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Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945 Hardcover – March 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (March 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300095465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300095463
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,295,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This amazing and moving study sheds new light on details of the Holocaust that have up until now not been examined. Under the German occupation, "ninety-eight percent of the Jewish population of Warsaw"-480,000 Jews-perished in WWII. But while the conditions of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto and its insurrection have been detailed numerous times, this study focuses on a new area of scholarship: Jews who evaded detection or fled the ghetto. Using diaries, witness testimony, and quantitative analysis (in which he tries to ascertain the precise numbers of people in the various groups he is writing about) Paulson draws a vibrant portrait of the complexity of Warsaw life, and especially of what he calls the "secret city," a collection of 28,000 Jews not confined to the ghetto, "together with the many non-Jews who helped hide them, and the criminal element that ceaselessly hunted them." Detailing a wealth of incident-from Jews involved in complex networks of survival to those who passed for non-Jewish but were sent to work camps for being Polish-the author argues that both Jewish and non-Jewish life in Warsaw was far more complicated than has been thought. Paulson, a fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, explains that this material was not examined earlier because of a "stigma attached to flight" and a valorization of resistance, such as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. While this is more a scholarly than popular account, it is an important and fascinating analysis that calls for serious thought and reevaluation of Holocaust studies. 16 illus.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


a compelling portrait of Jews in hiding ... bestowing dignity on this specific response to Nazi persecution. -- Gabriel Finder, East European Politics and Societies, May 2004

a model of clarity for the handling of so intricate a topic -- Guillaume de Syon, History Teacher, November 2004

a model of studying the relatively neglected topic of evasion during the Holocaust ... a passionate call for historical engagement -- Tim Cole, IHR Online Reviews, April 2004

diversified sources and convincing methods ... quite novel approach ... a most significant addition to the immense Holocaust literature. -- Shimon Redlich, American Historical Review, April 2004

impresses with its careful scholarship and restrained presentation of [some] controversial ... propositions ...[tells] a very moving and important story -- Anita Shelton, History: Review of New Books, 9/22/2003

More About the Author

Steve (Gunnar S. Paulsson) was educated in England and Canada. After graduating in Psychology, he worked for 23 years in the computer industry before returning to academia in 1989. He earned an M.A. in Modern History from the University of Toronto in 1992 and a D.Phil. from Oxford in 1998. While still a doctoral student, he taught for four years and served as the director of the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust Studies at the University of Leicester, then as the senior historian of the Holocaust Exhibition project at the Imperial War Museum, London. He subsequently held a research fellowship at the U.S. Holocaust Museum and has taught at the University of Toronto and at Viadrina University in Germany.

Steve's doctoral dissertation won the 1998 Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History, for an outstanding unpublished manuscript in 20th-century history. Reworked and published in 2003 as Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, it went on to win the 2004 biennial Polish Studies Association Prize for "the best first book in English on any aspect of Polish affairs". The Polish edition, Utajone miasto, was published in 2008 and in 2009 won the inaugural Kazimierz Moczarski Prize for "the best historical book published in Poland in the past year".

Steve has also published numerous articles, two of which have been reprinted in an anthology of "the most significant articles on the Holocaust of the past 60 years". Several have been published in books of eeays, among them the collection "Contested Memories".

Steve's son, Erik Paulsson, is a filmmaker who was co-producer of Eve and the Firehorse, which won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Festival in 2006.

Steve's connection with the Polish and Jewish worlds is through his mother, Alicja Pelcer. a Jewish woman from Warsaw who survived Auschwitz and was rescued by the Swedish Red Cross. Steve was born in Sweden in 1946. He is thus truly a "child of the Holocaust".

