Summary and book reviews of The Avengers by Rich Cohen

The Avengers

A Jewish War Story

by Rich Cohen

The Avengers
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2000, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2001, 272 pages

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Book Summary

The true story of a band of Jewish guerrillas, called the Avengers, in World War II. What happened to these rebels in the ghetto and in the forest, and how, fighting for the State of Israel, they moved beyond the violence of the Holocaust and made new lives.

In 1944, a band of Jewish guerrillas emerged from the Baltic forest to join the Russian army in its attack on Vilna, the capital of Lithuania. The band, called the Avengers, was led by Abba Kovner, a charismatic young poet. In the ghetto, Abba had built bombs, sneaking out through the city's sewer tunnels to sabotage German outposts. Abba's chief lieutenants were two teenage girls, Vitka Kempner and Ruzka Korczak. At seventeen, Vitka and Ruzka were perhaps the most daring partisans in the East, the first to blow up a Nazi train in occupied Europe. Each night, the girls shared a bed with Abba, raising gossip in the ghetto. But what they found was more than temporary solace. It was a great love affair. After the liquidation of the ghetto, the Avengers escaped through the city's sewage tunnels to the forest, where they lived for more than a year in a dugout beside a swamp, fighting alongside other partisan groups, and ultimately bombing the city they loved, destroying Vilna's waterworks and its powerplant in order to pave the way for its liberation.

Leaving a devastated Poland behind them, they set off for the cities of Europe: Vitka and Abba to the West, where they would be instrumental in orchestrating the massive Jewish exodus to the biblical homeland, and Ruzka to Palestine, where she would be literally the first person to bring a first hand account of the Holocaust to Jewish leaders. It was in these last terrifying days--with travel in Europe still unsafe for Jews and the extent of the Holocaust still not widely known--that the Avengers hatched their plan for revenge. Before it was over, the group would have smuggled enough poison into Nuremberg to kill ten thousand Nazis. The Avengers is the story of what happened to these rebels in the ghetto and in the forest, and how, fighting for the State of Israel, they moved beyond the violence of the Holocaust and made new lives.

From Rich Cohen, one of the preeminent journalists of his generation and author of the highly praised Tough Jews, a powerful exploration of vindication and revenge, of dignity and rebellion, painstakingly recreated through his exclusive access to the Avengers themselves. Written with insight, sensitivity, and the moral force of one of the last great struggles of the Second World War, here is an unforgettable story for our time.

Introduction

It is like no Holocaust story I have ever heard. There are no cattle cars in it, and no concentration camps. It takes place in underground hideouts and forest clearings, and in the ruins of German cities after the Second World War.

I first heard the story in 1977, when my family visited Israel, a trip partly chronicled in the photo album my mother put together when we returned to our house in suburban Chicago. The pictures show a smiling family backed by the usual landmarks: Western Wall, Dead Sea, Masada. I was ten years old. My brother was fifteen. In many photographs, he wears black, sun-absorbing concert T-shirts. In one, he makes a muscle. My sister, who would soon turn eighteen, looks bored, like every minute on this trip is another party missed. There is a shot of my father leaning on an Israeli tank, looking into the distance, as if scanning for Babylonians. My mother was taking the pictures, or else holding her hands over her face so no pictures of her could ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Rich Cohen's The Avengers , a riveting and powerful look at the intrepid individuals who fought against the Holocaust and the Nazi occupation of Europe.


Discussion Questions
  1. "It is like no Holocaust story I have ever heard. There are no cattle cars in it, and no concentration camps. It takes place in underground hideouts and forest clearings, and in the ruins of German cities after the Second World War" [p. 3]. So begins Rich ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

A muddled history of a little-known resistance WWII movement, organized by Lithuanian Jews.

Library Journal

This needed telling of their exploits is a great tribute to human spirit and a will to survive.

Publishers Weekly

Cohen (Tough Jews Father, Sons and Gangster Dreams) delivers a compelling story that not only amplifies the accepted version of Jewish experience in the Second World War, but also provides a terrific narrative of courage and tenacity. Photographs.

Author Blurb Ian Frazier
The story of the Jewish partisan fighters in World War II is not only fascinating, it is vital information for anyone trying to think about this nightmare century. Rich Cohen writes of the partisan Abba Kovner and his comrades with skill, passion, sensitivity, and great sustaining hope.

Author Blurb Larry King
A remarkable story by a remarkable writer. This is one of the great books about a period of time that never goes out of our consciousness. A terrific read. I love this book.

Reader Reviews

Fabio

The story is talking about a true event the holocaust, one of the most feared event and the most horrible one that could happened ever, and i find couragous a man is talking about it as well as Rich Cohen does with such a coherence and a great ...   Read More

Cassi Clendenin

This book gives a new side to the horror of the Holocaust. It gives hope to people who can now look at the Holocaust in a different light.

Danielle H.

This book was written encredibly well. The descriptions, the vivid images, everything just made this book great. I had to do it for a report at school and it gave me so much to work with and, no doubt, I would read in again.

J.R. Valenzuela

An amazing story of men and women enduring not only the hell of ghettoization and the machinery of genocide, but also that of combat. Perhaps the most powerful aspect is how it shows the Jewish community of Vilnius in so many dimensions, that how ...   Read More

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