The Light of Days | Judy Batalion

Summary of: The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos
By: Judy Batalion

Introduction

Step into the heart-wrenching yet inspiring world of ‘The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos’ by Judy Batalion. This book unveils the extraordinary efforts of Polish-Jewish women who fought against the Nazi regime. Delve into thought-provoking stories of young girls forging a rebellion as they combat the darkness of the Holocaust with courage and bravery. Discover how organizations like The Young Guard and Freedom nurtured resilience in Jewish youth and provided a network for vital connections. Witness the harrowing tales of survival, grit, and unyielding determination to fight a battle against all odds.

The Jewish Youth Movement in 1930s Poland

Renia Kukielka, a 14-year-old Jewish girl in Poland, aspired to join the Freedom youth organization her older sisters belonged to. Youth groups helped instill a sense of belonging and self-esteem in Jewish children growing up in a time of growing anti-Semitism and instability in Europe. Youth movements such as The Young Guard and Freedom, affiliated with Poland’s Labor Zionist party, published their own newspapers that helped keep people connected. Renia’s sister Sarah was a devout Labor Zionist and traveled the country fighting for social equality and organizing camps for kids. These youth organizations had no way of knowing the skills and connections they developed would be put to a different use in the years ahead.

A Family’s Struggle During World War II

In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and Renia’s family was forced to flee to Chmielnik. The town was already decimated by air raids, and despite having relatives there, it was clear they were still in harm’s way. The Kukielkas took shelter in an attic, witnessed a single Jewish boy’s bravery, and survived the initial invasion. They soon found themselves in the Jędrzejów ghetto with many other Jewish families. Leaders like Zivia Lubetkin and Frumka Plotnicka returned to Poland to help support the Jewish population and set up classrooms for kids. Despite the postal system still working and walls not yet being built, no one could predict the horrors that were to come.

Resistance and Survival in the Ghettos

In the ghettos, survival seemed impossible with constant rule changes, walls, and restrictions. The Judenrat, meant to represent Jews’ interests, was powerless against the Nazis, requiring passes to leave. Women were often safer during illegal travel since they could pass as Aryan, with some men even getting circumcisions reversed. Women had advantages of better education, carrying bags without suspicion, and disarming Gestapo officers. The kashariyot or primary couriers for the underground Jewish resistance were mostly women, organizing groups and establishing networks. The Freedom movement strengthened their network and established groups of fives throughout Poland. Renia’s sister was at a kibbutz when the invasion began, and Renia would set out, hoping to reunite with her sister using her instincts and looks.

Renia’s Escape

Renia, a Jewish girl from Wodzisław, Poland, during World War II, escapes the ghetto where her family is suffering from typhus and terror. She leaves behind her parents to find work and survive after the Nazis come with a long list of names of people to take away. Renia disguises herself as a Polish peasant girl and goes to a Jewish labor camp, where she is told she has to run because her name is on the list. She runs into the forest with a friend, but he is shot, so she continues to run and finally finds a village with a train station. On the way, she finds a woman’s purse with a passport and money that will help her along her journey.

A Sister’s Escape

After obtaining a fake identity and leaving her hometown, Renia finds herself on a train where she is recognized as a Jew. She jumps off the train and eventually lands a job as a housekeeper for a half-German family. This job allows her to write to her sister Sarah who is alive and together they plan to reunite. However, Renia receives the last letter from her parents who were saying their goodbyes as they were living in squalor, hiding with other desperate people. This was the moment when Renia’s heart turned to stone and the fire of resistance began to burn inside her.

The Rise of Resistance

Renia’s arrival in Będzin marked the growth of the spirit of resistance against the Nazi occupation. After the first Aktion in the Warsaw ghetto, the Jewish youth organizations decided to fight back, and the ZOB militia was born. Smuggling guns and hand grenades to the ghetto became a priority and was later done by fearless kashariyot like Tosia Altman and Frumka Plotnicka. While debates about launching a large-scale attack or suicide missions raged on, the Aktions kept coming. Hela Schüpper smuggled in weapons, and members began leaving the ghetto to target and kill Nazi officers in town. Collaboration between the ZOB and the Polish Communist Party led to a successful “Christmas surprise” in December 1942.

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