A provocative addition to a vast literature: Jarausch’s history complicates our understanding of German society during the...

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BROKEN LIVES

HOW ORDINARY GERMANS EXPERIENCED THE 20TH CENTURY

A revealing study of the lives of “ordinary Germans” under the Third Reich and its aftermath.

Historian Jarausch (European Civilization/Univ. of North Carolina; Out of Ashes: A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century, 2015, etc.) recounts the experiences of Germans born in the 1920s—old enough to have participated in some way in the polity of the Third Reich and to have played a part in the reconstruction of Germany and subsequent “economic miracle” in the West. The latter moment, writes the author, “created an expectation of continual material improvement,” and wealth and its pursuit, coupled with memories of the nightmare years, served as powerful engines to create the social democracy that has prevailed in Germany (the West, at least) for 70 years. That comfort, however, was born in terror. Jarausch charts the changing attitudes of early-20th-century Germans toward ideas of nationhood. Where their predecessors were mostly not attuned to questions of genealogy and in many cases, among the proletariat, scarcely remembered their grandparents’ names (“for the struggle for existence prevented the keeping of records”), Germans under the Third Reich were forced to conform to ideas of racial purity and prove it lest they be destroyed. On that note, much of the narrative concerns the machinery of annihilation, but it also turns on some surprising moments, such as the decision on the part of some Jewish survivors of the Holocaust to remain in Germany even though they “had ample reason to emigrate.” That was a daring choice, it seems, inasmuch as the author’s account also implicates the majority of contemporary Germans: “More ordinary Germans were involved in the Holocaust than apologists admit, but at the same time fewer participated than some critics claim.” In other words, a silent majority gave tacit consent.

A provocative addition to a vast literature: Jarausch’s history complicates our understanding of German society during the early decades of the 20th century.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-691-17458-7

Page Count: 472

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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