Escape from the Pit

A Woman’s Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Poland, 1939–1943

By Renia Kukielka

Subjects: Holocaust Studies, Jewish Studies, Autobiography, Biography And Memoir, History, Women's Studies
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438494777, 236 pages, November 2023
Hardcover : 9781438494784, 236 pages, November 2023

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Table of contents

Foreword to the 1947 English-language edition
Ludwig Lewisohn
“Autobiographical” note appearing in the 1947 English-language edition
Asya Kovnat
Severin Hochberg

1. The First Years

2. Homeless

3. The Bendzin Kibbutz

4. In the Toils of the Gestapo

5. Rescue

gallery of photographs follows page 138
Afterword: Life after Escape
Asya Kovnat, with Paulina Ezer

Originally published in Hebrew in 1944, this fascinating and moving account may well be the first memoir of the Holocaust.


At the end of 1944, while World War II was still raging, nineteen-year-old Renia Kukielka published her Hebrew language memoir about the Holocaust. The account may well be the first of its kind. In her powerful and raw story, she portrays life in the ghettos and her three years of wandering in disguise as a Polish Catholic, trying to escape from the German onslaught. She also recounts how she served for almost a year as a courier between ghettos for the Zionist youth movement's underground cell in Bendzin, carrying weapons, money, and messages, until she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. She was tortured in a high-security prison, but, after a daring escape, she was able to flee to British Mandate Palestine with other members of the resistance.

Kukielka's memoir manages to combine both immediacy and hindsight. It stands out for its descriptions of life and activities outside of the ghettos and concentration camps in wartime Poland and for its focus on Zionist youth resistance to the Holocaust. It also provides a somewhat rare female perspective on the Holocaust and offers insight into how much was known about the scale of the Nazi atrocities during the war. Following the book's initial publication in Hebrew in 1944, an unauthorized English-language edition was published in the United States in 1947. The present expanded text includes a scholarly introduction, notes, and a historical afterword, which help to explain and contextualize Kukielka's personal account.

Published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Renia Kukielka was born in Jedrzejow, Poland, in 1924. During World War II, she was a member of the Zionist youth resistance in Poland. Following her escape to British Mandate Palestine in 1944, she wrote her memoir, Bindudim Uvamachteret: 1939–1943 B'Polin (While Wandering and in the Underground: 1939–1943 in Poland), which was published before the war ended. She died in Haifa, Israel, in 2014.


"This deeply moving memoir provides a remarkable description of Jewish resistance to Nazi persecution in occupied Poland. Its author, a young Jewish woman born in central Poland in 1924, after escaping from the ghetto in her native town of Jędrzejów and a labor camp, joined the Zionist underground in nearby Będzin. Arrested by the Germans in August 1943, she survived because they believed she was a Polish Christian. She succeeded in escaping from German captivity in November 1943 and made her way to Palestine. This vivid and fascinating chronicle is essential reading for all those interested in the fate of the Jews under Nazi occupation." — Antony Polonsky, Chief Historian, Global Education Outreach Project, Museum of Polish Jews in Warsaw