Secret City


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The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940–1945

Gunnar S. Paulsson

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Though the Nazis forced most of Warsaw’s Jews into the city’s infamous ghetto during World War II, some 28,000 Jews either hid and never entered the Warsaw Ghetto or escaped from it. This book—the first detailed treatment of Jewish escape and hiding during the Holocaust—tells the dramatic story of the hidden Jews of Warsaw.

Gunnar S. Paulsson shows that after the 1942 deportations nearly a quarter of the ghetto’s remaining Jews managed to escape. Once in hiding, connected by elaborate networks of which Poles, Germans, and the Jews themselves were largely unaware, they formed what can aptly be called a secret city. Paulsson challenges many established assumptions. He shows that despite appalling difficulties and dangers, many of these Jews survived; that the much-reviled German, Polish, and Jewish policemen, as well as Jewish converts and their families, were key in helping Jews escape; that though many more Poles helped than harmed the Jews, most stayed neutral; and that escape and hiding happened spontaneously, without much help from either the Polish or the Jewish underground. He suggests that the Jewish leadership was wrong to dismiss the possibility of escape, staking everything on a hopeless uprising. Paulsson’s engrossing book offers a new perspective on Jewish honor and Holocaust history.

Gunnar S. Paulsson is the Pearl Resnick Fellow at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, has taught at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and was Senior Historian of the Holocaust project at the Imperial War Museum, London.

“For many of us in this field it is always hard to imagine something new. Paulsson manages to break new ground, however, and offers an intelligent, fresh analysis.”—Michael Marrus, Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor of Holocaust Studies, University of Toronto

“A welcome and significant contribution to the ongoing debate on Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust. . . . Paulsson’s story of the hidden Jews of Warsaw is a most significant addition to the immense Holocaust literature.”—Shimon Redlich, American Historical Review

The Secret City is the first detailed account of Jewish ‘evasion’ during the Holocaust. Paulsson provides an engrossing and innovative study, both in terms of method and substance, that will force us to re-think many assumptions about Jewish responses, Jewish-Polish relations, the topic of rescue, Jewish leadership and their decision making, and even the behavior of the perpetrators and the Jewish police. . . . Paulsson paves new ground, asks questions hitherto avoided and courageously allows the evidence to make his case.”—Michael N. Dobkowski, Jewish Book World

"There is no question that Paulsson's new book will rank as a milestone in the scholarly study of Polish-Jewish relations.  Paulsson has written a controversial and seminal book. . . . His book is a masterful contribution to the history of the Holocaust and to our understanding of Polish-Jewish relations."—Samuel D. Kassow, Journal of Modern History

“Paulsson is sensitive to the constraints that held Jews back . . . his scrupulous study of a complex, contested history provides balance to the customary, grim narrative.”—David Cesarani, The Guardian (UK)

"[An] important book. . . . riveting."—Jack Fischel, An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies

"Surely one of the most important works on the Holocaust in Poland to appear in recent years. . . . Bracing reading."—Padraic Kenney, Journal of Modern History

“Well-researched, thoughtful, sober and at times provocative . . . this is a book that will richly repay a careful reading, fostering sophisticated and subtle thinking about formidable historical problems.”—David Engels, Patterns of Prejudice 

“[Paulsson] endows hidden Jews with self-respect by showing with great empathy . . . how much initiative, resourcefulness, clear-headedness, and sheer nerve life in hiding demanded of Jewish fugitives from Nazism.”—Gabriel N. Finder, East European Politics and Societies 

“A remarkable achievement . . . carefully grounded and nuanced.”—Robert E. Blobaum, Holocaust Studies 

Winner of the 1998 Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History (for dissertation only)

Won the Polish Studies Association 2004 Orbis Book Prize
ISBN: 9780300204773
Publication Date: August 6, 2013
328 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
16 b/w illus.