Mila 18 commemorates Warsaw ghetto uprising

Mila 18 is a fictional account of the Jewish uprising against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.

Leon Uris weaves together the stories of Jews inside the Ghetto with stories both of their friends and their enemies outside.

The Jews are deeply divided over how to respond to the Nazi threat. Many hope it will go away if ignored. Some want to appease. Some want to fight.

As the Nazis systematically depopulate the Ghetto, a core of those ready to fight forms in secret basement rooms beneath Mila 18.

Led by Andrei Androfski, Jews fight unexpectedly and valiantly. Only a few escape, getting out through the sewers, but among them is a gentile journalist who knows where the Jews buried documents detailing their ghetto experience.

If the plot of Mila 18 sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because John Hersey used the same historical outline for his 1950 bestseller The Wall.

Uris’s addition of non-Jewish characters like the Nazi Horst von Epp and Polish collaborator Franz Koenig adds to readers’ understanding of events, particularly the ethnic rivalries that gave the Nazis a foothold, but weakens the novel’s focus.

If you can read only one novel about the Warsaw uprising, choose The Wall instead.

Mila 18
By Leon Uris
Doubleday, 1961
442 pages
1961 bestseller # 4
My Grade: B +

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Wall Is Rock-Solid Story of Warsaw Ghetto

John Hersey’s The Wall is a story of the Warsaw ghetto. Unlike many holocaust novels, The Wall focuses primarily on the Jews’ fight to overcome their human natures. Their resistance to the Nazis comes out of that fight.

In 1939, the Jews are being squeezed into a small section of Warsaw, and the Poles who had lived and worked among them are being squeezed out.

The Nazis order the Jews to set up their own governing council.  Political parties from before the war continue their squabbles.  As conditions in the ghetto worsen, the Jews turn on their leaders.

Even in the ghetto, someone with the right currency and connections can get almost anything he wants.  Gradually, the pre-war social and economic leaders give way to a new set of leaders: smugglers, blackmarketeers, resistance operatives. Families are broken up; those who remain form new families of unrelated people.

Hersey presents his story as a series of documents written during the ghetto years and buried for posterity. The story, however, has no need of literary tricks to make it plausible. The behavior of the core characters is so realistic that readers will accept the story as representing the Warsaw ghetto.

The Wall
By John Hersey
Alfred A. Knopf, 1950
632 pages
1950 bestseller # 4
My Grade: A-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni