An unusually probing, sensitive, and eloquent diary of incarceration at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Herzberg was a Dutch novelist and playwright, as well as a prominent lawyer, whose Holocaust diary only came to light after his death in 1989. He spent 15 months at Bergen-Belsen in a special section of the camp, where prisoners who possessed some status in the prewar world were kept alive for possible exchange with Allied- held Germans. As a result of their unique status, these ``special'' prisoners escaped the fate of others, who were worked to death or immediately killed. But life was not much easier: Seventy percent of the prisoners in Herzberg's section perished from malnutrition, disease, or torture. It is because Herzberg lived to see so much, and because of his passion for justice and his basic decency, that this book towers over many more gruesome death-camp memoirs. He served as a kind of judge for his section of the camp, rendering decisions when, for instance, the widow of a millionaire was brought before him, accused of stealing a ration of bread hoarded in a neighbor's lice-ridden mattress. Because collective punishment by the Germans was so swift and severe, Herzberg and other inmate leaders were constantly forced to strike a balance between punishing offenders (by withholding rations), and cooperating with Nazi sadism. It's deeply moving to read how so many resisted Nazi dehumanization and ``cheated to give the other an extra slice of bread.'' Beyond the treatment of significant philosophical and psychological issues, the diary's strength is its eloquence and irony. When mired in tedium, the ``days do not follow one another but coincide,'' while the final trauma of evacuation by train is ``spotted fever on wheels.'' Harsh and gentle, intimate and public, these sparkling observations of human nature and values resonate with that spirit which cannot be beaten or starved out of us.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1997

ISBN: 1-86064-121-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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