The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos,
by Judy Batalion
Reviewed by Jan Peczkis
Calling this book an “untold story” drives up sales, but is not quite accurate. The three main Jewish women featured in this book have published long ago, and in the English language. See my reviews of:
Batalion herself admits that some of the accounts she cites are of questionable validity. Batalion notes that, “Other testimonies were offered later, especially in the 1990s, and although they are often composed with the depth of insight gained over time, the memories may be altered by contemporary trends, others’ memories they’ve heard over the years, and the survivor’s current concerns and goals.” (p. 454).
The scale of claimed accomplishments, in this book, staggers the imagination. Batalion comments, “In 1944, Jewish partisans alone destroyed fifty-one trains, hundreds of trucks, dozens of bridges.” (p. 257). Really? Did Jewish partisans single-handedly win the war?
There are multiple versions of events. For instance, one account has Tosia Altman, escaping from a burning building, and “Poles found her and handed her over to the Nazis. They tortured her to death. In another version: she jumped to kill herself, determined to not be taken alive.” (p. 222). So which was it?
Pointedly, some of the Jewish accounts are clearly tall tales. Witka Kempner (pp. 249-250) is said to have derailed a German train near Wilno (Vilnius). A historian has examined the account and found it totally unsubstantiated. See:
In like manner, Communist Niuta Teitelbaum (pp. 219-220) is made into a heroine that mingled with Germans and assassinated them. The Communist archives make her out to be nothing more than a bandit. See:
NOT TOTALLY JUDEOCENTRIC: SOME FAIRNESS TO POLES
The author realizes that women got the right to vote in the newly-resurrected Polish state (1918) before they got this right in most Western countries. (p. 29).
Batalion devotes more attention, to Polish suffering under the Germans in WWII, than do most other Jewish authors. For instance, she writes, “Female prisoners–Polish too–were constantly being taken to their executions.” (p. 328). Poles were tortured. Batalion notes that, “One Polish woman showed Renia [Kukielko] her hands: no fingernails. They’d fallen out after hot pins had been stuck underneath them. Her heels were rotten from being beaten with burning metal rods. Her armpits showed the marks of chains.” (p. 349). Batalion concludes, “The Nazi regime enslaved, terrorized, bombed, and killed many Christian Poles–Renia [Kukielko]–after all, was jailed and tortured as a Pole, not a Jew.” (p. 447).
AUSCHWITZ WAS BUILT ORIGINALLY FOR POLES
Judy Batalion is one of the few Jewish authors who gets the origins of Auschwitz right. She comments, “Auschwitz-Birkenau was established originally as a prison and slave labor camp for Polish leaders and intellectuals.” (p. 329).
LOOTING THE DEAD: STEALING SHOES OFF DEAD BODIES
Batalion notes, “‘If you saw a dead body on the street, you took its shoes’: Jon Avnet mentioned this ‘rule of the ghetto’ in discussion of his film Uprising at the Directors Guild, New York City, April 22, 2018.” So Jews did it to other Jews. It was a common wartime event, and not just something that “Poles did to Jews” as charged by Jan T. Gross in his Golden Harvests.
WHY SOME POLES THAT HAD AIDED JEWS LATER KEPT IT A SECRET
Jan T. Gross has also claimed that (what else?) antisemitism forced Jew-rescuers to later hide their acts. The truth is rather different, and told by Judy Batalion, “In a climate of surveillance and fear, anyone who had shown allegiances to the Home Army during the war could have been considered a ‘Polish nationalist’ and therefore a rebel against the Soviet regime–and in mortal danger. Many Poles who’d helped Jews hid their heroic actions for fear they’d be accused of being on the wrong side of the state.” (pp. 418-419).
The author repeats complaints that some Poles denounced fugitive Jews and, as usual, does so in a contextual vacuum. One of the main reasons was Jewish banditry, which elsewhere she mentions (Kovner unit, Vilna area), “Food, boots, clothes, coats, and supplies were mainly stolen from peasants, often at gunpoint.” (p. 252).
REPEATS CANNED ANTIPOLONISM
Although this book is better than most others written by Jewish authors, in terms of valid understanding of Poles, the author cannot help but lapse into standard Jewish Polonophobic formulations. Judy Batalion makes this amazing statement, “The Home Army had an anti-Semitic leadership…” (p. 149). She presents not a shred of evidence to support her scurrilous accusation. She repeats the old story of Poles enjoying themselves on a carousel while the Warsaw Ghetto burned. (p. 206). She presents accounts of Poles killing postwar Jews (p. 412), often over property disputes, without bothering to mention the small scale of these acts, the desperate shortage of property in postwar Poland, and especially the fact that Jewish Communists killed more Poles than Poles ever killed Jews!
Batalion accuses the Church of promoting blood libel accusations against the poor Jews. (p. 24). Actually, it was the opposite. She also conveniently omits mention of the fact that Jews had their own blood-libel equivalent–Jewish accusations of Gypsies stealing Jewish children. For example, see:
The author makes the scurrilous charge that Polish nationalists “espoused Nazi racial theory”, and that, according to them, a Jew could never become a Pole. (p. 25). This is total nonsense. In fact, even the Endeks had some Polonized Jews in their ranks (e. g., Wasiutynski). Finally, Batalion does not bother to mention the fact that some Jews also believed that Jewishness was in some way racially innate. For instance, see:
POLAND’S JEWS DID NOT IDENTIFY WITH POLAND
Without intending to, Batalion reveals the Jewish attitude towards Poland, which explains why some Poles did not like Jews. Many Jews trivialized Poland’s yearning for independence. For instance, Batalion writes, “As an old Jewish joke went, a man asks whether his town is now in Polish or Soviet territory. He’s told, ‘This year, we’re in Poland.’ ‘Thank goodness!,’ the man exclaims. ‘I simply could not take another Russian winter.’” (p. 21). To a Jew, Poland did not really matter.