Noach Levinson, a ghetto archivist and historian, the “recorder” of the events of the novel. A small man in his early forties, Levinson is a messy-haired, intense intellectual whose face is dominated by eyes made large by the magnification of steel-rimmed glasses. At times, the self-educated former shoemaker is cynical, even bitter, about his poor family background, unattractive appearance, and lack of ties to his fellow humans. He eventually finds human warmth and happiness, however, in the extended family of the ghetto. Levinson comes to serve as both the eyes and ears of the Warsaw Jewry, for he not only writes about what he sees but also listens unselfishly to those who need a sympathetic ear. With his fervor for Jewish literature and sense of conviction, he comes to be regarded as the ghetto orator as well. As the Nazi atrocities intensify and Levinson becomes monomaniacal about preserving the archives, he finally becomes the very creator of Jewish memories and thoughts. The ultimate turnaround in the character of the scholarly Levinson comes when, inspired by dedicated young Jews, he fights as a soldier of Israel. Then, almost a year after escaping through the sewers to safety, Levinson dies of pneumonia.
Dolek Berson, a thirty-two-year-old, jovial, talkative drifter who becomes a highly responsible leader in the Jewish resistance. A big and gentle but impatient man and a gifted pianist, he has reacted against his parents’ demands for his high personal achievement as a way of meeting the German threat. Instead, he has restlessly followed a number of occupations, moved for a time with a company of tramps, and finally settled down to a life of ease and prosperity with his beautiful wife, Symka, on his patrimony. As Nazi pressures increase, he works first as a bricklayer on the construction of the wall and then as a ghetto policeman. Gradually aligning himself with the radical resistance movement, he becomes firm, purposeful, and self-motivated. He proves to be a genius...
(The entire section is 840 words.)