The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler's Ghettos - book cover
Leaders & Notable People
  • Publisher : William Morrow
  • Published : 06 Apr 2021
  • Pages : 576
  • ISBN-10 : 0062874217
  • ISBN-13 : 9780062874214
  • Language : English

The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler's Ghettos


Also on the USA Today, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Globe and Mail, Publishers Weekly, and Indie bestseller lists.

One of the most important stories of World War II, already optioned by Steven Spielberg for a major motion picture: a spectacular, searing history that brings to light the extraordinary accomplishments of brave Jewish women who became resistance fighters-a group of unknown heroes whose exploits have never been chronicled in full, until now.

Witnesses to the brutal murder of their families and neighbors and the violent destruction of their communities, a cadre of Jewish women in Poland-some still in their teens-helped transform the Jewish youth groups into resistance cells to fight the Nazis. With courage, guile, and nerves of steel, these "ghetto girls" paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in loaves of bread and jars of marmalade, and helped build systems of underground bunkers. They flirted with German soldiers, bribed them with wine, whiskey, and home cooking, used their Aryan looks to seduce them, and shot and killed them. They bombed German train lines and blew up a town's water supply. They also nursed the sick, taught children, and hid families.

Yet the exploits of these courageous resistance fighters have remained virtually unknown.

As propulsive and thrilling as Hidden Figures, In the Garden of Beasts, and Band of Brothers, The Light of Days at last tells the true story of these incredible women whose courageous yet little-known feats have been eclipsed by time. Judy Batalion-the granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors-takes us back to 1939 and introduces us to Renia Kukielka, a weapons smuggler and messenger who risked death traveling across occupied Poland on foot and by train. Joining Renia are other women who served as couriers, armed fighters, intelligence agents, and saboteurs, all who put their lives in mortal danger to carry out their missions. Batalion follows these women through the savage destruction of the ghettos, arrest and internment in Gestapo prisons and concentration camps, and for a lucky few-like Renia, who orchestrated her own audacious escape from a brutal Nazi jail-into the late 20th century and beyond.

Powerful and inspiring, featuring twenty black-and-white photographs, The Light of Days is an unforgettable true tale of war, the fight for freedom, exceptional bravery, female friendship, and survival in the face of staggering odds.  

Editorial Reviews

"Pulses with pride and rage." -- New York Times Book Review

"Well-researched and riveting." -- Wall Street Journal

"Amazing…both a profoundly moving and breathtaking read."  -- Haaretz

"Written with passion…Batalion's research is prodigious, and her dedication to her story obvious and moving." -- Boston Globe

"Gripping, haunting and superbly told...Judy Batalion brings to light half-forgotten tales of astounding courage."  -- The Economist

Brilliantly researched...a grand celebration of the female spirit." -- Los Angeles Review of Books

"Thrilling, devastating... tells of an underground network of young Jewish women in Poland who resisted the Nazis by engaging in smuggling, sabotage, and even armed defense. Their courageous deeds, largely forgotten until now, are astounding." -- Christian Science Monitor

"Hard to put down…The Light of Days is not a story but a multi-layered epic, one that rewrites the Holocaust. Drama abounds and the characters are deeply engaging. Required reading." -- The Jerusalem Post 

"The Light of Days rescues a long-neglected aspect of history from oblivion, and puts paid to the idea of Jewish, especially female, passivity during the Holocaust. It is uncompromising, written with passion--and it preserves truly significant knowledge." -- The Times Literary Supplement

"Bold, brave and revelatory, meticulously researched and engagingly written, Batalion transports readers into the harrowing World War II era, where a generation of young, Jewish women banded together to fight an almost unimaginable evil."
-- Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, New York Times bestselling author of Dr. Mutter's Marvels

"Be not afraid. Judy Batalion brings to life the story of young women who had mindboggling valor. Super heroes. They fought the Nazis. With nerves of steel. You don't have to fight the Nazis (we hope). But you do have to be courageous and honorable. (Well, most of the time).  And you will be. There are inspirational books that change your life. And this is one of them." -- Maira Kalman, author of And the Pursuit of Happiness

"This is a powerful and necessary book. I'm so grateful to Judy Batalion for bringing us these women in all their fierce intelligence and courage. It's astonishing that their stories haven't been widely heard until now-but Batalion's rare combination of skills has brought them to vibrant life. This is history we've needed to hear." -- Rachel Kadish, author of The Weight of Ink

"Judy Batalion has told the largely forgotten stories of the girl couriers, smugglers and fighters who formed the nerve center of Jewish resistance in occupied Poland. A breathtaking, dazzling work of h...

