An excellent legal-minded elucidation of the long trail toward the conviction of a notorious concentration camp guard. Pair...




Nailing a Nazi-era “faceless facilitator of murder.”

Legal scholar and author Douglas (Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought/Amherst Coll., The Vices, 2011, etc.) conveys the important precedent in the conviction of John (Ivan) Demjanjuk by the Munich court in May 2011, after being acquitted 16 years before by a Jerusalem court for mistaken identity as “Ivan the Terrible” of Treblinka. By that time, the courts had come a long way in recognizing the special nature of the crime of genocide as separate from conventional murder. In this finely wrought work, Douglas traces this crucial legal “self-correction.” After bouncing around several displaced persons camps in Germany following the war, Demjanjuk came to America in 1952, became a union “lifer” mechanic and machinist near Cleveland, Ohio, and an American citizen in 1958. Placed on a U.S. war criminals list in the mid-1970s, he was eventually denaturalized and deported to Israel as Ivan the Terrible for the first sensational trial dominated by many anguished survivors’ accounts. However, mistaking Demjanjuk for another guard underscored the unreliability of memory, and as the pool of survivors diminished over time, the rise of historians’ meticulous research took prominence at the next trial. The German prosecution was able to make several crucial breakthroughs about the defendant, who was taken as a POW in 1942 and pressed into the SS service as a guard at Sobibor and elsewhere. The prosecution argued that there were no grounds to the “question of duress” of SS guards suffering punishment if they refused their killing duties and that since Sobibor, in particular, was a “pure extermination facility,” the job of the guards was by definition as accessory to murder. While some of the legal subtleties might elude lay readers, Douglas ably delineates the legal evolution in atrocity cases.

An excellent legal-minded elucidation of the long trail toward the conviction of a notorious concentration camp guard. Pair with Richard Rashke’s Useful Enemies (2013).

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-12570-1

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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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