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on January 20, 2013
Before the war the small town of Gdow, the nearest large community to my grandfather's farm, had a sizeable number of Jews living in it. My father used to talk about them; they ran some of the shops and inns, they traded with his parents, he went to school with them (they gave him their chicken sandwiches and he gave them his pork kielbasa ones). One of these Jews, a trader called Samuel, often came round to the farm and would chat with my grandparents. He would make complimentary comments about my grandmother's Bigos, hinting at being given a bowl. She would joke with him and warn him that the Rabbi would have something to say if he knew he was eating pork... and he would joke back. When the Germans came Samuel came to see my grandfather and asked him to help him. My grandfather said, "I can hide you for three days but no longer, if the Germans find out then they'll not only kill me but my wife and children as well." Samuel replied that he would not impose himself on his good friends but would find another way of surviving.
He didn't. He and all the Jews of Gdow; shopkeepers, innkeepers, tradesmen, schoolfriends, ended up in Belzec and were turned into ashes, bones and dust.
This book is about something that is almost taken for granted throughout. It is not really about the courage it took to survive in the sewers of Lvov because survival is not about courage, more about determination to live despite all the hazards. This book is about the courage of one man, Leopold Socha. To put your life in danger for others is a brave choice, but to put the lives of those you love at risk... that takes a kind of courage few people actually exhibit - yet so many in Poland did in that nightmare time. Socha may not have started with saintly aspirations but there can be no doubt that saint he became.
I was inspired to read "In the Sewers of Lvov" after watching Agnieszka Holland's "In Darkness" (it's the original book that the film is based on - "The Girl in the Green Sweater" is a more recent 'compilation' of reminiscences written partly by the small girl who survived). It's a very easy read and gives us a reasonable picture of what life was like for the individuals who hid in the sewers as well as in the ghetto and the concentration camp, Janowska, nearby. It's not intellectually demanding since, I believe, it was written for the general audience. I was quite surprised at how much the film reflects the book yet, whilst there is little new in the book (having seen the film), I still enjoyed it and still found it fascinating.
It's surprising how little of the dirt and smell, even danger, comes across. The small group of Jews helped by Socha had obviously grown so used to the horrible circumstances in which they found themselves. It's only really towards the end, when outsiders become involved, that that one becomes aware of the dirt and smell and conditions they had to endure. Most of the story, based on the written reminiscences of the leader of the group, Ignacy Chiger, and interviews with other survivors, deals with their day-to-day survival, the relationships within the group, the arguments. Whilst there are deaths they are largely almost incidental... this story is about life... and the courage of that one special man who found safe havens and brought them food, Socha.
The moment that really stands out for me is that one when the dirty, hunched, almost blind group finally come to the surface. People stand around amazed, stunned. The little boy is frightened and wants to go back down. Socha stands there proudly. "This is my work," he says, "These are my Jews." How many of us can ever hope to have that courage and that pride?
And the final chapter, the one dealing with the aftermath is new stuff to those who have seen the film, apart, that is, from that final tragedy and those disgraceful words...
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on April 2, 2000
This book is a powerful and moving testimony to both the goodness and evilness found in mankind. Marshall has written a book that is profound, while at the same time simple. I found myself wanting to know these people who had survived such an inhumane ordeal. When I come to the end of a book and find myself wishing it would go on and on, I know I have found a winner. In the Sewers of Lvov is that kind of book!
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on January 14, 2013
Having recently seen the movie "In Darkness" and noting that it was based on 2 books, I purchased both, namely "The Girl in the Green Sweater" and this book. Reading these books makes one realise how fortunate one was to be born at the end of 1945 and never to have experienced the horror and fear that these people experienced. These are stories that everyone needs to hear/read about as they not only tell of the people in the sewers spirit of survival and endurance but also the courage and risk that others took to help and save them.
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on November 13, 2007
Astonishing story of the lengths to which people were forced to go in order to survive the holocaust. A hopeful story of the unexpected kindness of one man who by society's estimation was a criminal. This story of the sewers is a rather obscure piece but it is a vital addition to any Holocaust library.
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on November 23, 2013
My daughter read extensively about the Holocaust. I purchased this book at a GARAGE SALE because of her interest. She read it and it became the book that undoubtedly moved her in a way that no other holocaust had done before. She asked me to read it. It is the one and only book that I will NEVER forget. A story of courage, victims, and some survivors, that to this day, is the truest testimony of the power of determination. I read this book 15 years ago, and I have been so moved by it, coming across it while cleaning out some stuff, that I am still moved to right a review. It is a book that WILL NOT disappoint.
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on August 22, 2003
An incredible, true story of Jews who lived for over a year in the sewers of Lvov in order to survive from the Nazis. The story tells how they all escaped the Nazis and deals with their fears, hardships, philosophies while in hiding. Socha, the hero sewer worker who risked his life to save them was genuinely a righteous gentile.
A great book, well-writen, a must for all interested in Holocaust survivor stories.
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on April 16, 2015
Very much enjoyed this book. It is well researched, drawing from interviews of several of the survivors. It is the story of a small group of people who managed to survive the liquidation of the Lvov ghetto by hiding in the sewers for 18 months. Aided by a polish sewer worker and true hero, Leopoldo Socha, the book deals with the delicate balance of mans worst and best inpmpulses. While the accounts of the survivors, did not always agree when interviewed years later, the author takes great pains to arrive at an ultimate truth. It is the story of courage in the face of horrific circumstances and is deeply moving. I have read a great deal about the camps, but did not know as much about the ghettos and the actions the Nazis took there. I had heard and been taught mostly about Warsaw, but knew nothing about Lvov. This is an important bit of history, and shouldn't be missed by anyone who has an interest in the Holocaust. There was a movie made, in Polish called "In Darkness" which I had heard of, but wanted to read the book first, so that I could get a move accurate accounting. The movie actually honored the truth of the book to a surprising degree and is well worth seeing. There is also another book called The Girl In the Green Sweater by the young girl who survived the atrocities in this story. At some point, I intend to read this as well, as I think the the first person perspective of a child in such extreme circumstances would make for a very interesting read. In fact this was probably one of the most haunting aspects of this book. As the mother myself, imagining young children in these circumstances was almost impossible for me to conceive. Their courage, luck and ultimate survival is amazingly inspirational in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. So has humanity is equally inspiring. It's ironic that a story so horrific can leave one uplifted, but this one did just that for me.
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on October 20, 2013
This a fascinating story of the ends that ordinary people will go to in order to survive their the Nazi's aim of there destruction. I don't think it is possible to understand how human beings can survive under the circumstances that the subjects of this true-life story. It also shows that there were indeed righteous people among the non-Jewish Poles who willingly risked their lives to save Jewish strangers. The book is suspenseful and fast paced.
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on July 21, 2013
A wonderful story of courage written from diaries and stories of survivors passed down through families. At times the story was hard to follow, and due to the large cast of characters it was easy for one to lose track of who was who. However, it is a little known true story of a group of people who survived because of the courage of others to risk their life for them.
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on July 25, 2012
This book takes your breath away. The strength of the human spirit when faced with sheer torture and death. I was unable to put this book down. An eye opener reassuring us that the ability to survive when forced to run and hide from the evilness of others can be achieved. Bless these people...and the courage with which they dealt with hell.
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