A knowledgeable, stringent return to the record and scrutiny of “good neutrality.”




A history of the failure of the “neutral” guardians of humanity in a time of crisis and war.

Steinacher (History and Judaic Studies/Univ. of Nebraska; Nazis on the Run: How Hitler's Henchmen Fled Justice, 2011, etc.) manages to be evenhanded in this study of the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross and its mission and leaders during World War II. Upon its founding in 1863 by Swiss businessman Henri Dunant, who was horrified by the slaughter and treatment of the wounded on the battlefields of Italy, the ICRC joined the larger humanitarian movement galvanized by Florence Nightingale, Franz Lieber, and, later, Clara Barton, among others, to ameliorate conditions for the wounded and POWs. These efforts led to the first Geneva Convention (1864) and establishment of other red cross organizations, such as the American Red Cross. While they “drew heavily on the Judeo-Christian idea of caritas, the importance of performing works of mercy and charity,” the movement spread beyond the Western world, emerging in Israel as the Red Star of David and in the Ottoman Empire as the Red Crescent. Steinacher focuses mostly on the ICRC’s pro-German stance during World War II and its “silence on the Holocaust.” The author reveals damaging research regarding the political ambitions and behind-the-scene machinations of ICRC vice president Carl J. Burckhardt, whose virulent anti-communism alienated the Soviet Union and whose anti-Semitic pronouncements outraged Jews. Steinacher cites the figure of 320,000 refugees admitted to Switzerland, “mostly made up of non-Jewish refugees.” The German Red Cross was deeply Nazified, and thus the ICRC leadership “learned early on of Nazi plans to murder European Jews” yet did nothing. Moreover, the ICRC’s emphasis on German POWs and its lax policy of issuing travel documents to escaping Nazis and collaborators earned the opprobrium of the world, paving the way for a showdown with the Swedish Red Cross at the 17th International Red Cross Conference in Stockholm in August 1948.

A knowledgeable, stringent return to the record and scrutiny of “good neutrality.”

Pub Date: May 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-870493-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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