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Smuggler, fighter, courier, spy: How Jewish women defied the Nazis in Poland

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In 2007, author Judy Batalion happened upon a book housed at London’s British Library titled, “Freuen in di Ghettos.” Published in 1946 in New York, it was a collection (in Yiddish) of accounts of young Jewish women who had defied the Nazis through various acts of resistance.

Some were leaders of armed underground cells in the ghettos or fought with partisan groups. Others were couriers who smuggled weapons, information, and false identification documents between ghettos. Others who worked in Nazi offices stole intelligence right out from under their noses. And there were some who assassinated Nazi officials by boldly shooting them point-blank.

Batalion was previously familiar only with the famous Hannah Senesh, whom she had learned about at her Montreal Jewish day school. Senesh was a young Hungarian woman who immigrated to Palestine in 1939 but returned to Europe to fight for the Allies and was captured, tortured and executed.

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“Freuen” introduced Batalion to many other Jewish women who, by choice or circumstance, found themselves involved in espionage or physical resistance against the Nazis. ‘The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos’ by Judy Batalion (William Morrow)

“I’d expected to find a dull, hagiographic mourning and vague, Talmudic discussions of female strength and valor. But instead — women, sabotage, rifles, disguise, dynamite. I’d discovered a thriller. Could this be true? I was stunned,” Batalion wrote in the introduction to her new book, “The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos.” It, as well as a young readers’ edition for ages 10-12, will be published April 6.

Batalion, 43, got a grant to translate “Freuen.” She knew Yiddish, but there was more to it.

“I thought it would take six months, but it took years. It was a very complicated translation. It involved my doing research as I translated, because there was no context in this book whatsoever. I had to look up places, events, names, and so on,” Batalion told The Times of Israel in an interview from her home in New York.

The stories of these women “seeped into my blood over a long period of time,” the author said. Judy Batalion (Beowulf Sheehan)

She was fascinated by these women, whose lives and impulses were so different from her own. But she was reluctant to dive into further research, partially because of her family’s own painful Holocaust legacy.

By 2017, the pull of these women’s heroics was too strong for Batalion to resist. Using memoirs, biographies, testimonies, interviews, archival documents, and scholarly books and articles discovered........

© The Times of Israel

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