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The book smugglers : partisans, poets, and…

The book smugglers : partisans, poets, and the race to save Jewish… (edition 2017)

by David E. Fishman

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7011250,714 (4.67)7
Title:The book smugglers : partisans, poets, and the race to save Jewish treasures from the Nazis
Authors:David E. Fishman
Info:Lebanon, NH : ForeEdge, an imprint of University Press of New England, [2017]
Collections:Your library

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The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis by David E. Fishman



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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a fascinating look at the book brigade who, as best as they could salvaged Jewish books, papers, and other cultural items from the Nazis in Vilna, the "Jerusalem of Lithuania" during the war. This portion of the book makes for an incredible story of survival and daring.

The second half of the book, while interesting, was a bit of a letdown for me, as the book brigade survivors had to attempt, once again, to save the books, this time, from the Soviets. This portion of the book focused more on political and bureaucratic maneuverings and was not nearly as dramatic.

An excellent, well-researched book about a lesser-known chapter of the war and one I'd recommend to those who like to read nonfiction. ( )
  lindapanzo | Sep 3, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Quite an incredible story about Vilna's "Paper Brigade," a group of committed men and women who saved books and manuscripts from destruction by the Nazis (and later by the Soviets). This is a fascinating tale, and Fishman's thorough research is very impressive. I wish, though, that the book had spent some more time with an editor: after the tenth time the author noted that Vilna was known as "the Jerusalem of Lithuania" before the thirtieth page, I was ready to fling the book across the room. I persevered, and am glad I did, but I admit that such stylistic infelicities did color my opinion of the volume. ( )
  JBD1 | May 10, 2018 |
This is the remarkable true story of ghetto residents who rescued thousands of rare books and manuscripts – first from the Nazis and then from the Soviets by hiding them on their bodies, burying them in bunkers, and smuggling them across borders. Fishman reminds us that the Holocaust was not just “the greatest genocide in history”. It was also “an act of cultural plunder and destruction” in which the “Nazis sought not only to murder the Jews but also to obliterate their culture”.
  HandelmanLibraryTINR | Feb 4, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When reading books about historical events, I prefer narrative micro-history, in which the author takes a small slice of history and tells the story in depth and with a novelistic approach.

Who would ever dream that in a Jewish ghetto in Vilna, Lithuania, there would be a busy lending library run by people enslaved by the Nazis? That a group of men and women would risk torture and death to save books about Jewish culture and history? That those same books would need to be saved again from the Soviets? That the story would go on for decades? That’s the story in The Book Smugglers.

The Book Smugglers has everything I look for in a great book of history: top-notch writing and sourcing; a bibliography; voluminous notes; an index. As an added bonus, the author added a glossary of unfamiliar terms. AND, the book is a real page-turner.

Having read and enjoyed The Monuments Men, I had very high hopes for this book – and I was not disappointed in the least. As in that book, the characters who play prominent roles are amazing. But, while the Monuments Men worked under adverse conditions, the “book smugglers” worked against unbelievable odds that we can only imagine. The author does great honor to those heroes and ensures they will be remembered. ( )
  NewsieQ | Dec 25, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
David E. Fishman used personal interviews, primary and secondary sources in English, German, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Russian and Yiddish languages and museum archives to tell the story of "The Paper Brigade" of Jewish prisoners in the Vilnius, Lithuania ghetto who preserved some of the cultural heritage of Judaism of the YIVO and Strashun libraries in Vilna during World War II. The Yiddish and Hebrew language books and archives of the libraries in Vilna were ordered to be scattered or destroyed. About one third of the most valuable or rare books were to be sent to a central location in Germany. The other two thirds were to be destroyed. The "Paper Brigade" of Jewish librarians and book lovers worked to hide many of the books and archives, and either smuggle them into the ghetto for hiding and preservation, or try to preserve them in other locations. If the smugglers were found trying to smuggle books into the ghetto, they would be killed. These were men and women who risked, and sometimes, paid with their lives to protect the Jewish culture of "The Jerusalem of Lithuania" from the Holocaust.

The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) was ordered to destroy the cultural heritage of Jews in the occupied countries, and with establishing a museum on Jews and Jewish culture which could be used for historical studies after the Jews were murdered. Thus, the main collections of Jewish literature were to be recycled or destroyed, with a sampling preserved for the future museum. Johannes Pohl was in charge of the the branch of the ERR, and those books which weren't re-pulped in paper mills were used in other ways. Leather covers of Torahs were used to re-sole the boots of German soldiers, other paper was burned for heat during the winter or as scrap paper.

Although lives were lost in protecting some of the books, the evil of antisemitism continued under the Russian occupation and when Lithuania became a Soviet Republic under Stalin. Being able to re-constitute the collections dispersed into numerous hiding places after the war were stymied by official orders from Moscow and local communists to close the Jewish libraries and museums that re-opened after 1945.

An excellent book for history of books and printing collections, WWII and Jewish history collections, Holocaust Studies programs and Library Science collections. I also highly recommend this book to bibliophiles and other book lovers, as a re-affirmation of the love of books so many people have. For example, even during the time of famine and overwork in the ghetto, the library remained open and people struggled to find reading material to fight the intellectual starvation that also was part of ghetto life. People who must read should also read this story. ( )
  hadden | Dec 15, 2017 |
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The Book Smugglers is the nearly unbelievable story of ghetto residents who rescued thousands of rare books and manuscripts—first from the Nazis and then from the Soviets—by hiding them on their bodies, burying them in bunkers, and smuggling them across borders. It is a tale of heroism and resistance, of friendship and romance, and of unwavering devotion—including the readiness to risk one’s life—to literature and art. And it is entirely true. Based on Jewish, German, and Soviet documents, including diaries, letters, memoirs, and the author’s interviews with several of the story’s participants, The Book Smugglers chronicles the daring activities of a group of poets turned partisans and scholars turned smugglers in Vilna, (3zsThe Jerusalem of Lithuania.(3y sThe rescuers were pitted against Johannes Pohl, a Nazi (3zsexpert(3y son the Jews, who had been dispatched to Vilna by the Nazi looting agency, Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, to organize the seizure of the city’s great collections of Jewish books. Pohl and his Einsatzstab staff planned to ship the most valuable materials to Germany and incinerate the rest. The Germans used forty ghetto inmates as slave-laborers to sort, select, pack, and transport the materials, either to Germany or to nearby paper mills. This group, nicknamed (3zsthe Paper Brigade,(3y sand informally led by poet Shmerke Kaczerginski, a garrulous, street-smart adventurer and master of deception, smuggled thousands of books and manuscripts past German guards. If caught, the men would have faced death by firing squad at Ponar, the mass-murder site outside of Vilna. To store the rescued manuscripts, poet Abraham Sutzkever helped build an underground book-bunker sixty feet beneath the Vilna ghetto. Kaczerginski smuggled weapons as well, using the group’s worksite, the former building of the Yiddish Scientific Institute, to purchase arms for the ghetto’s secret partisan organization. All the while, both men wrote poetry that was recited and sung by the fast-dwindling population of ghetto inhabitants. With the Soviet (3zsliberation(3y sof Vilna (now known as Vilnius), the Paper Brigade thought themselves and their precious cultural treasures saved—only to learn that their new masters were no more welcoming toward Jewish culture than the old, and the books must now be smuggled out of the USSR. Thoroughly researched by the foremost scholar of the Vilna Ghetto—a writer of exceptional daring, style, and reach—The Book Smugglers is an epic story of human heroism, a little-known tale from the blackest days of the war.… (more)

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