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The Avengers: A Jewish War Story [Kindle Edition]

Rich Cohen
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

In 1944, a band of Jewish guerrillas emerged from the Baltic forest to join the Russian army in its attack on Vilna, the capital of Lithuania. The band, called the Avengers, was led by Abba Kovner, a charismatic young poet. In the ghetto, Abba had built bombs, sneaking out through the city's sewer tunnels to sabotage German outposts. Abba's chief lieutenants were two teenage girls, Vitka Kempner and Ruzka Korczak. At seventeen, Vitka and Ruzka were perhaps the most daring partisans in the East, the first to blow up a Nazi train in occupied Europe. Each night, the girls shared a bed with Abba, raising gossip in the ghetto. But what they found was more than temporary solace. It was a great love affair. After the liquidation of the ghetto, the Avengers escaped through the city's sewage tunnels to the forest, where they lived for more than a year in a dugout beside a swamp, fighting alongside other partisan groups, and ultimately bombing the city they loved, destroying Vilna's waterworks and its powerplant in order to pave the way for its liberation.

Leaving a devastated Poland behind them, they set off for the cities of Europe: Vitka and Abba to the West, where they would be instrumental in orchestrating the massive Jewish exodus to the biblical homeland, and Ruzka to Palestine, where she would be literally the first person to bring a first hand account of the Holocaust to Jewish leaders. It was in these last terrifying days--with travel in Europe still unsafe for Jews and the extent of the Holocaust still not widely known--that the Avengers hatched their plan for revenge. Before it was over, the group would have smuggled enough poison into Nuremberg to kill ten thousand Nazis. The Avengers is the story of what happened to these rebels in the ghetto and in the forest, and how, fighting for the State of Israel, they moved beyond the violence of the Holocaust and made new lives.

From Rich Cohen, one of the preeminent journalists of his generation and author of the highly praised Tough Jews, a powerful exploration of vindication and revenge, of dignity and rebellion, painstakingly recreated through his exclusive access to the Avengers themselves. Written with insight, sensitivity, and the moral force of one of the last great struggles of the Second World War, here is an unforgettable story for our time.

Editorial Reviews Review

Rich Cohen, author of Tough Jews, has written what he calls "a Holocaust story without a concentration camp" about Jewish resistance fighters during World War II. The Avengers: A Jewish War Story describes how three young Jews--Cohen's cousin Ruzka Korczak, her friend Abba Kovner, and Kovner's future wife Vitka Klemperer--created an armed, underground movement behind the German lines in Poland with the goal of sabotaging the Nazis and helping the Russians advance. Cohen reports that Kovner described the group's dilemma this way: "If we act cowardly, we die; if we act courageously, we die. So we might as well act courageously." The group's fighting outlasted the war to exact revenge on the Nazis held in Nuremberg and finally to fight for Israel in the 1948 War for Independence. Researching The Avengers, Cohen spent time with the surviving resistance fighters in Israel and in Eastern Europe. The result is a deeply personal and impassioned defense of a movement that some readers will view with pride and others will condemn as vigilantism. This book, like Tough Jews, is a lively, intelligent, and heartfelt work of Jewish history. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

As a child visiting an Israeli kibbutz on a family vacation, Cohen met a relative who had survived the Holocaust and emigrated to Israel. Slight and gray-haired, Ruzka looked a lot like Cohen's grandmother, but her stories introduced him to a little-known, remarkable group of Jews: the Avengers, who fought Nazis in the gloomy forests of Eastern Europe and later battled for Israel's independence. As Cohen notes, these "were the kind of people who inspired Joseph Goebbels to write in his diary, 'One sees what the Jews can do when they are armed.'" An ardent Zionist, Ruzka left her home in Poland in 1939, as German troops were occupying the country, and made her way to Vilna, Lithuania, where she hoped to find passage to Palestine. Arrested as an "illegal immigrant" upon her arrival, she was released through the efforts of a Zionist youth group who gave her shelter in their headquarters. There, Ruzka met Vitka Kempner, another young girl on her own, and Abba Kovner, a charismatic young man whose steadfast belief in resistance and canny strategies inspired the Avengers. In period-perfect detail, Cohen portrays scenes of ghetto life in Vilna, the efforts of a Jewish leader who thought he could help his people by collaborating with the Germans and, above all, the riveting story of the Avengers' escape from the ghetto, their acceptance of a renegade German officer who hated his army and their eventual emigration to Palestine. Cohen (Tough Jews: Father, Sons and Gangster Dreams) delivers a compelling story that not only amplifies the accepted version of Jewish experience in the Second World War, but also provides a terrific narrative of courage and tenacity. Photographs. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1977 KB
  • Print Length: 274 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0375405461
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (October 2, 2013)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00F8FA2AA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,874 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Out of the ashes January 7, 2002
I was drawn to this book by the story of Abba Kovner--a Vilna native, a partisan and a poet. Although Cohen's writing is fine, it offers little poetic value. But like other readers, I could not put the book down.

This novel-like non-fiction offers many layers. The book opens with the author's discovery of his family and roots in Israel. Cohen's grandmother--one of nine siblings in Plosk, Poland--immigrated to America in 1920. The family intended for everyone to follow, but like so many poor Eastern European Jews, ran out of money. No one else was able to leave.

