Cover of Nakam by Dina Porat
The Holocaust Survivors Who Sought Full-Scale Revenge
Dina Porat


November 2022
394 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503630314
Ebook ISBN: 9781503633773

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The true story of a vigilante group of Holocaust survivors who conspired to kill six million Germans

Nakam (Hebrew for "vengeance") tells the story of "the Avengers" (Nokmim), a group of young Holocaust survivors led by poet and resistance fighter Abba Kovner, who undertook a mission of revenge against Germany following the crimes of the Holocaust. Motivated by both the atrocities they had endured and the realization that murderous antisemitic attacks on survivors continued long after the Nazi surrender, these fifty young men and women sought retaliation at a level commensurate with the devastation caused by the Holocaust, making clear to the world that Jewish blood would no longer be shed with impunity. Had they been successful, they would have poisoned city water supplies and loaves of bread distributed to German POWs, with the aim of killing six million Germans. Kovner and his followers went to great lengths to carry out their plans, going so far as to obtain the schematics for Nuremberg's municipal water system, secure large quantities of poison, infiltrate a POW camp and the bakery that supplied it, and distribute poisoned bread to prisoners—but their plots were ultimately stymied. Most of the members of Nakam eventually returned to Israel, where for decades many of them refused to speak publicly about their roles in the group.

While the Avengers' story began to come to light in the 1980s, details of the relations between the group and Zionist leadership and the motivations of its members have remained unknown. Drawing on rich archival sources and in-depth interviews with the Avengers in their later years, historian Dina Porat examines the formation of the group and the clash between the formative humanistic values held by its members and their unrealized plans for violent retribution.

About the author

Dina Porat is Professor Emerita of Modern Jewish History at Tel Aviv University and former Chief Historian of Yad Vashem.

"Completely engrossing, Nakam reads like the best detective novel, while also being a first-class work of historical research."

—Saul Friedländer, author of Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945

"A thoughtful and meticulously researched study of the postwar Jewish plan to murder six million Germans in retaliation for the Holocaust, a topic that had been written out of history for too long because of its moral ambiguity and political sensitivity. A must-read for anyone interested in post-traumatic recovery of victims after genocide.—Laura Jockusch, author of Collect and Record!: Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe

"This elegantly written book gives pause to ponder how great and awful can be the consequences when the law fails to protect those most in need of protection.—David Engel, author of The Assassination of Symon Petliura and the Trial of Sholem Schwarzbard 1926-1927

"Written by one of Israel's most eminent historians, this fascinating book demonstrates the impossibility of just retribution for genocide, and the vast gap between the integrity of the Avengers and the horrific nature of their goal. Nakam is a deeply-researched, empathetic, and compelling account of the men and women who vowed to avenge the murderers of their families and communities."

—Omer Bartov, author of Tales from the Borderlands: Making and Unmaking the Galician Past

"In the wake of the Holocaust, the overwhelming priority of Jewish activists in Europe and the Palestine Mandate was the rescue and emigration of survivors and the founding of a Jewish state. Nakam tells the story of the most notable exception to these efforts: the close-knit group of former resistance fighters who resolved on killing six million Germans in a stunning act of vengeance. A deeply-researched, insightful, but also empathetic study."

—Christopher R. Browning, author of Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland

"This meticulous and empathetic study gives an overlooked chapter of Jewish history its due."

Publishers Weekly

"[Nakam is] part riveting tale, part scholarly disquisition. Porat thoroughly and sensitively interrogates their motivations, their tactics and strategies, and the ramifications of their highly controversial actions, which never fully materialized. Carefully incorporating dozens of interviews with the now-nonagenarian remnants of the group, Porat, a renowned Holocaust scholar and onetime chief historian of Israel's Holocaust museum, adroitly surveys the origins and ultimate futility of the innate human instinct for revenge."

—Michael M. Rosen, Washington Examiner

"[Porat's] writing is scholarly yet accessible, tender yet bold. It draws on hitherto unstudied archival sources and in-depth interviews with the surviving avengers themselves....Nakamdelivers new insights about war, trauma, healing, and the ethics of revenge."

—Linda F. Burhardt, Jewish Book Council

"The book sets out to solve several historical mysteries. With the drive to avenge, the means to avenge, the targets identified, and the tools to do so: 'Why didn't they manage to take vengeance? Who betrayed them and why?' And how was it possible that this seemingly warm, humane, ethical group of individuals was equipped to carry out such a barbaric plan? This is where Porat's expertise regarding the Yishuv and its relationship to the Holocaust helps to inform the power dynamics at play after the war."

—Avinoam Patt, Yad Vashem

"[The Nokmim] were a secretive group, survivors of the Holocaust, who refused to divulge any hard facts about their activities. Dina Porat, a professor of modern Jewish history at Tel Aviv University, has researched their story in meticulous (and, it should be said, reverential) detail."

—Colin Shindler, History Today

"Israeli historian Dina Porat has written a fascinating book about a small band of Holocaust survivors who were intent on full-scale revenge.... For those uncomfortable with the notion of vengeance, this is a deeply discomforting book, but the task of a good historian—and Dina Porat is surely one—is not to offer comfort but to tell the truth."

—Michael Berenbaum, Jewish Journal

"This major history book rewards in its humanistic and subtle treatment of the moral and political complexities of proposed large-scale vengeance-taking. A standout contribution to the Holocaust/Shoah genre, it will reward a close read for long to come."

—Arthur B. Shostak, The European Legacy

"Israeli scholar Dina Porat's Nakam: The Holocaust Survivors Who Sought Full Scale Revengemeticulously tracks this briefly held mission in the anguished months immediately after the war."

—Shane Burley, Religion Dispatches

"In this carefully researched, well-written, disturbing study, Porat investigates a post-Holocaust project involving about 50 surviving Lithuanian and Polish Jewish resistance fighters who sought to avenge the helpless Jewish dead by murdering millions of Germans in 1946. She leads readers on a complex trail of evidence, both documentary and oral, about the clandestine Jewish group known as the Avengers (Nokmim).... Recommended."

—R.M. Shapiro, CHOICE

"Thanks for scholars like Dina Porat, the past is far from forgotten, including a previously little-known part of it brought back to life in Nakam. Owing to her thorough immersion in a broad array of archival and printed sources, Porat's narration of the Nokmim's actions is fully documented and is as authoritative an account of postwar attempts at Jewish vengeance as we are likely to have for a long time."

—Alvin H. Rosenfeld, Antisemetism Studies

"This book is well-researched, with a chronology of events, and original Hebrew footnotes."

—Hallie Cantor, Association of Jewish Libraries News and Reviews