A well-executed, original reflection on how social evil tends to endure, puzzle and resist efforts at redemption.




A provocative exploration of one of the “Nazi ‘human skin atrocities’ ”—a lampshade supposedly made of human skin.

New York Magazine contributing editor Jacobson (Teenage Hipster in the Modern World: From the Birth of Punk to the Land of Bush: Thirty Years of Apocalyptic Journalism, 2005, etc.) sums up a certain aspect of the postwar American Jewish experience when he writes, “In the Queens schoolyard of the 1950s, decades before the museums and Schindler’s List, the lampshade was our holocaust, the Shoah we knew.” He notes that “facts pertaining to the so-called [atrocities] remain a topic of debate, yet there is testimony indicating that the practice was widespread.” This evidence centers upon activities at the Buchenwald concentration camp and notorious Nazi Ilse Koch. The so-called “Buchenwald lampshade” was documented during liberation in a Billy Wilder–directed documentary, The Death Mills (1945), but disappeared thereafter. The official position of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is that the lampshade is a myth. Jacobson recounts an icy conversation he had with a museum representative, when he contacted them regarding the titular object, which a top lab's DNA testing had confirmed was of human origin. He received the lampshade from a cultural obsessive and bar owner who had purchased it at a post-Katrina rummage sale from a desperate, colorful substance abuser notorious as the “cemetery bandit of New Orleans.” The author and these two eccentrics became haunted by their suspicions that the lampshade was a Holocaust artifact. By focusing on his improbable journeys with the lampshade, and his hope that it “might somehow stand as a however tortured symbol of commonality,” he takes a wry approach to a horrific topic. The book's basic flaw is that beyond the DNA evidence, Jacobson cannot pinpoint the lampshade's human source or a clear connection to Buchenwald. Still, he does a solid job synthesizing the diverse locales and perspectives, which include thoughtful veterans, camp survivors, scholar obsessives, European neo-Nazis and even David Duke.

A well-executed, original reflection on how social evil tends to endure, puzzle and resist efforts at redemption.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6627-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

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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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