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

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Overview

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 was just one dramatic episode in a long struggle by a stalwart band of Jewish resistance fighters to liberate Poland from the Nazis, the full story of which has never before been told in book form. With 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—who banded together to form ...
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Isaac's Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland

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Overview

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 was just one dramatic episode in a long struggle by a stalwart band of Jewish resistance fighters to liberate Poland from the Nazis, the full story of which has never before been told in book form. With 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—who banded together to form one of the most daring underground movements 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.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

The first-ever comprehensive narrative of the young Jewish resistance fighters, some barely out of their teens, whose selfless acts of defiance helped reshape World War II.

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.)
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.
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553807271
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 695,536
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.46 (d)

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 Washington, D.C.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Cast of Characters xix

Book 1

Chapter 1 Hanna's Triumph 3

Chapter 2 Simha's First Day of School 10

Chapter 3 Wolska Street is Covered with Blood 19

Chapter 4 Robert's Paper Airplanes 25

Chapter 5 His Brother's Hand 33

Chapter 6 Where is Your Husband? 37

Chapter 7 Mark's Vow 45

Chapter 8 Joanna's Rhyme 52

Chapter 9 Isaac on Memory Lane 57

Chapter 10 Zivia 65

Book 2

Chapter 11 Why Does Hitler Like Mrs. Zeromska? 71

Chapter 12 Am I Willing to Do This? 80

Chapter 13 Martha and Robert Run 88

Chapter 14 Hanna and Joanna Hide 97

Chapter 15 Simha and Boruch Pay the Bills 106

Chapter 16 Joanna Causes Trouble 114

Chapter 17 Isaac and Boruch Glimpse Hell 123

Chapter 18 They Didn't Deserve Such a Parting 132

Chapter 19 Simha Leaves Zivia to her Prophecy 142

Chapter 20 Joanna and the Terrifying Mr. Glaser 150

Chapter 21 The Right Option 159

Book 3

Chapter 22 Simha Plays Shepherd and Edelman Plays God 173

Chapter 23 One Gun 181

Chapter 24 Little Angel 188

Chapter 25 Simha Returns and Joanna Flees 201

Chapter 26 Boruch and Robert Learn Different Lessons 212

Chapter 27 Isaac's Not-So-Merry Christmas 222

Chapter 28 The Organization 231

Chapter 29 Zivia Lets Loose 244

Chapter 30 Joanna Prays 253

Book 4

Chapter 31 Ghettograd 265

Chapter 32 Fallen Angel 278

Chapter 33 Simha the Savior 285

Chapter 34 Hotel Poland 297

Chapter 35 Robert's American Pledge 311

Chapter 36 Zivia Gets Her Gun 325

Book 5

Chapter 37 Simha's Second Sewer Rescue 341

Chapter 38 Foolish Errands 351

Chapter 39 Zivia's Cupboard 362

Chapter 40 Despicable Yids 370

Chapter 41 Mark and the Mohicans 377

Chapter 42 Next Year in Jerusalem 391

Afterword 405

Acknowledgments 413

Notes 415

Index 461

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2013

    NightFlight

    Tentavely nibbled the rabbit amd then began to eat

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2013

    Runeshadow

    Runeshadow: Huh? *yawns* A battle? How many were injured? Did anyone die?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2013

    Are you here?

    Heatherkit

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2013

    Starling

    Eats the sparrow and walks off.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013

    Absolutely captivating. To be able to put yourself in their shoe

    Absolutely captivating. To be able to put yourself in their shoes will bring tears. It's now one of my most favorite readings. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2013

    Highly recommended

    Well-written with tons of interesting stories.

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  • Posted January 18, 2013

    Added to my knowledge

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2012

    Fantastic.  Beautifully written.  I thought I knew alot about th

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2012

    highly recommended

    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!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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