Isaac Zuckerman Unbound
An excerpt from a dramatic new account of the young Jews behind the Warsaw Ghetto Underground
The wave of brutality was not confined to Lithuania. It ran the length of the old Pale of Settlement, the historically volatile borderlands between Poland and Russia, where Himmler had ordered local killing squads to be recruited “from the reliable non-Communist elements among Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Byelorussians.” In Galicia, leaders of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, the partisan group that had been long repressed by Polish authorities, went on Radio Berlin to declare “Death to Jews, death to Communists, death to Commissars, exactly in that sequence.” Then they went on a rampage, murdering seven thousand Jews in Lvov, 1,100 in Lutsk, 600 in Ternopol, and progressively spreading the terror to ever smaller towns until blood had been spilled throughout all of western Ukraine.
The absence of Poles from Himmler’s recruiting directive did not mean that the SS couldn’t count on Polish pogromists. In the town of Radzilow, Germans incited Polish peasants to murder eight hundred Jewish inhabitants on the worn pretext that Jews had denounced Gentiles to the Soviet secret police. In nearby Jedwabne, the same ploy was used to drive the hamlet’s entire Jewish population into its lone synagogue, which was then set ablaze.
For Edelman, who had already convinced himself that a wider campaign against the Jews was afoot, confirmation of the mass killings “was not shocking.” Runge’s report did not, however, conclusively answer the question that still racked senior Bundists: Was this orgy of violence fundamentally different from past waves of pogroms, which had flared in the east with tragic regularity for centuries? “That was part of the German genius,” Edelman later noted ruefully. The Bund decided to form and begin training a 500-member militia in the event that the Nazis tried to incite another, more lethal pogrom in Warsaw. Both Edelman and Berl Spiegel eagerly joined the fledgling self-defense organization. The unit was “mostly theoretical” at this early stage, Boruch Spiegel recalled; a list of names, a few lecture meetings, no real training to speak of. The only arms at the Bund’s disposal were truncheons and knives. These had always kept petty local thugs from the fascist Falanga and ONR at bay, but they clearly no longer sufficed.
In light of the scale and barbarity of the eastern atrocities, Bernard Goldstein had one additional request for his Gentile trade union colleague. Could he help the Bund get guns?
Excerpted from Isaac’s Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland by Matthew Brzezinski. Copyright © 2012 by Matthew Brzezinski. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House. All rights reserved.
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