A Surplus of Memory

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



Updated and reblogged January 28, 2018.

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. “Antek”, Zuckerman’s nom 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 SS Commander Jurgen Stroop.

It’s a long book – 703 pages – but never a dull moment. I read it twice. The hardcover is $74 on Amazon. I managed I 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 – a study that evolved over some 50 years – while I wrote The Desperate Days, set in the Warsaw Ghetto and in then so-called Aryan Warsaw.

I wrote it over 13 years while teaching in NYC – 2000-13. 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 Manhattan libraries – all checked out.

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 labled all Jews “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. The Stroop report was entered into evidence during the Nuremberg trials post-war.

Zuckerman chronicles the assassinations of some Germans, but mostly of Jewish collaborators, who were specially targeted often because they had sold out other Jews as a means of survival or 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 Umshlagplatz – the German’s forced collection center for Jews – and especially to not board the trains because they were headed to the Treblinka death camp.

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 from the perspective of this leader of the Jewish Fighting Organization.

This memoir is a necessary complement to Leon Uris’ Mila 18 – a great historical fictional account of the Warsaw Ghetto and the address (Mila 18) 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.


My book – The Desperate Days – is a historical fictional account of Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, focusing on a female fighter’s relationship with a Treblinka SS sergeant, and later, after the war ends, on an Auschwitz survivor who is on a mission to interrogate and execute Anna’s ‘Nazi.’ As a doctor, Anna attends to and tries to save babies in the ghetto while also working for the Jewish underground, and living in then Aryan Warsaw beyond the ghetto walls. Anna passes information to the fighters, is part of a cell that operates in Aryan Warsaw, and she runs guns into the ghetto at the time of the “last great uprising.” The book, published in January, 2018, is available at Amazon and Smashwords.  The Desperate Days

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