First-rate scholarship that pulses with the beat of a most human heart.




The remarkable story of a group of Jewish ghetto inmates who “would not let their culture be trampled upon and incinerated.”

In a work that is scholarly and intimate, descriptive and personal, Fishman (History/Jewish Theological Seminary The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture, 2005, etc.) reminds us that the Holocaust was not just “the greatest genocide in history.” It was also “an act of cultural plunder and destruction” in which “the Nazis sought not only to murder the Jews but also to obliterate their culture.” The author proceeds to demonstrate this in wrenching detail. Focusing on the Jewish community in Vilna (aka Vilnius) in Lithuania, Fishman engagingly tells the astonishing story of a group of dedicated bibliophiles and religious and cultural caretakers determined to save a massive number of Jewish manuscripts and books and other artifacts from the Nazis, who intended to destroy most and to use others for their academic “study” of “the race they hoped to exterminate.” To personalize his narrative, Fishman follows some key figures, including Shmerke Kaczerginski, a poet, humorist, and songwriter; Abraham Sutzkever, a prolific poet; and Rachela Krinsky, a teacher who risked everything to save materials. The author also follows some of the Nazis, virtually all of whom escaped punishment for what they did and attempted to do. Fishman teaches us about what these items were, how the so-called “Paper Brigade” sneaked them out of libraries into hiding (and, later, out of the country), how the Nazis responded, and how the postwar celebrations were a little premature—the Soviets eventually became as openly anti-Semitic as the Nazis. The United States does not escape censure, either. Among other things, the American government would not allow Kaczerginski into the country because he had once been a communist.

First-rate scholarship that pulses with the beat of a most human heart.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5126-0049-0

Page Count: 312

Publisher: ForeEdge/Univ. Press of New England

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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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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