A Surplus of Memory

My Review of Yitzhak Zukerman’s A Surplus of Memory: Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

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Zuckerman’s chronicle of day-to-day activities of the Jewish Fighting Organization (JFO) in the Warsaw Ghetto is easily the best book I ever read on the Jewish holocaust – I read about 50. “Antek” (Zuckerman’s name de guerre) was one of the leaders of the underground organization and one of the few fighters to survive the German SS razing of the ghetto in 1943 under General Stroop. It’s a long book – 703 pages – but never a dull moment. It is one of a handful of holocaust books that I read twice. The hardcover is $72 on Amazon but I managed to buy it on a secondary site for $15 several years ago. This memoir was one of the many books I used in researching the history of that era while I wrote Comrade Anna – set in the Warsaw Ghetto and in then so-called Aryan Warsaw. I wrote it over 13 years while teaching in NYC. I also borrowed Zuckerman’s book once from the NYC library system but it took about 5 weeks because there were only three copies in the Manhattan system.
Zuckerman dictated his memories years after 1945. The book is an extraordinary account of Zuckerman’s cell and its sometimes successful but usually doomed attempts at sabotaging and street-fighting the SS storm troopers who systematically burned and blew up the buildings that they hid inside and from which they fought.

Zuckerman and members of the Jewish Fighting Organization

Zuckerman and members of the Jewish Fighting Organization

In one of Stroop’s communications to his superiors in Berlin, he labeld all Jews as “cowards” but, in the same communication, stated that the Jews fought back with such tenacity during the German assault that they drove his SS soldiers to retreat.
Zuckerman chronicles the assassinations of some Germans but mostly of Jewish collaborators who had sold out other Jews as a means of survival but sometimes due to plain greed. He chronicles his and a number of other Jewish underground resisters’ attempts – many of these doomed to failure – to convince thousands of Jews in the ghetto to not gather at the Umshlaglatz – the German’s forced collection center for Jews – and especially to not board the trains because they were headed to Treblinka.

The Issue of Revenge

This book is essential reading for holocaust scholars and for those who simply want to understand what it was like up close in the Warsaw Ghetto.
The book is as intense as Leon Uris’ Mila 18 – another great read and an historical fictional account based on real events of the street and the building in the Warsaw Ghetto where Jewish fighters were headquartered. I read Mila 18 and Uris’ Exodus independently in my freshman year of high school and that was the beginning of my life-long study of the Jewish holocaust.

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