The Avengers: A Jewish War Story

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9780375405464: The Avengers: A Jewish War Story

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.

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Review:

Rich Cohen, author of Tough Jews, has written what he calls "a Holocaust story without a concentration camp" about Jewish resistance fighters during World War II. The Avengers: A Jewish War Story describes how three young Jews--Cohen's cousin Ruzka Korczak, her friend Abba Kovner, and Kovner's future wife Vitka Klemperer--created an armed, underground movement behind the German lines in Poland with the goal of sabotaging the Nazis and helping the Russians advance. Cohen reports that Kovner described the group's dilemma this way: "If we act cowardly, we die; if we act courageously, we die. So we might as well act courageously." The group's fighting outlasted the war to exact revenge on the Nazis held in Nuremberg and finally to fight for Israel in the 1948 War for Independence. Researching The Avengers, Cohen spent time with the surviving resistance fighters in Israel and in Eastern Europe. The result is a deeply personal and impassioned defense of a movement that some readers will view with pride and others will condemn as vigilantism. This book, like Tough Jews, is a lively, intelligent, and heartfelt work of Jewish history. --Michael Joseph Gross

From the Publisher:

"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."
-- Ian Frazier

"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."
-- Larry King

"The Avengers tells a story that's never been told before, and tells it with a hallucinatory clarity. Rich Cohen has refuted forever Hannah Arendt's thesis that the Jews of Europe went quietly to their deaths. This is one of the most stirring books I have ever read."
-- James Atlas

"In period-perfect detail, Cohen portrays...the riveting story of the Avengers' escape from the ghetto, their acceptance of a renegade German officer who hated his army and their eventual emigration to Palestine. Cohen 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."
-- Publishers Weekly

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