An engrossing, haunting journey for bibliophiles and World War II historians.




An erudite exploration of the systematic plundering of libraries and book collections by Nazi invaders.

Looting books by mainly Jewish owners, collections, and libraries was an effective way of stealing Jewish memory and history, as this thorough work of research by Swedish journalist and editor Rydell attests. From early bonfires of objectionable publications (by Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig, among others) in Berlin in May 1933, staged by enthusiastic German student federations, to the desecration of synagogues and sacred texts on Kristallnacht to the methodical plundering of libraries in occupied areas during the war, Rydell ably delineates the spiraling destruction, city by city: Berlin, Munich, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Thessaloniki, Vilnius, Prague, etc. The Nazis believed libraries needed to be “cleaned up” and “un-German” literature destroyed—i.e., “degenerate,” “Communist,” Free Mason, and “Jewish” works. As the author emphasizes, however, the Nazis were not anti-intellectual; on the contrary, they were building a whole new “intellectual being, who did not base himself on values such as liberalism and humanism, but rather on his nation and race.” The most valuable books (e.g., antique and medieval works) were claimed by chief Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg’s plundering organization, ERR, which grew into a frightening international organization focused on confiscating “thoughts, memories, and ideas” and enlisted intellectuals and academics as librarian foot soldiers. Rydell considers the millions of volumes confiscated, such as the priceless Yiddish library in Vilnius, essentially the repository for Ashkenazi history and culture. In the “model” concentration camp Theresienstadt, Hebrew scholars were saved from immediate murder by being forced to catalog the thousands of confiscated books in what was called the Talmud Command. Rydell visited many of the rehabilitated libraries (which are still sorting the stolen books), and he traces some of the volumes that have since been returned, such as a cherished book belonging to Berliner Richard Kobrak, deported with his wife to the gas chambers in Auschwitz in 1944.

An engrossing, haunting journey for bibliophiles and World War II historians.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017


Page Count: 368

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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