Escape from the Pit by Renia Kukielka
A Woman’s Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Poland, 1939-1943
At the end of 1944, while World War II was still raging, nineteen-year-old Renia Kukielka published her Hebrew language memoir about the Holocaust. The account may well be the first of its kind. In her powerful and raw story, she portrays life in the ghettos and her three years of wandering in disguise as a Polish Catholic, trying to escape from the German onslaught. She also recounts how she served for almost a year as a courier between ghettos for the Zionist youth movement’s underground cell in Bendzin, carrying weapons, money, and messages, until she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. She was tortured in a high-security prison, but, after a daring escape, she was able to flee to British Mandate Palestine with other members of the resistance.
Kukielka’s memoir manages to combine both immediacy and hindsight. It stands out for its descriptions of life and activities outside of the ghettos and concentration camps in wartime Poland and for its focus on Zionist youth resistance to the Holocaust. It also provides a somewhat rare female perspective on the Holocaust and offers insight into how much was known about the scale of the Nazi atrocities during the war. Following the book’s initial publication in Hebrew in 1944, an unauthorized English-language edition was published in the United States in 1947. The present expanded text includes a scholarly introduction, notes, and a historical afterword, which help to explain and contextualize Kukielka’s personal account.
Published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Year first published: 1944