Mila 18, Leon Uris, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1961, 539 pp
The #4 bestseller of 1961 was another door stopper but mostly a page turner. It is the second version I have read of events concerning the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. I also read John Hersey's The Wall as part of my reading list for 1950. Each book takes a slightly different look at this atrocity but it is hard to say which is better.
Because he is Leon Uris, he had to put several love stories in his version, but compared to his 1958 bestseller Exodus this book is so much better in terms of writing style and the characters. He makes clear the evil deeds of Hitler and his henchmen when it came to their treatment of Jews, the ways that they fumbled towards the "final solution," the psychopathic inhumanity of all involved, and the methods used to spin the news about what was happening.
In contrast, we see the bravery and humanity of the Jewish leaders as they try to keep as many as possible alive in that ghetto. Mila 18 is the name of the building inside the ghetto where the Jewish resistance had their headquarters.
Both this book and The Wall make it clear that the journals and diaries of certain people inside the ghetto are responsible for the knowledge we now have about what happened there. Even as the final residents were being obliterated, some took the steps necessary to keep the journals secure and get the information about their locations into safe hands.
To me, that is a story worth telling at least twice. As our continuous wars go on, seemingly always presented as a necessary slaughter of people, whether of another religion or another political system, it is sobering to read about how mankind has forever succumbed to such madness. But it is also steadying to read about the victims who resist, who record, and thus live on.
(Mila 18 is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)