Readers Top Reviews

alan cowieAleksander
A story of supreme courage where against all odds the best of Europe fought the worst . There should be a copy of this book in every school and in every library. My late father who was among the first British troops into Belsen would have saluted these women of the Jewish Resistance and the writer.
Old Bubbadoc
I almost never write book reviews. But this excellently researched and studious work is a remarkable story about remarkable women written by a remarkable author. It should be read by everyone irrespective of nationality, ethnicity or religious affiliation. This book will make you cry, angry, sick, horrified, elated and disillusioned. The unbelievable but true details in this story will haunt you. I am not a Jew nor do I have any Jewish ancestry. But I was drawn to this story by its powerful universal message and I was much affected by it. As an accomplished researcher and successful author I have only the greatest regard for the author's dedication and skills in carrying out this difficult work. But I found the book a bit distracting to read because of the jargon, the unfamiliar terms and names, the many times when the details overwhelmed the theme and the lack of connections between the chapters. Having said this, I quickly admit that these faults are a natural consequence of a book that is a collection of well researched case studies. Perhaps the book might have been more readable by the general public if written more prosaically. Be a persistent reader; the deeper you read into the book the more you will be unwilling to put it down. The vivid descriptions of the holocaust lives of each of these remarkable women will draw you personally into each of them so successfully that you will feel you know them. You will be rewarded with a deep appreciation of the awful lessons of those times. To more fully appreciate the book, pay attention to the epilogue and the acknowledgments. These typical book sections that are often ignored by most readers will add to your appreciation for this work.
The author has spent over a dozen years gathering research for this book about Jewish women who played a pivotal role in fighting the Nazis in Poland from the time of the German invasion to the end of WWII. Using primary source material written in many languages and traveling to Israel to interview the families of these women, the author reveals the courage and ingenuity of these heroines. Many assumed traditional roles in the Jewish ghettos as teachers, cooks in soup kitchens and nurses. Others, who looked more Aryan, risked their lives using forged documents to be couriers, assassins, smugglers and spies. Still other women gathered weapons and made bombs. They helped not only to plan armed revolt, but also actively participated in the uprisings. Many did not survive and others, who had coveted passports to Palestine, chose to delay their dream of immigration to fight to save Jews in Poland. Each chapter is jammed packed with detailed accounts and at times, this reviewer had difficulty keeping straight all of the different players. Why have these heroines remained anonymous for all these post war decades? In Chapter 30 entitled "Fear of Life", the author suggests several reasons. Some of these women were suffering from PTSD and chose not to share their wartime experiences with family. Others had survivor's guilt and felt they could have and should have done more to save their immediate family members. Some male leaders in the Yishuv chose to downplay the role of women in the resistance whose actions throughout were hardly "ladylike". Many in the nascent state of Israel, wanted to move on from the past and emphasize the youthful future of the country rather than the horrors of the Holocaust. Yet, the author relates how so many of these female survivors turned their energies especially to the growth and development of kibbutzim throughout Israel. Indeed, their determination to survive, infused into the generations that came after them, makes this such a worthwhile read.
Dr. Philip J. Kinsle
I was raised in an apartment building with a number of Holocaust survivor neighbors. I've been reading and studying the Holocaust since I was 9 years old, now over 65 years. I have yearned for studies of active Jewish resistance rather than the passive victim narrative I was raised with... almost as if but for the Warsaw ghetto and the Biekskis' we were all sheep. That said, this book purports to be a history of female Holocaust resisters. In fact, it is a history focusing on only former youth Labor Zionist resisters; contributors of other political persuasions are barely mentioned. I also found the book quite disorganized. If I had submitted such a manuscript in my profession, it would have been sent back to me for a major tear-down and edit. The book lacks an organizing principle. It is not organized by person, chronology, group membership, geography. It seemed to me as scattered and almost as random as the lives the admittedly heroic fighters/resisters lived. I had hoped to buy mutliple copies and gift them to my daughters. I am not going to do so.