NONFICTION

RESISTANCE: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Israel Gutman. (Houghton Mifflin: $24.95; 271 pp.) In the spring of 1943, Nazi troops were ordered to evacuate all Jews from the Warsaw ghetto where they had been forced to live, and put them on cattle cars headed for the death camps. A few hundred Jews, practically unarmed and hopelessly outnumbered, fought back. "Resistance," by Israel Gutman, is the dramatic story of the Warsaw ghetto from its creation to its awful, bloody end.

This is difficult, emotional material, and my experience of it changed while I was reading the book. Until the uprising begins, well over halfway through the book, one may feel hopelessly depressed and even sick. Nearly 500,000 people were packed into a few square blocks where they were starved, beaten and worked to within an inch of their lives. Diseases broke out, babies died in the street (the suffering of children is the hardest part to read) yet no one fought back until it was obvious the Nazis intended to kill them all.

At that point, "Resistance" becomes oddly exhilarating. "The entire ghetto was ablaze. Thousands of people near physical and mental collapse--virtually on the verge of madness--not only maintained this way of life, but viewed its disappearance as a great catastrophe. . . . Nazis called (for the Jews) to surrender, and the inhabitants responded with bullets." There is enormous power in choosing your own death, and the hundreds of Jews who resisted, many of them teen-agers, grabbed that choice with a courage that shows the very best of what the human spirit has to offer.

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