In the aftermath of the Holocaust, survivors of all ages, abilities, nationalities, and ethnicities had to somehow come to terms with the enormous trauma they had suffered before they could fully rebuild their lives. But for a small and determined group of young men and women, that first step toward healing was revenge.
Nakam is the chilling true story of the fifty men and women who joined together as a sort of underground army to avenge the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.
The year was 1945. A small paramilitary group of Holocaust survivors, many of whom had fought in partisan militias in the forests of Ukraine and Lithuania, simply could not return to everyday life as if nothing had happened — as if the social order had not been breached to the highest degree. They had little faith in the Nuremberg trials to bring about justice, for they considered every citizen of Germany equally complicit in the crimes, and thus equally deserving of punishment. So they devised a plan to poison and kill six million Germans.
Their leader, Abba Kovner, was a charismatic poet and resistance fighter. He, like them, was a Holocaust survivor with a burning desire for revenge on Germany. He became a messianic figure; and while he was smart, driven, and courageous, he could not operate in a vacuum. He had to navigate the forces around him, including the more moderate Yishuv — the administrators of Israel — and the Haganah, the Zionist military leaders.
The group of avengers, called Nakam (Hebrew for “vengeance”), had to solve a serious ethical dilemma before they could fulfill their mission. Should they dedicate themselves to rescuing survivors, forging a path toward health, safety, and the construction of a political homeland? Or should they focus on the past and retaliate, sacrificing everything?
Dina Porat is an Israeli historian, a professor emeritus of Modern Jewish History at Tel Aviv University, and the former chief historian at Yad Vashem. Her writing is scholarly yet accessible, tender yet bold. It draws on hitherto unstudied archival sources and in-depth interviews with the surviving avengers themselves. Translated by Mark L. Levinson as part of the prestigious Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture series, Nakam delivers new insights about war, trauma, healing, and the ethics of revenge.
Linda F. Burghardt is a New York-based journalist and author who has contributed commentary, breaking news, and features to major newspapers across the U.S., in addition to having three non-fiction books published. She writes frequently on Jewish topics and is now serving as Scholar-in-Residence at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.