In 1944, a band of Jewish guerrillas emerged from the Baltic forest to join the Russian army in its attack on Vilna, the capital of Lithuania. The band, called the Avengers, was led by Abba Kovner, a
charismatic young poet. In the ghetto, Abba had built bombs,sneaking out through the city's sewer tunnels to sabotage German outposts. Abba's chief lieutenants were two teenage girls, Vitka Kempner and Ruzka Korczak. At seventeen, Vitka and Ruzka were perhaps the most daring partisans in the East, the first to blow up a Nazi train in occupied Europe. After the liquidation of the ghetto, the Avengers escaped through the city's sewage tunnels to the forest, where they
lived for more than a year in a dugout beside a swamp, fighting alongside other partisan groups,
and ultimately bombing the city they loved, destroying Vilna's waterworks and its power plant
in order to pave the way for its liberation.
Leaving a devastated Poland behind them, they set off for the cities of Europe: Vitka and Abba
to the West, where they would be instrumental in orchestrating the massive Jewish exodus to
the biblical homeland, and Ruzka to Palestine, where she would be literally the first person to
bring a first hand account of the Holocaust to Jewish leaders. It was in these last terrifying
days--with travel in Europe still unsafe for Jews and the extent of the Holocaust still not widely
known--that the Avengers hatched their plan for revenge. Before it was over, the group would
have smuggled enough poison into Nuremberg to kill ten thousand Nazis. The Avengers is the
story of what happened to these rebels in the ghetto and in the forest, and how, fighting for the
State of Israel, they moved beyond the violence of the Holocaust and made new lives.
- By Rich Cohen
- (272 Pages)Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000