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A Partisan from Vilna (Jews of Poland) Paperback – April 1, 2010
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“One of the last surviving partisans of Vilna, Rachel Margolis has written a vivid and compelling account of the murder of Lithuania’s Jews, and of the battle for survival and dignity amongst those who escaped. It is also a testament to those who in the midst of degradation and destruction continued to embrace the best ideals of humanity even as they determined to resist and fight back against the Nazis and their local collaborators. And, at the same time it is an intimate portrait of a creative and vibrant community, the Jews of Vilna, as well as a deeply personal account of growth and maturity in the midst of that turbulent and tragic period.
This book serves as a stark reminder to those who would deny or trivialize the reality of the Holocaust in Lithuania and reminds us once again of the human dimension of that genocide. The questions that it raises about resistance and complicity, collaboration and betrayal, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, are questions that resonate even today. It is only by facing the past and that we can hope to build a better future. Rachel Margolis, through this memoir, as well as her other activities in Vilna, has helped set us on that path. We are all in her debt for doing so, and can only hope for the widest possible impact of this evocative, authentic and powerful memoir.” (Mark Weitzman, Director of Government Affairs, Simon Wiesenthal Center)
"Rachel Margolis’ A Partisan from Vilna is an important memoir. Like many survivor memoirs, there are three major sections: Before, During and After. But unlike most memoirs Margolis expends considerable time and energy depicting her youth in Vilna as the daughter of a prominent physician. She also describes vividly the transition in Vilna from independent rule to Soviet rule and then the German invasion and its aftermath; mass murder followed by ghettoization. As a Partisan fighter she offers important information on the struggle within the ghetto between resistance forces and the general population. She engages the all important issue surrounding the decision by the resistance leader Wittenberg to give himself up and thus save – at least for a time – the ghetto from German retribution, and finally she takes us through the great debate in Vilna between those wanting to wage battle within the ghetto and those who felt that the only meaningful way to fight was to go to the woods. Throughout, she also shares with the reader the personal story of her own life; her relationship with her parents; her intellectual maturation and independence, her separation from her parents and their deaths, and her finding love in the midst of catastrophe. As if these issues were not sufficient to give the memoir significant importance, Margolis portrays with candor and considerable insight the tensions between Jewish Partisans and Soviet fighters, between Polish and Lithuanian forces and also the peasant population surrounding the woods. She does not portray herself as a hero but in the ordinariness of everyday life under the most extraordinary of conditions. The result is a compelling, powerful and poignant memoir that takes us inside the ghettos and the bunkers, inside the woods and the dugouts, into the battles and the struggles for survival that shaped her young life." (Michael Berenbaum, Director, Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical And Religious Implications of the Holocaust, Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University)
"This English translation of the memoir of Rachel Margolis, a Lithuanian Jew who survived the Vilna ghetto to become a freedom fighter, is introduced with a brief history of Jewish life in Vilna, one of the oldest centers in the Baltic for Jewish scholarship. It ends with an epilogue written by her cousin Marjorie that gives a chilling picture of the amount of anti-Semitism that still exists in Lithuania. The memoir itself is a series of vignettes. Her life before the war takes up more than half the book and is filled with family tales, school friends and her anger at her father's many affairs. Margolis does not make the dead into saints. The last third of the book relates her experiences in the war as it slowly becomes clear that Jews are not simply to be persecuted, but exterminated. She does not romanticize partisan life, either. They endured cold, disease, poor food, personal antagonisms and betrayal. While the writing style is somewhat clumsy, the force of the story carries the reader through." ((Annotation ©2010 Book News Inc. Portland, OR))
"Lithuanian war hero Rachel Margolis is one of the most courageous women in her country's history." (Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown The Independent)
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That's when Rachel's writing shifted into high gear! Father, a physician, wisely had kept gold pieces around for a rainy day, and he spent a great deal of it paying gentiles to take in his daughter. Thousand of Jews were being rounded up and murdered by the SS under orders to kill all Jews (the fact unknown at the time). No one really believed they'd be next. But Father knew he had to save his daughter. Rachel could have had it easy, but her good upbringing wouldn't let her sit around, so she helped with food preparation and laundry besides keeping up with her studies. After several such moves to different families who were willing to risk sheltering her, Rachel had had enough: she wanted to be with her family in the ghetto. Amazing.
There she met the man she fell in love with, made friends. She write about the arguments for and against staying in the ghetto to fight from within, or, try to escape and flee to the forest where everyone knew partisan groups lived and made havoc for the Nazi invaders.
Their escape from the ghetto is a story worthy of any adventure film. And life in the forest was the farthest thing in the world for the young, spoiled Jewish girl from Vilna. Her growth as a person, her tenacity, bravery, is quite remarkable.Read more ›
Polonsky discusses the 1944 massacre of Poles in the village of Koniuchy [Kaniukai], by Soviet-Jewish bands. (pp. 41-42). He tries to downplay the number of Jewish participants as "under a hundred" in comparison with 400 Russians. He also repeats the falsehood about Koniuchy being a center of collaborationist police and of resistance to partisans (p. 42, 49), but correctly concludes that: "As so often happen in such incidents, there were also many innocent victims". (p. 42).
The Introduction has an interesting account of Yitzhak Arad, the former head of Yad Vashem, and onetime Jewish partisan and NKVD member. He faced investigation for possible war crimes--until external pressure stopped the investigation. (pp. 49-50; see also p. 514).Read more ›