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Z. Neumark on March 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This well-researched, well-documented and well-written book is a masterpiece. It is also unique in the way it deals with the subject of escape in Nazi-occupied Poland. The author desribes in great detail the life and experiences of those who chose evasion - hiding under false identities - as a response to the Holocaust. He also presents accurately and with an amazing perceptivity the relationships between the Jews in hiding and the Poles who hid them. As one who survived on the Aryan side of Warsaw, Paulsson's writings resonate with my own experiences. A terrific book!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Grace on February 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Paulsson has made an important contribution to the field of Holocaust study with this book. It is extremely well-written, making the rather complicated topic accessible to a lay audience. There is also a good deal of technical information, which will satisfy academics in its intellectual rigor. This book is unusual - it probes many of the field's accepted dogmas, and some of its conclusions are extremely original. I would recommend this book to any researcher in the area, under- or post-graduate student of history, or even any member of the public who has an interest in the area.
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Jan Peczkis on April 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Paulsson mixes highly original and very unoriginal thinking. He uses quantitative approaches, backed by simple statistics, in order to avoid the selective quoting of anecdotes to support predetermined conclusions. He also factors what he calls "the dog did not bark" situations (where only atypical events were recorded).
Further development needs to be made of the theme, based on quotes from Germans (p. 240) that German hatred of Poles was natural, whereas German hatred for Jews was "according to orders". If accurate, it undercuts the special victim status that many Jews claim relative to Poles, as it underlines the eventual genocidal intentions that Germans had for Poles. Parenthetically, the sentiments are probably mutual, which helps explain why Jewish hostility towards Poles appears, to this day, to be much more common and intense than Jewish hostility towards Germans.
The belittling of Polish aid to Jews, typical of Holocaust materials and discussions, evaporates in the face of Paulsson's analysis, which indicates an unexpectedly high 7%-9% Polish participation rate in the substantial aid to Jews. Pointedly, this figure would be even higher had 1) More Jews fled the ghetto (p. 35, 248), 2) There been no death penalty for aiding Jews, and 3) The privations of Aryan Warsaw had not been so severe (p. 248). Oft-repeated insinuations that Polish indifference and/or betrayals (see below) had been THE limiting factors of Jewish survival are clearly incorrect and inflammatory, and must be withdrawn.
We keep hearing of fugitive Jews as having almost zero chance of survival owing to numerous fanatically anti-Semitic Poles determined that not a single Jew escape the Holocaust. By contrast, Paulsson estimates that 6 in 7 fugitive Warsaw Jews were NOT betrayed.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Danusha V. Goska on July 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Secret City" is one of the best books I've ever read. "Secret City" could captivate not just historians, but any intelligent reader. Paulsson is not just a powerful, innovative, courageous scholar, but also a gifted writer. His style - fast-paced, spare, sprinkled with subdued, wry comments - is reminiscent of film noir.

"Secret City" tells the stories of Jews who escaped from the Nazis and lived outside the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Poles who aided them. Accounts of human endurance and skill, virtue and surrender to the demonic in one of history's worst manmade hells, are the core of the book. Endurance is a universal theme; as such, this book deserves a much wider audience than Holocaust scholars. Gambling for one's own life is a gripping motif. Some Jews, without allies, approached complete strangers and received aid and shelter. Others met horrific deaths. No sign separated Poles who would act as saints or demons. The façade of an aristocrat or a peasant, a student or a priest, even one's fellow Jew, might hide salvation or denunciation. The reader puzzles over what makes one man good, and another evil. In cases like that of Borys Pilnik (150-51), I'll be wondering how one man could save some Jews, and profit financially from the ruin of others.

Merely by taking up the topic of escape, Paulsson risks censure. He cites two superstar Holocaust scholars: Hilberg, associated with an assessment of Jewish response as "passive," and Arendt, associated with an assessment of Jewish response as "compliant" (7-8). Paulsson innovates in emphasizing "evasion." Asking, as Paulsson does, why relatively few Jews escaped leads to several problems.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By The reader on March 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Steve Paulsson detached himself from biases, preconceived ideas and any political expediency and performed commendably objective scientific research of a very difficult subject.

Many readers may find his conclusions surprising or at least unexpected. But I find his logical approach based on solid data very convincing. A lot has been written about the heroic efforts of many Poles helping the Jews, and on the other end of the spectrum criminal elements killing or denouncing the Jews hiding from the Nazis. Secret City in a very logical way demonstrates that the vast majority of the Polish population of Warsaw, even if generally negatively biased towards the Jews actually did nothing to deliberately harm them.

The conclusions of the book are based on rigorous statistical analysis of the available documents and data.
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