Witnesses to the brutal murder of their families and neighbors and the violent destruction of their communities, a cadre of Jewish women in Poland--some still in their teens--helped transform the Jewish youth groups into resistance cells to fight the Nazis. With courage, guile, and nerves of steel, these "ghetto girls" paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in loaves of bread and jars of marmalade, and helped build systems of underground bunkers. They flirted with German soldiers, bribed them with wine, whiskey, and home cooking, used their Aryan looks to seduce them, and shot and killed them. They bombed German train lines and blew up a town's water supply. They also nursed the sick and taught children. Yet the exploits of these courageous resistance fighters have remained virtually unknown. The Light of Days at last tells the true story of these incredible women whose courageous yet little-known feats have been eclipsed by time.
In [Battalion's] capable hands, their disparate voices are successfully woven together to create a gripping and horrifying narrative ... While some of the women’s stories are given more attention than others, the storytelling is clear and evocative even as it bounces from one character to the next. But it shouldn’t be mistaken for light reading. Details of what the women witnessed and endured, including severe physical torture and sexual violence, could be difficult even for seasoned readers of Holocaust literature. Batalion’s commitment to painstakingly recount each act of bravery and rebellion — one of the women refuses to wear a blindfold at her own execution — makes it an important addition to the genre of Jewish history ... It’s essential to tell more stories like The Light of Days if we are going to have a complete, truthful historical record, with women portrayed not just as girlfriends, assistants, or supporting characters, but as the powerful and effective leaders they are.
Why, Batalion wonders, had she not heard these women’s stories before? She stumbled across them only by chance on the dustier shelves of London’s British Library. The problem she then confronted in writing this book, which pulses with both rage and pride, was choosing which women to include and which to leave out. Her desire to pay tribute to as many as possible is understandable, but a simpler narrative with fewer subjects might have been even more powerful.
Writing with passion and novelistic license, Batalion takes readers deep into the psyches of these women ... Batalion’s research is prodigious, and her dedication to her story obvious and moving. But the book’s very scope—its huge cast of characters, geographical sweep, and mix of chronological and thematic organization—may deter less committed readers. Another challenge is Batalion’s insistence on depicting the pointillist horrors of the genocide ... When Batalion unsparingly describes the bloodbaths in the ghetto streets, or descends into the sadistic hell of Nazi prisons, the temptation is to turn away. These brave women could not.