The 29 never-before-published diaries, letters and personal accounts in the late historian Grynberg's vital collection offer a devastating portrait of life in the Warsaw Ghetto between 1940 and 1943. Less than 1% of the almost 500,000 Jews confined there survived the disease, malnutrition and deportation to concentration camps; a handful of the contributors escaped the ghetto by navigating the sewer system to the "Aryan" side of Warsaw. Historian Emanuel Ringelblum's noted journals provided an exhaustive, firsthand record of the Warsaw Ghetto, but these skillfully translated records by shopkeepers and doctors, dentists and schoolgirls are more powerful. Ghetto residents write of needing to get permission to bake matzoh, longing for the patter of autumn rain or hiding in a room with 200 stifling, hot, dirty, stinking people; two cases of full-blown tuberculosis; one of measles. Several of the diarists are members of the Jewish police, who express the agony of trying to provide for their families while collaborating with the enemy. The diversity of the contributors' cultural and economic backgrounds adds to the mural of a variegated Jewish Warsaw during Nazi occupation; mostly translated from Polish, the different voices include assimilationists, traditionalists, communists, socialists and Zionists. Some are despairing; others, like the brilliant Helena Midler, whose parodic Bunker Weekly stuck out its tongue at hardship, find ways to laugh. Many of the accounts note the meticulous planning behind the Nazis' dizzying regulations, and the editor adds relevant data, including maps and detailed rosters of laborers. If one can read only one book on the Warsaw Ghetto, this is it.
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This powerful testament of witnesses to the Warsaw Ghetto is a small piece of the late editor's lifework of preserving the record of German atrocities. At the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Grynberg gathered and organized thousands of personal accounts. These writings from 29 people must have had the most visceral impact because the majority of these descriptions were made contemporaneously, not after the war. This first appearance in English requires their placement in every Holocaust library. Editorially, they are split up among the milestones of the ghetto, from its establishment in 1940 to the deportations of 1942 to the uprising of 1943 to the liberation of 1945. These descriptions are almost unbearable to read; infused as they are with scenes of unspeakable depravity, they nevertheless exhibit a sense of heroism, of the chroniclers' determination that memory of the enormity enveloping them might not vanish with their own deaths. Many of the 29 in fact did not survive, but their words are indelible. Gilbert Taylor
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