground movements of World War II under the leadership of twenty-four-year-old Isaac Zuckerman, and the group's collective efforts to gather information, build an arms cache, participate in uprisings, and organize escape systems.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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