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THE DEFIANT: UNVARNISHED TALE OF JEWISH SURVIVAL
By LARRY LIPMAN
c.1997 Cox News Service
"The Defiant: A True Story of Jewish vengeance and Survival,"
by Shalom Yoran.
St. Martin's Press
293 pages; $24.95
When he was 14, Shalom Yoran witnessed the first hours of World War II when his home in Poland, 37 miles from the German border, came under aerial bombardment.
When he was 21, he wrote his memoirs.
In between, Yoran fled Poland with his family and found refuge in communist Lithuania, lived under German occupation, barely escaped the round-up and execution of virtually all the Jews in his town, spent a winter with four other men in a hole in the ground, fought alongside the partisans, served in both the Soviet and the Polish armies, smuggled himself across half of Europe, was jailed in Hungary while posing as a Greek and entered Palestine posing as a British soldier.
Now, a half century later, Yoran's harrowing and haunting tale of an ordinary Jewish family's firsthand experience during the war has been published in a slim book that makes a major contribution to our knowledge, not only of the Holocaust, but also of those Jews who fought and, rarely, survived.
Yoran does not pretend to be a great writer, nor does his book offer a sweeping world view of the Holocaust. Instead, it is filled with the mundane personal details of living through unimaginable terror, horror, deprivation, pain and loss. Those intimate, unvarnished details‰ÛÓlike the hopes and fears expressed in the ``Diary of Anne Frank''‰ÛÓare what makes this book so compelling.
It is billed as a story of vengeance and survival, but it is much more about survival than vengeance.
Yoran's story comes in three parts: fleeing with his family through war-torn Poland and Lithuania until they finally came under German occupation; living in the woods with his brother and a handful of other survivors after his parents and virtually all the Jews in his town were executed, and, finally, fighting against the Germans while experiencing relentless anti-Semitism and internecine warfare among the Soviet and Polish partisans.
Yoran was just out of elementary school when Germany invaded Poland the morning of Sept. 1, 1939. Even before war was formally declared, Yoran's house next to his family's lumberyard was being strafed by German fighters.
His family fled eastward, going from relative to relative across Poland and into Soviet Lithuania. There the family coped with communism, and Yoran, 15, and with no training in photography, became the manager of a photo studio.
Just when life began returning to normal, Germany and the Soviet Union went to war and the family once again became refugees. Eventually, they stopped in the small Polish town of Kurzeniec.
Here, Yoran experienced the relentless, systematic humiliation and brutalization of the Jewish community‰ÛÓfrom the earliest days when Jews had to wear a yellow Star of David and spend hours exercising in the town square‰ÛÓuntil the morning when the Germans occupying Kurzeniec went door to door pulling 1,040 Jews from their homes and taking them to a barn to be slaughtered.
In the turmoil of that morning, Yoran and his brother, Musio, were separated from their mother‰ÛÓtheir father was rounded up with other Jewish men praying in the synagogue. Moments before they were separated, Yoran's mother told the brothers: ``try to save yourselves and take vengeance for us.''
The next two years Yoran spent living up to his mother's last request, first as a survivor on the run trying just to stay alive, and then as a partisan, fighting a guerrilla war against the Germans. Here, again, most of the narrative is devoted to the struggle for survival with matter-of-fact descriptions of the sabotage and skirmishes engaged in by the partisans.
Even among the partisans, Yoran encountered rampant anti-Semitism, which he recounts in detail.
The end of the war did not mark the end of Yoran's travails. While serving as a sergeant in the Polish army, Yoran returned to his boyhood home. That night, a childhood acquaintance who became a policeman came to his room and tried to convince Yoran to report to the chief of police in the middle of the night. Machine gun in hand, Yoran refused. Later a group of Jewish survivors asked Yoran to spend a few nights with them as a protector. After he left, the survivors were killed.
At the time he wrote this book, Yoran was recuperating in Palestine after a long-delayed operation to repair ruptured abdominal stitches. He had completed only six years of school. Most of his teenage years had been spent hiding from and fighting the Germans.
After he wrote the manuscript, Yoran put it away and lost track of it. During the next nearly five decades, he became an officer in the fledgling Israeli Air Force during its war of independence, and a leader in the Israeli aircraft industry.
In 1991, when he moved from Israel to New York, where he is chairman of a commercial aircraft company, Yoran discovered the manuscript in a suitcase tucked away in his attic.
The original was written in Polish. He dictated it to his wife in Hebrew, and she typed it in English. In its published form, Yoran said, it is virtually unchanged from the way he wrote it more than a half century ago.
The book is dedicated to his parents. In publishing his story, Yoran tells a tale that should never be forgotten.