Stronger Than Iron
The Destruction of Vilna Jewry 1941-1945: An Eyewitness Account
By Mendel Balberyszski
Gefen Publishing House, 2010, 331 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - January 31, 2011
Contrary to what most people think, two Jewish ghettos existed in Vilna, Poland. Balberyszki describes the destruction of the vibrant well-established Jewish community in Vilna in 1941 and gives first-hand facts about the ghettos. It is the first book that tells what happened in the small ghetto. The inhabitants of both ghettos acted differently. The leaders of the larger ghetto felt that it was in the best interest of the Jewish community generally to cooperate with the Germans, even though this cooperation led to the death of many people. The smaller ghetto took the opposite approach and refused to comply.
The book tells what happened to the Jews when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, how the anti-Jewish regime began, and how conditions constantly worsened. It tells how the small ghetto lasted from September 6 to October 21, 1941, a total of forty-six days during which the Nazis and their Lithuanian helpers murdered nine thousand Jews. This was a sizable percentage of the Jewish population of Vilna, a city that had been praised as the "Jerusalem of Lithuania," the pride of the Jewish people.
The book also describes the formation of the large ghetto on September 6, 1941. It incarcerated about twenty thousand Jews. It lasted two years, until September 24, 1943. The author was in this ghetto and he narrates what happened, including his post-Vilna experiences in concentration camps in Estonia, in a first-person narrative that reads well, like a novel or, perhaps more precisely, a horror tale that grasps the readers' attention and informs them of information they should know.