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The Avengers

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The Avengers
A Jewish War Story

By Rich Cohen
Vintage (2001)
ISBN: 0-375-70529-5

Reviewed by Herbert White - May 28, 2008

The Avengers is a unique book about an often overlooked aspect of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust. Rather than focusing on the concentration and death camps, the deportations, or Nazi atrocities, this book takes a positive and informative look at Jewish resistance. In The Avengers, the book's author, Rich Cohen, looks at the activities of a resistance group who called themselves the Avengers. Comprised primarily of Jews from the Vilna ghetto in Lithuania, this book explores the exploits of Abba Kovner, the group's leader, and his two main lieutenants, Vitka Kempner and Ruzka Korczak. What made this group so different from most of the partisan bands, who inhabited the Lithuanian and Polish forests, is not just that most of its members were primarily Jewish, but also that Vitka and Ruzka not only teenagers, but also women. Women who fought as valiantly and selflessly as their male counterparts, and who worked with their comrades, engaging in acts of sabotage, and other actions, against the Nazis.

The book begins with an overview of life in the Vilna ghetto, and its creation, and the impact of the Nazi occupation on the Jewish inhabitants of Lithuania. The book also chronicles the creation of the Avengers, the make-up of the group, and its exploits throughout the war. Cohen looks at the group's activities at the end of the war, when they to try to seek revenge on their Nazi persecutors. The book also tackles the often overlooked problems that emerged, for Jews, after the war ended, and how the group made the transition from freedom fighters to immigration specialists who helped usher hundreds of Jews to Israel and, after resettling themselves in Israel, helped to establish the modern Jewish homeland.

The Avengers is a gripping book that provides and eye-opening glimpse at an often under reported aspect of Jewish resistance to the Nazi's and their genocidal regime. In writing this book, Cohen interviewed the surviving members of the Avengers, and he graphically shows the transition of these Jewish city dwellers into hard fighting, and courageous guerrilla soldiers who lived off the land and who exacted a high price from the Nazis for the murder of so many of their fellow Jews. He personalizes the history of these soldiers, and shows how the war affected not only their desire to fight the Germans, but also why they worked so fervently after the war to help Jewish survivors of the Holocaust to reach Israel. As well as how, after their own arrival in Israel, how the members of the Avengers worked to ensure the success and safety of their new homeland.

The Avengers is a powerful and unforgettable book that chronicles a nearly forgotten aspect of the Jewish experience during World War II. This book will fascinate anyone with an interest in Jewish history, World War II, military history, as well as anyone looking to read an exciting, yet at the same time, horrific story of courage, danger, and people overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Five stars!

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