Title: Remetz: Resistance Fighter and Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto
By Yan Yohay Remetz, 276 pages
Imagine spending every moment, every minute, every day, every week fearful for your life. Worried about what might give you away. Will you say something that “sounds Jewish?” Will you show signs of recognizing someone from your past and give away your identity? Will you be given a body search and someone notices that you are circumcised?
This is what Tadeusz Grauzalc, later known as Yohay Remetz, endured for six years as he survived the Holocaust under the gentile pseudonym of Jan Piechocki. Born into a secular Polish family, Remetz takes us through his life as a child growing up in Kalisz and Warsaw until the outbreak of the War. Using connections he had with gentile Polish friends, the fact that he spoke Polish like a native (and did not speak Yiddish) and did not “look” Jewish enabled him to spend the war years hiding in the open from the Nazis.
Remetz details his attempts to find a place of safety and employment. He was a rickshaw driver, smuggler and farm worker until he ultimately found a job as a security guard. As his peers got to know and trust him, he was asked to act as a courier transmitting messages for the underground resistance, ultimately rising in their ranks as the war neared its end.
While the book is primarily focused on the narrative of his experiences, we are occasionally given a glimpse into his feelings. He describes his shock at being taken advantage of by counterfeiters and blackmailers. He powerfully argues against the stereotype of Jews marching like sheep to the gas chambers: “The great majority remained honest, dignified, pristine and heroic… Has any nation prevailed in crossing such an abyss in a more honorable manner… no monument has been established for heroes like my mother, who did not break in the face of the ghetto’s horror.”
The author remained in Poland after the war before eventually immigrating to Israel. The book ends with very emotional descriptions of the author’s several visits to Poland starting in the 1990s.
The book was originally written in Polish, later translated into Hebrew, and now into English. It is evident that the translator was not a native English speaker. The book uses arcane words such as “bagatelle” and “alimentation” and uses the slang “guys” every time that the intention was clearly to write “men.” Occasionally, there are sentences that one needs to reconstruct in one’s mind due to poor syntax or wrong word usage.
As the generation that suffered the Holocaust passes away, and Holocaust denial rears its ugly head higher and higher, memoirs such as Remetz’s form an essential part of the canon of literature that must be read so that the events are not forgotten. Reading and reviewing Remetz during the Three Weeks was very meaningful for me, and it makes for good Tisha B’Av material. May we all merit to see the time that we no longer have to commemorate Yom HaShoah or Tisha B’Av in this way.