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Courage Under Siege: Starvation, Disease, and Death in the Warsaw Ghetto

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The story of the Warsaw ghetto is one of the most tragic episodes in the Second World War. Using a so-called "threat of typhus" as their "scientific" justification for quarantine, the Nazis crammed almost a half million Jews into a small quarter of the city, depriving them of food, clean water, adequate sanitation, and medical supplies. For three years, from 1940 to 1943, The story of the Warsaw ghetto is one of the most tragic episodes in the Second World War. Using a so-called "threat of typhus" as their "scientific" justification for quarantine, the Nazis crammed almost a half million Jews into a small quarter of the city, depriving them of food, clean water, adequate sanitation, and medical supplies. For three years, from 1940 to 1943, the ghetto inhabitants were packed seven or more to a room, struggling incessantly against starvation, disease, and death. Of the 400,000 Jews in Warsaw before the war, only a few thousand survived. In Courage Under Siege, Charles Roland, a physician and historian, provides the first history of the medical disaster that took place in the Warsaw ghetto, offering a compassionate account of the tragic struggle for life and, in particular, of the heroic efforts of the ghetto's doctors, nurses, and social organizations who provided relief in the face of overwhelming odds. He portrays the nightmarish conditions of the hospitals where operations continued without electricity, gas, running water or sewage systems, where corpses lined the corridors, and where beds contained as many as three patients at a time. He describes the ingenuity and humanity of doctors and hospital workers who continued to provide medical services while they themselves were starving and facing the same destiny as the rest of the ghetto inhabitants. Heart-wrenching, inspirational stories of these dedicated medical workers shine brightly in this otherwise bleak landscape. For instance, Roland describes the creation of a clandestine medical school, "a beautiful case of passive resistance," which gave as many as 500 students a medical education and a semblance of normal living--though only a few survived to continue their training. And Roland also tells of a major scientific study of hunger conducted by ghetto physicians capitalizing on the one thing they had in abundance--starvation. This was research of the purest kind, intended to advance human knowledge, since these doctors had no illusions that the research would help them or their patients survive. Drawing on an impressive array of research materials as well as interviews with surviving medical workers, Roland draws a stunning portrait of how the medical community of the Warsaw ghetto resisted the ravages of disease and starvation inflicted by the Nazis. This volume is a lasting testimony to their courage and to the power of the human spirit in the face of horror and adversity.


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The story of the Warsaw ghetto is one of the most tragic episodes in the Second World War. Using a so-called "threat of typhus" as their "scientific" justification for quarantine, the Nazis crammed almost a half million Jews into a small quarter of the city, depriving them of food, clean water, adequate sanitation, and medical supplies. For three years, from 1940 to 1943, The story of the Warsaw ghetto is one of the most tragic episodes in the Second World War. Using a so-called "threat of typhus" as their "scientific" justification for quarantine, the Nazis crammed almost a half million Jews into a small quarter of the city, depriving them of food, clean water, adequate sanitation, and medical supplies. For three years, from 1940 to 1943, the ghetto inhabitants were packed seven or more to a room, struggling incessantly against starvation, disease, and death. Of the 400,000 Jews in Warsaw before the war, only a few thousand survived. In Courage Under Siege, Charles Roland, a physician and historian, provides the first history of the medical disaster that took place in the Warsaw ghetto, offering a compassionate account of the tragic struggle for life and, in particular, of the heroic efforts of the ghetto's doctors, nurses, and social organizations who provided relief in the face of overwhelming odds. He portrays the nightmarish conditions of the hospitals where operations continued without electricity, gas, running water or sewage systems, where corpses lined the corridors, and where beds contained as many as three patients at a time. He describes the ingenuity and humanity of doctors and hospital workers who continued to provide medical services while they themselves were starving and facing the same destiny as the rest of the ghetto inhabitants. Heart-wrenching, inspirational stories of these dedicated medical workers shine brightly in this otherwise bleak landscape. For instance, Roland describes the creation of a clandestine medical school, "a beautiful case of passive resistance," which gave as many as 500 students a medical education and a semblance of normal living--though only a few survived to continue their training. And Roland also tells of a major scientific study of hunger conducted by ghetto physicians capitalizing on the one thing they had in abundance--starvation. This was research of the purest kind, intended to advance human knowledge, since these doctors had no illusions that the research would help them or their patients survive. Drawing on an impressive array of research materials as well as interviews with surviving medical workers, Roland draws a stunning portrait of how the medical community of the Warsaw ghetto resisted the ravages of disease and starvation inflicted by the Nazis. This volume is a lasting testimony to their courage and to the power of the human spirit in the face of horror and adversity.

34 review for Courage Under Siege: Starvation, Disease, and Death in the Warsaw Ghetto

  1. 4 out of 5

    Meaghan

    I found this book engrossing and would recommend it both for Holocaust junkies like myself, and for people just interested in medicine. It's basically a medical history of the Warsaw ghetto: starvation, typhus, tuberculosis, depression... Yet it is also a testimony to man's ability to adapt and make the best of what he has. A little-known fact is that doctors in the ghetto set up a clandestine medical school. Students who survived the war and continued their education at European universities got I found this book engrossing and would recommend it both for Holocaust junkies like myself, and for people just interested in medicine. It's basically a medical history of the Warsaw ghetto: starvation, typhus, tuberculosis, depression... Yet it is also a testimony to man's ability to adapt and make the best of what he has. A little-known fact is that doctors in the ghetto set up a clandestine medical school. Students who survived the war and continued their education at European universities got credit for their ghetto school attendance, and one student was quoted as saying she learned more from the ghetto school than from the traditional medical school she later attended. Another feat was the starvation study: realizing they had plenty of starvation and very little else, scientists began an in-depth study of hunger, the first of its kind, and its findings remain useful today. The author interviewed many ghetto survivors and has an extensive bibliography of memoirs and other books. Courage Under Siege had a lot of attention-grabbing facts, such as details on how the typhus vaccine was made. (It involved the intestines of lice. I will say no more.) This is a solid addition to your Holocaust and/or medical history library. [UPDATE: I found some excerpts of this book at http://remember.org/courage/ available for free.]

  2. 5 out of 5

    Micah Goins

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette D Lucas

  4. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  5. 4 out of 5

    Til Mendonça

  6. 4 out of 5

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  7. 4 out of 5

    Sasun

  8. 5 out of 5

    Susan Dick

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brittany Farrell

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tara Lynn

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eva Marie

  12. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  13. 5 out of 5

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    Yifat

  15. 4 out of 5

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  16. 4 out of 5

    Colin

  17. 4 out of 5

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  18. 4 out of 5

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  19. 4 out of 5

    Maddie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Hawes

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lotus

  22. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

  23. 5 out of 5

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  24. 4 out of 5

    Paula

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bumpleberry

  26. 5 out of 5

    thatdriver41

  27. 4 out of 5

    Julie Duhame

  28. 5 out of 5

    Eugene Joseph

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christine Morse

  30. 4 out of 5

    Connie Sullivan

  31. 5 out of 5

    Quirkyreader

  32. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  33. 5 out of 5

    Wikimedia Italia

  34. 4 out of 5

    Bev

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