A dreadful augury, critically and masterfully told.



A braided and illuminating study of local-level anti-Semitism and its insinuation into the life of a small town in early 20th-century Germany.

In 1900, in Konitz, West Prussia, a young man was killed, his body dismembered, and the parts distributed about the town, neatly wrapped in packing paper. A rumor soon took shape: It was an act of ancient blood libel, the ritual slaughter of Christian children by Jews to use their blood in the baking of Passover matzo. Riots and acts of violence against the Jewish community followed, and Smith (History/Vanderbilt University) has taken as his task to discern the motives behind the anti-Semitism, twining together the many threads with the dexterity of a lace-worker. He sees the phenomenon as a “process,” making “latent anti-Semitism manifest, transforming private enmity and neighborly disputes into bloodstained canvases of persecutory landscapes.” The townspeople fabricated tales against a Jewish butcher; an anti-Semitic press fanned the tales into a collective narrative of good and bad, respectable and low, light and dark; anti-Semitic political groups exploited archaic layers of hatred and superstition, fashioning an allegory of the dangers of social pollution. Smith follows both the course of Jewish relations with the German state, which was markedly liberal in 1900, and the history of such symbols as ritual murder and how they play and endure across the popular imagination. As well, he charts the mutual influence of oral and print cultures, the creation of a spectacle, economic and class factors, and, most importantly, “the dynamics of personal power, with Christians typically asserting power over the Jews they worked for, or had once been injured by, or . . . had once been in love with.” A unifying theme can be found in the “human relationships” and the way they “target the weak points in the overall system of relations.”

A dreadful augury, critically and masterfully told.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-393-05098-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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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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