Top-notch microcosmic World War II history and an excellent illustration of the immense power of the written word.




Swedish journalist Åsbrink (1947: Where Now Begins, 2018, etc.) offers new information about the founder of IKEA’s Nazi ties, but that is secondary to the engrossing tale of a young Jew in Sweden during World War II.

At first rejecting Otto Ullmann’s daughter’s request to write his story, the author found it as compelling as readers will. Eva Ullmann gave her an IKEA box filled with letters from Otto’s parents dating from 1939, when the 13-year-old was one of 100 children sent to Sweden. The program that enabled him to escape was part of the Swedish Israel Mission, led by Birger Pernow, a pastor who was devoted to converting the Jews and felt that his child relief program would be effective. The plan was to bring 100 children whose parents had good reputations. Otto embarked on Feb. 1, 1939, on the train to Sweden. At first, he and 21 children were taken to a children’s home in Tollarp, and it would be years before he was finally sent out as a farm hand and found friendship. The author then introduces IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who grew up the son of a wealthy farmer whose family had immigrated some years before. Otto and Ingvar met and became friends even as Ingvar participated in Nazi causes. Åsbrink expertly exposes Sweden’s tendency toward Nazism at the time, with geographical proximity as well as threats pushing the inclination. Her book, she writes is “an account of Sweden before the country became a ‘good’ one.” Ingvar’s grandmother and father were both devoted Nazis and were thrilled when Hitler took over their former home in the Sudetenland. Meanwhile, Otto was a lost young boy trying to survive and learn a new language. His only support and encouragement came in the form of the more than 500 letters from his family, which the author seamlessly weaves into the narrative. Just as important were the letters they received (now lost) from their son, knowing he was safe.

Top-notch microcosmic World War II history and an excellent illustration of the immense power of the written word.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59051-917-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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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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