Isaac's Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland

Isaac's Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland

4.8 6
by Matthew Brzezinski
     
 

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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

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Overview

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

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Isaac's Army unfolds like a novel, with a thriller's feel for pacing and intrigue, and generous supplies of gasping suspense. The characters are vividly rendered within a surreal environment that makes The Hunger Games look like survivor Little League.
—Thane Rosenbaum
Publishers Weekly
The Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April–May 1943 was the largest Jewish revolt during WWII. As Brzezinski (Red Moon Rising) relates in this revisionist history of the uprising, the Jewish Fighting Organization, comprising young Polish Jews of disparate political affiliations, played a dominant role. Isaac Zuckerman, a charismatic prewar Zionist youth leader, was the organization’s cofounder and driving force. When the uprising erupted, Zuckerman was on the “Aryan” side of Warsaw procuring weapons, and organized the escape of the surviving fighters through the sewers. Zivia Lubetkin—shy but methodical—ran a network of couriers to maintain links among various ghettos. Significantly, the organization’s 23-year-old leader, Mordechai Anielewicz, now widely viewed as the uprising’s hero, is disparaged by Brzezinski as a dangerous hothead who returned to Warsaw at the last minute to steal center stage in the organization and who, according to other fighters, took the easy way out with his suicide in a bunker together with 80 comrades in arms. Drawing on Zuckerman’s memoir and interviews with some survivors, this is overall a taut and worthy retelling of the uprising with welcome backgrounds on its significant members, including the less known Jewish Military Union of right-wing Zionists. Brzezinski’s treatment of Anielewicz will be controversial Agent: Scott Waxman, Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Isaac’s Army unfolds like a novel, with a thriller’s feel for pacing and intrigue, and generous supplies of gasping suspense. The characters are vividly rendered within a surreal environment that makes The Hunger Games look like survivor Little League.”—The Washington Post

“Their stories of resistance gathered in meticulous detail give Isaac’s Army texture and context that is especially compelling as the last of the Holocaust generation passes away. . . . As a prodigious reporter and skilled writer, Brzezinski’s account gives greater depth and insight to their saga of ingenuity and luck, as he does throughout for the stories of those whose courageous choice was to resist.”—The Atlantic

“[An] admirable study of the Jewish resistance movement in Warsaw . . . compellingly [conveys] Poland’s wartime agony and the ordeals of those caught between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.”—The Wall Street Journal

“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
 
“In every chapter and on every page, Isaac’s Army vindicates the adage that truth is stranger—and more harrowing—than fiction. Matthew Brzezinski’s often painful, always riveting account of Jewish resistance in German-occupied Poland is unsparing in its details and epic in scope, offering the kind of sweeping narrative that this subject has long deserved.”—Andrew Nagorski, author of Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power
 
“In Isaac’s Army, Brzezinski brings us a sweeping, finely researched history of a band of Jewish heroes battling to drive the Nazis from their city and save their people. The stir to rebellion, the labyrinth of intrigue, the courageous long struggle, and the freedom found in the fight itself—these are but parts of this tremendous tale.”—Neal Bascomb, author of Hunting Eichmann and The Perfect Mile

Library Journal
While Poland's Jewish community was being exterminated by the German and Soviet occupiers, a network of Jews resisted. Isaac Zuckerman, who survived to settle in Israel after the war, left a detailed memoir of the experience. Brzezinski (Red Moon Rising) found other survivors and interviewed them to produce a detailed record of much of the daily life of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and other parts of Poland that had become Germany's eastern Reich. He discusses the policy changes, social situation, and strategic environment that resistance workers had to deal with, and humanizes the extremely difficult situations these young men and women faced, including the "trade-craft" involved in operating in a rigidly controlled and murderous state. VERDICT Although the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto has been covered before, the author successfully integrates personal and societal elements into a compelling narrative that greatly supplements existing works.—EBB
Kirkus Reviews
The history of Polish Jews who fought Nazi brutality, retold in the stories of some truly remarkable young men and women. Journalist Brzezinski (Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age, 2007, etc.) presents a meticulous, harrowing account of resistance, humanized with personal tales of individual combatants. As he writes, from the day the Germans set foot in the Polish capital, the brutality mounted. The Jewish quarter was walled off, and the inhumanely crowded ghetto was established. Naked bodies were soon found throughout the quarter, which was infected with typhus as well as blackmailers and profiteers. But there were partisans, too. As deportation to death camps increased, there was frantic organizing and smuggling. Travel to the "Aryan" side was forbidden yet accomplished through disguised tunnels. Finally, in the spring of 1943, after 400,000 Jews were dead, the uprising exploded. In the lead-up to the Uprising, the resistance had established lines of communication and financing for a few guns, and leaders stepped up to organize the logistics and tactics. Escape, through fetid sewers or inhospitable forests, was rare. Aided by anti-Semites, the Wehrmacht and the particularly brutal SS were powerful and efficient. However, as recalled by survivors, there was support by some righteous gentiles. In his valuable text, Brzezinski impartially describes the political interplay of factions of resistance fighters, even when the city of Warsaw was utterly destroyed on orders from Berlin. The struggle continued as survivors fought their way to Israel. "In Poland," writes the author, "Jews now had only a past. The future had been erased." A well-told, direct story of endurance and courage in the face of death and destruction on an apocalyptic scale, as moving and powerful as any novel.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780553807271
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/02/2012
Pages:
496
Sales rank:
443,015
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.46(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"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." —-Alan Furst, author of Mission to Paris

Meet the Author

After working for The New York Times in Warsaw in the early 1990s, Matthew Brzezinski served as Moscow correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Following the September 11th attacks, he covered homeland security as a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. He is also the author of Casino Moscow, Fortress America, and Red Moon Rising. He lives in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts.

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Isaac's Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely captivating. To be able to put yourself in their shoes will bring tears. It's now one of my most favorite readings. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well-written with tons of interesting stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic.  Beautifully written.  I thought I knew alot about the Holocaust but this book sheds light on the day to day horrors and struggles of those unfortunate enough to have found themselves imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto.  A must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
what a vivid, realistic, and heart wrenching account of the personal accounts of several people during horrendous Nazi years in Poland!!! It is a must to read!!!!!
chalkdust423 More than 1 year ago
This book has added to a much deeper insight into the national character of the Polish people and their involvement in helping their Jewish neighbors. It is only recently that books are coming to light about some of the saviors of those persecuted by the Nazi's. Irena Sendler, a Polish worker, who saved 2500 Jewish children comes to mind. The Polish Home Guard didn't have enough supplies to provide much aid to the Jews in the Ghettos because their own supplies of guns, bullets, plastique, etc. were in short supply. I highly recommend this book, Issac's Army, as it goes into more detail about the reasons the general population of the Polish people found it a challenge to aid their neighbors. Poles and those persecuted by the Nazi's often tried to help each other when all knew the Nazi's would kill anyone aiding the Jews. Courage knew no age limit, on either side, from 6-96.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago