Stronger Than Iron: The Destruction of Vilna Jewry 1941 1945: An Eyewitness Account, by Mendel Balberyszski is a book, of not only detailing history as it occurred, but also one of insight into the initial vibrancy and the eventual demise of the Jews of Vilna.
The Jews of Vilna and their religion and culture, geographics and fight for survival, within the ever-changing demographics of the country due to the Nazis overtaking the city is strongly and intensely depicted within the pages. I was amazed at the intense detailing of ghetto life, and the historical rendering presented to the reader through Balberyszski’s eyes.
Beginning with the separation of the Jewish population into two Vilna Ghettos, Balberyszski leaves no stone unturned in his vivid word imagery. His word paintings kept this reader involved from beginning to the end of the book. The extreme German discrimination and restrictions imposed upon the Vilna Jews is heavily documented within the pages. The harshness of life, the daily struggles to endure under the extreme duress, adversity and horrific scenarios is painted without diminishing the actual occurrences. Balberyszski was determined to leave an accurate accounting of the events, and Stronger Than Iron is his eye witness documentation of how history unfolded before his eyes.
Ethical dilemmas were daily battles evoking strong emotional burdens, and within those emotional and ethical struggles the Vilna Ghetto Resistance Organization was left with heavy choices to decide upon. To cooperate or not cooperate, that was one extremely primary question that there didn’t seem to be a clear answer to. The large Vilna ghetto leaned towards cooperation, while the small ghetto did not bend towards the Nazi German demands.
Stronger Than Iron: The Destruction of Vilna Jewry 1941 1945: An Eyewitness Account, is a poignant and heart-wrenching book, detailing the historical demise of the Vilna Jews quite clearly. Nothing is left to the imagination through Balberyszski’s concise, forthright and compelling survivor accounting of the horrific events that eventually destroyed and liquidated the small Vilna ghetto. That anyone was able to survive is unbelievable, especially after reading of the atrocities, horrors, and situations that the Jews were thrust into.
The Jews and their will to survive, their will to keep the past within the context of the present, their strength to overcome the adversity, yet keep the devastation of the past, in the forefront, is part of the brilliance and masterful writing of Mendel Balberyszski. Stronger Than Iron: The Destruction of Vilna Jewry 1941 1945: An Eyewitness Account, is a significant book of urgent historical importance and an invaluable addition to Holocaust/Shoah history. It is sobering. I highly recommend it, and believe it should be read by everyone in order to keep the memories of what transpired and led to the Vilna small ghetto annihilation alive for future generations to come.
The inspiring and heart felt story will stay with me forever.