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 19, 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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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