Summary and book reviews of The Light of Days by Judy Batalion

The Light of Days

The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler's Ghettos

by Judy Batalion

The Light of Days by Judy Batalion X
The Light of Days by Judy Batalion
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  • Published:
    Apr 2021, 576 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Debbie Morrison
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About this Book

Book Summary

One of the most important stories of World War II, already optioned by Steven Spielberg for a major motion picture: a spectacular, searing history that brings to light the extraordinary accomplishments of brave Jewish women who became resistance fighters - a group of unknown heroes whose exploits have never been chronicled in full, until now.

Witnesses to the brutal murder of their families and neighbors and the violent destruction of their communities, a cadre of Jewish women in Poland―some still in their teens―helped transform the Jewish youth groups into resistance cells to fight the Nazis. With courage, guile, and nerves of steel, these "ghetto girls" paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in loaves of bread and jars of marmalade, and helped build systems of underground bunkers. They flirted with German soldiers, bribed them with wine, whiskey, and home cooking, used their Aryan looks to seduce them, and shot and killed them. They bombed German train lines and blew up a town's water supply. They also nursed the sick and taught children.

Yet the exploits of these courageous resistance fighters have remained virtually unknown.

As propulsive and thrilling as Hidden Figures, In the Garden of Beasts, Band of Brothers, and A Train in Winter, The Light of Days at last tells the true story of these incredible women whose courageous yet little-known feats have been eclipsed by time. Judy Batalion―the granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors―takes us back to 1939 and introduces us to Renia Kukielka, a weapons smuggler and messenger who risked death traveling across occupied Poland on foot and by train. Joining Renia are other women who served as couriers, armed fighters, intelligence agents, and saboteurs, all who put their lives in mortal danger to carry out their missions. Batalion follows these women through the savage destruction of the ghettos, arrest and internment in Gestapo prisons and concentration camps, and for a lucky few―like Renia, who orchestrated her own audacious escape from a brutal Nazi jail―into the late 20th century and beyond.

Powerful and inspiring, featuring twenty black-and-white photographs, The Light of Days is an unforgettable true tale of war, the fight for freedom, exceptional bravery, female friendship, and survival in the face of staggering odds.

Chapter 1

Po-Lin

Renia

OCTOBER 1924

On Friday, October 10, 1924, as the Jews of Jędrzejów were settling in for their Sabbath eve, shutting shops, closing tills, boiling, chopping, frying, Moshe Kukielka rushed from his store. His family home at 16 Klasztorna (Monastery) Street was a small stone structure on a verdant main road, just around the bend from a magnificent medieval abbey known for its turquoise and gilded interior. Tonight the house was particularly abuzz. As sunset approached, the orange autumn light bleeding red into the lush valleys and rolling hills of the Kielce region, the Kukielkas' oven heated, their spoons clanged, their stove hissed, and the church bells formed their usual backdrop to the family's Yiddish and Polish clatter. And then, a new sound: a baby's first wail.

Moshe and Leah were both modern and observant, as were their three older children. They engaged in Polish culture and celebrated Jewish traditions. Moshe was used to hurrying home...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

High stakes, action-packed scenes move the narrative along, but the author never loses hold of the pace, interweaving each woman's personal history. Beyond Batalion's talents for form and style lies her enormous achievement as a researcher. Any reader who has conducted research themselves will understand what it means for her to have waded through thousands of pages of archival material in different languages and in different countries. That she has been able to accomplish all of this without burdening the reader with that same feeling of toil is simply stunning. This book will instruct and astound you, while also bringing you to tears...continued

Full Review Members Only (734 words).

(Reviewed by Debbie Morrison).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
[R]emarkable...Batalion allows her subjects to speak for themselves whenever possible, weaving a vast amount of research material into a cohesive and dramatic narrative. This poignant history pays vivid tribute to 'the breadth and scope of female courage.

Library Journal
Of particular interest is Battalion's discussion of not only her research and personal interest in the histories of the women and their families but also of the equally complex and nuanced meanings of female empowerment and resistance and what that means for succeeding generations. Recommended for readers of World War II history and women's and Jewish studies

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In a vigorous narrative that draws on interviews, diaries, and other sources, Batalion delivers an objective view of past events that are too quickly being forgotten—and a story much in need of telling. A welcome addition to the literature of the Shoah and of anti-Nazi resistance.

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Beyond the Book

Holocaust Refugees and the British White Papers

A group of Polish Jewish refugee children standing on a ship's gangway in London"To fight or flee?" This is a question the Polish resistance fighters must ask themselves in Judy Batalion's The Light of Days. As the German army advanced across Europe and persecution of the Jews intensified, those who chose to flee had to decide where to go. As their own countries were invaded, some European Jews emigrated to neighboring countries only to find themselves in the clutches of the Nazis yet again. Individuals, families and entire communities were buffeted between towns and cities all over Europe. Others attempted to emigrate to the U.S. only to be turned away on the suspicion that they were actually Nazi spies. Some Jews dreamt of making "Aliyah" and escaping to Palestine. The journey was difficult, however, not only because...

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