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Five Years In The Warsaw Ghetto by B.Goldstein


This book, rescued from obscurity by the Nabat division of AK Press, is most worthy of attention and reading. It relates the true story of Goldstein, a dedicated Socialist revolutionist and founding member of the Jewish Bund and his perilous existance in pre-war and wartime Poland including life in the hellish Warsaw Ghetto and the struggle of the occupants to survive.

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Born in a small town outside of Warsaw in 1889, Bernard Goldstein joined the Jewish labor organization, the Bund, at the age of 16 and dedicated his life to organizing workers and resisting tyranny. Goldstein spent time in prisons from Warsaw to Siberia, took part in the Russian Revolution, and was a respected organizer within the vibrant labor movement in independent Poland. In 1939, with the Nazi invasion of Poland and establishment of the Jewish Ghetto, Goldstein and the Bund went underground—organizing housing, food, and clothing within the ghetto; communicating with the West for support; and developing a secret armed force. Smuggled out of the ghetto just before the Jewish militia’s heroic last stand, Goldstein assisted in procuring guns to aid those within the ghetto’s walls and aided in the fight to free Warsaw. After the liberation of Poland, Goldstein emigrated to America, where he penned this account of his five and a half years within the Warsaw ghetto and his brave comrades who resisted to the end. His surprisingly modest and frank depiction of a community under siege at a time when the world chose not to intervene is enlightening, devastating, and ultimately inspiring.
“His active leadership before the war and his position in the Jewish underground during it qualify him as the chronicler of the last hours of Warsaw’s Jews. Out of the tortured memories of those five and a half years, he has brought forth the picture with all its shadings—the good with the bad, the cowardly with the heroic, the disgraceful with the glorious. This is the valedictory, his final service to the Jews of Warsaw.” —Leonard Shatzkin, translator and editor


It took me a few days to write this review after I finished “Five Years In The Warsaw Ghetto” by Bernard Goldstein. In a day where there’s much wrong with our world, you can’t help but be depressed when reading of people in the past that’s ideals were utterly crushed by the might of state power. Goldstein was a Jewish socialist organizer in the trade unions of Warsaw, and lost his entire community to the Nazi plan of aus rotten of the Polish Jews. Its story, a re-release of a memoir put out in the 1950s when the Holocaust was fresh in the world’s mind, leaves you with three things. 

First, it is a tragedy, one of where Bernard Goldstein spent his entire life fighting for justice, as a socialist activist and organizer amongst Polish workers and Jews; he actively fought fascism from rising in Poland, but was nearly powerless to stop as the tanks rolled into Warsaw. Throughout the five years, he watched as half a million Jews were reduced to a little more than 70,000, and as his beloved Warsaw was utterly destroyed by the Nazis, and than the Socialist resister survivors were rounded up and either imprisoned or executed by the Soviets. 

Second, it is a story of hope. Throughout the entire occupation, Goldstein never rested nor never gave up; reminding the reader of the old phrase “Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” When the Nazis set up the Ghetto, he urged, from the underground press, to resist it and not to trust the Jewish collaborators whom the Gestapo put into power to rule over the ghetto. When deportations started, his organization tried to manufacture fake documents to as many people as possible marked for liquidation as good workers. When it became clear the Nazis were planning to kill everyone, Goldstein helped organize the uprising which nearly succeeded in defeating the Nazis except for a dearth of supplies. Escaping the Ghetto, Goldstein joins the Polish resistance which stages a second city-wide uprising two years later, which only failed because the approaching Soviet army refused to help it, since Stalin wanted no rivals in his puppet government. 

Third, it is a story of courage to fight for what is right. Throughout the story, Goldstein remains resolute that the Nazis would be defeated eventually, and used all of his cunning, strength, and organizing skill to achieve it. People who compromised themselves in order to survive in this story usually did not, such as Jewish Gestapo agents, who became such to protect themselves from death camps, but instead were assassinated by vengeful Jews when the uprisings erupted. Goldstein, the biggest rebel of them all, survives the holocaust of his people and his city, though he has to flee when the Soviets begin arresting the radicals of the nation. 

Goldstein’s message should be for us today, in these difficult times, to never give up, and never stand down, no matter how mighty your foes are nor how much the odds are stacked against you and what you hold dear. Nothing, not the state, nor the worst of tyrants and human hatred, can crush the thoughts and hope for a better world. If Goldstein can survive it, so can we.

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