As German bombers darkened the skies over Poland in the fall of 1939, many Jews fled before the advancing German armies, seeking to find refuge in the larger cities or in the Russian zone to the east. But the cities were as vulnerable as the towns and villages, while the safety of the Russian zone was but a temporary respite to soon be exploded by the next stage in the war. Itzik, Be Strong, the sixth volume in The Holocaust Diaries collection, is the story of a yeshivah bachur from a small town on the outskirts of Warsaw, whose family was uprooted from its home and driven into exile in the Russian zone. The oppressive Communist regime, however, proved less than hospitable for Jews devoted to the Torah. With Vilna and its yeshivos beckoning to him, Itzik decided to steal across the border into Lithuania. But it was not to be. The time for easy entry into Lithuania had passed. The Russians were now guarding the border closely, and Itzik's ill-fated dash for freedom turned into the start of a long imprisonment and exile. Devastated, his family watched as he was sent off to begin a five-year sentence of backbreaking labor in Siberia, with his physical and spiritual survival highly in question. But how was one to know that he was in fact the fortunate one, that most Jews who remained in Poland would perish at the hands of the Nazis? When the amnesty for Polish prisoners was finally declared, Itzik was set free, free to join countless other refugees wandering across the vast expanses of Russia in search of a crust of bread, free to pass endless days in lonely isolation, not knowing if he had a family and home to which to return. But even this freedom did not last for long. With the war at a critical stage, all able bodied young men were drafted into the Russian army, and the young yeshivah student, after acquitting himself well in his training, became a sergeant in the artillery. Through his eyes, the reader feels the intense heat of battle on the advancing front and the eerie silence of the once teeming Jewish towns whose inhabitants have all vanished. Itzik, Be Strong is the story of a determined young man who, despite torture, starvation and exile, stays true to his ideals and steadfast in his conviction that Heaven would protect him no matter what the future had to offer.
by Yitzhak Pomerantz
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