Several years after World War II, Cohen's grandmother learned from a former Polish neighbor that nearly every Jew in Plosk had perished. But her eldest brother's daughter, Ruzka Korczak, had survived as a partisan in the forests near Vilna, fighting with Abba Kovner and Vitka Kempner. She was the only member of the family in Poland who survived.

The book swiftly transports readers to the Vilna ghetto and a tale of survival and great courage. Shortly after Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggression pact and German divisions flooded her area and town, Ruzka determined to move to Warsaw, where she hoped to meet the Zionist Youth Guard, HaShomer HaTza'ir. She planned to return to Plosk a few months later, when things calmed down. About 10 miles outside Warsaw, with the city in flames, she ran into a friend who told her HaShomir had moved to Vilna, in the Russian zone. She traveled three weeks to reach Bialystok and then crossed at night into Vilna, where shortly afterwards she met Vitka Kempner and Abba Kovner.

At that time, 200,000 people lived in Vilna, a third of them Jewish.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book about courage and resistance April 7, 2005
I have read many books about Jewish resistance during World War II and this one is among the best I have read. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down. The book covers the life of Abba Kovner, a Jewish resistance fighter from Vilna, through World War II and its aftermath. At the end of the war, Abba planned and executed acts of revenge against the Nazis. This is described in the book as well as Abba's participation in Israel's War of Independence. The book is well written and easy to read. It gives you two different pictures of Jewish suffering during the war. One picture is that of many of the Jews in the Vilna of fear and submission to the Nazi oppression. The other picture is that of Abba and his group of of resistance and hatred of the Nazi oppressors.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Testimony of Courage February 6, 2005
Rich Cohen has written an extraordinary tale of heroism and survival during the most horrendous and brutal moment in mankind's history. The tale of these three individuals, Abba Kovner, Ruzka Korczak and Vitka Kempner, shine through as living testimonies in the dark night of the Holocaust. You will not be able to put this book down as you race through the pages of "The Avengers." It is so well written and well documented that you wish you had 20 more books just like this one. It really is amazing how these individuals actually survived this horrible time, but they did in fact prevail and triumph against overwhelming odds. Perhaps the greatest challenge that these people faced in the end was not to end up like the monsters who had persecuted them. Rich Cohen has done an amazing and tremendous thing by writing this book, sharing with the world the incredible testimony of these three courageous individuals. After you finish reading this book, you will never think about the Holocaust in the same way.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! March 6, 2002
By Jay
This is an important story to tell. For all who continue to believe that the Jews didn't fight back during the Holocaust, I say, give them this book and tell them to read it to the end before commenting.
One interesting point that is also made is that there were so many who believed that if they allowed just one more indignity, their lives would be spared. But there was no bottom to that barrel, and they went from having some rights taken away, to living in a ghetto, to having to select people for transport, etc. Yes, there were many who didn't fight back, and this is, too, their story. How do people behave when civilization crumbles? In the clear lens of hindsight, we might all say, "Oh, I would fight back. I would run. I would hide. I wouldn't let them get me." But if you were there, perhaps you would be one of those who thought - just one more indignity will satisfy our tormentors. The book does not demonize those people, for they, too, are a part of what happened.
A truly powerful work. I look forward to other works by this author.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kids who raged, "We won't go like humble lambs!" February 7, 2003
I'm a slower reader. I get bored by a lot of books but this was impossible to put down. Rich Cohen covers the pivotal story of young people confronted with outrageous injustice. While others were trying to placate the Nazis & the local Gentiles these teenagers said: NO--!

The writing is very good with a combination of novelistic and journalistic styles.

I feel very enriched by having read it and recommend the book 100%.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing November 9, 2000
Format:Audio Cassette
Rich Cohen's book The Avengers truly amazed me. Prior to hearing him speak and reading his book, I had only heard one story of Jewish Life in Europe during the second world war. To hear this other story, the story of Jews who refused to go like sheep to the slaughter, the story of Jews who fought, gives new perspective, and a new understanding of the people that lived in those times.
Rich Cohen's book reads far more like a novel than like a historical text, and at times, I found that aggravating. I wanted more details, and fewer assumptions. But, for what this book is, it is trully amazing. I only hope someone will read this book and decide to do the historical research before it is far too late.
I highly recommend this book. It made me question what I am doing with my life.
"If you have not found something you are willing to die for, you have no reason to live."
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars He reads like a fifth grader
I've chosen to listen to the audio book version- what a mistake. Larry King should stick to hosting his interviews. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Gary Gilbert
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
highly recommend this bookseller
Published 25 days ago by Ron L. Block
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by Cofbus
4.0 out of 5 stars A different perspective
I read a number of books, seen numerous movies and documentaries concerning World War II. This is the first book I read from the Jewish perspective, more importantly it focused on... Read more
Published 2 months ago by William E Lambert
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Adequate read, informative but style could have been improved
Published 2 months ago by Bob Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
Very interesting. A good read
Published 4 months ago by R
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Another great holocaust book.
Published 5 months ago by mtkk
5.0 out of 5 stars The Abridged Cassette Version is Amazingly Good.
The Abridged Cassette Version is Amazingly Good. Everything about it...the reading, the writing, the story... Just a great experience. Thank you to all involved. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Anonymous
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great story; well told.
Published 5 months ago by Stephen Gary Katz
5.0 out of 5 stars Made me wish I had known them
I didn't want this book to end. The author made you feel like you were there. Couldn't put it down.
Published 6 months ago by dain cantola
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