From the title, you could think “The Art of Resistance” is a World War II version of 1971’s handbook for insurrection, “The Anarchist Cookbook.” But Justus Rosenberg’s book is not filled with recipes for pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails, nor does it outline guerrilla fighter tactics or camo-face-paint guidelines. Instead, it reads like a John Le Carré spy novel, told in the low-key manner typical of survivors of World War II, full of intrigue and suspense. In places, Rosenberg’s humor shines through, which, considering the circumstances surrounding him is surprising. He writes without bravado, sentimentality and devoid of any woe-is-me.
Rosenberg was an educated, middle-class young man, coming of age as Nazi fever sentiment was rising in his hometown of Danzig. Now known as Gdansk, Poland, in 1939, it was an area of over 200 towns and villages surrounding a Baltic seaport city. Established by treaty after World War I, the free state of Danzig was the jewel of the Polish Corridor. Intended to assure Poland access to the sea and therefore economic independence from German rule, it sat between an eastern German state and the main western portion of Germany. But in a population of 410,000 people, ninety-five percent were German, four percent Polish and one percent Jewish, which didn’t accomplish the League of Nations goal. When the tide of nationalism turned into the Nazi persecutions, Danzig became an international crisis.
Reading about his family’s experiences offered one answer to the the question: why didn’t the Jewish population flee before the situation became desperate? In the beginning of the twentieth century, most Jewish enclaves were subjected to frequent incidents of violence. It was such a common occurrence that there is a word for it, “pogrom,” or a publicly sanctioned purgative attack on an ethnic or religious group. Most Jews did not believe that the incidents of 1938 would bloom into widespread genocide because previous pogroms fizzled out and life went back to normal.
After one virulent occurrence, organized and executed by the local Nazi party, Rosenberg’s family sent him to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, thinking he would be safe in France. Within months of his arrival, Hitler invaded France, prompting Rosenberg to begin his life as part of the Maquis guerrilla bands of French Resistance fighters, where he used his knowledge of languages, his cunning and his youth to survive the war.
His firsthand witness of historical events, his fortuitous timing and his zest for life make “The Art of Resistance” a wonderful read. You might forget it is a memoir.
“The Art of Resistance: My Four Years in the French Underground: A Memoir”
By Justus Rosenberg
HarperCollins, 304 pages
L. D. Barnes writes mystery, historical fiction and poetry. She is working on the second novel in her Chicago Street Crime series while living on the far south side. Barnes is a member of FLOW (For Love of Writing), Longwood Writers Guild and Mystery Writers of America. She performs locally.