BETWEEN DIGNITY AND DESPAIR

JEWISH LIFE IN NAZI GERMANY

An exceptional Holocaust study from the vantage point of German Jewish women. German Jews in general have been accused of loving Germany too much and of suffering less than their Eastern European counterparts. Kaplan (History/Queens Coll., CUNY), the award-winning author of The Making of the Jewish Middle Class (not reviewed), doesn't dampen the first charge, but has lots of personal and poignant responses—and statistics—to eradicate the latter. German Jews, she writes, ``expected the worst—they did not expect the unthinkable.'' As far as what German Jews suffered, we see from Kaplan's research that ``women reveal crucial private thoughts and emotions.'' Drawing on their ``stories, memoirs, interviews, letters and diaries,'' and aided by her own eye for the intimate detail, she lets us re-experience how ``Nazi Germany succeeded in enforcing social death on its Jews'' by slowly banning them from all public places. And German Jewish women were a public force; they had smaller families and more education than the average woman, and in the League of Jewish Women Voters they numbered 50,000 for Germany's bourgeois feminist movement. When conditions worsened, ``most [women] adjusted to daily deprivation'' and insult, courageously carrying on family life and tasks with a semblance of normalcy. And women, faced with carrying on in such circumstances, were often less naive than their husbands, who didn't want to risk their livelihoods. The author cites one woman who smuggled the family's valuables in a secret compartment of her desk and only told her husband the night before they arrived in Cuba. Taboos about mistreating women gradually fell, and the Nazis—for whom ``racism and sexism were intertwined''—murdered a disproportionate number of elderly women. Only 1,400 German Jews survived by being hidden by their countrymen, less than one percent of the original population in 1933. This is a major addition to Holocaust studies, as so few works have concentrated on women.

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-19-511531-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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