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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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