A Voice Called (Stories of Jewish Heroism)
by Yossi Katz
Gefen Publishing House 2010
Reviewed by Mike Porter
When I picked up this book for reviewing, I thought ‘Another book about war and bloodshed.’ However, one need not be on the battlefield to be known as a fighter, and I was pleasantly surprised once I began to read the stories. Written in brief, straightforward and highly effective prose, “A Voice Called” deals with the lives of many of the outstanding people who were (and are) involved in what finally became a homeland for the Jews.
There is a closeness and personal feel to the stories, many of which make use of diaries, quotations, eye-witness accounts or the author’s commentaries. These personal anecdotes make the subject come alive and help us in understanding the motivation and driving force behind the heroic decisions and deeds.
The category of “hero” covers a broad spectrum as we find out. Sketches of intellectuals such as Herzl, Bialik and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda appear, as do the stories of fighters such as Hannah Senesh (the title of the book is taken from her poem ‘At the Crossroads’), Yoni Netanyahu and Ilan Ramon. There are stories of Naomi Shemer, Tal Brody and Barney Ross, as well as less well-known sportsmen, such as the Tunisian-born boxer Victor “Young” Perez who, captured and sent to Auschwitz, was forced to fight before the Nazis.
Other sketches include stories of “Hayadid” (Orde Wingate), and – as we move closer to the present day – some modern-day heroes (among them friends of the writer, as well as his parents, who passed on to their children their love of and passion for Israel).
The stories begin in pre-State times with Herzl, and continue through to 2010. Many of the heroes were barely in their twenties when they died in battle, while others, still living today, are barely in their thirties. The stories, each told in less than ten pages, cover some of the most telling chapters of modern Jewish history.
There is a long bibliography which the author – a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a teacher of Jewish and Arab history – makes use of. His prose is deceptively straightforward (the following quote is taken from the story of the Warsaw ghetto uprising):
“On August 5, 1942, the Jewish orphanage in Warsaw was ordered to be deported to Treblinka but Korczak [Hendryk Goldszmidt], as a renowned physician, was given a reprieve. Though he was safe, he felt he could not abandon the little orphans. Janusz Korczak dressed up two hundred children in their best Shabbat clothes and led them singing to the Umschlagplatz…..“Although he knew the final destination, he told the children they were going on a picnic to sunshine and green fields. In his arms, Korczak carried a sick child. An eyewitness remembered:
‘And so a long line is formed in front of the orphanage on Slisks Street. A long procession, children, small, tiny, rather precocious, emaciated, weak, shriveled and shrunk. They carry shabby packages, some have schoolbooks, notebooks under their arms. No one is crying. Slowly they go down the steps, line up in rows, in perfect order and discipline as usual. Their little eyes are turned towards the doctor. They are strangely calm – they feel almost well. The doctor is going with them, so what do they have to be afraid of? They are not alone, they are not abandoned.’ [Nora Levin, The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry, 1933-1945 (New York: Crowell, 1968).]”
The cover of the book (the young paratrooper and a picture of Hannah Senesh) I found misleading. It certainly left me unprepared for the broad spectrum of historical and personal events which the book covers.
This is a moving and interesting book, which is more than just an excellent source of reference.