A travelogue, spanning two weeks, of the essential sites of the Holocaust, by the venerable historian and author of many books, including The Boys (p. 116), an oral history of concentration camp survivors. Gilbert, professor of Holocaust studies at University College (London), guides one of his classes on an extraordinary field trip: to Berlin, Prague, Zilina, Cracow, Auschwitz, Zamosc, Lublin, Warsaw, Piotrkow, Konin, and the rail stations and villages in-between. He lectures at the most significant sites—of desecrated synagogues, book burnings, and gas chambers—bringing in local historians with their archival letters and diaries. To these moving testaments Gilbert here adds the voices of his fellow travelers, both Jews and non-Jews, who draw closer as the trip progresses and they relive the terrible history. Gilbert does not simply chronicle atrocities, however, but brings into his narrative the history of Jewish settlements prior to their decimation; of labor and political movements; and of WW I's effect on Germany and the rise of the Nazis. In Berlin, for instance, he lectures his students on the murder of the Communist Labor leader Rosa Luxemburg. At the same time, he weaves in telling details, such as the story of an old, dignified man, newly arrived at Auschwitz, who somehow held onto a pouch full of diamonds. Daily, he negotiated with his brutal foreman, trading diamonds for potatoes. The passages concerning Birkenau are moving in an immediate way: Gilbert quotes the Nuremberg testimony of a doctor who watched as starved women undressed and filed into the gas chambers, even as his students walk in their steps. Yet there is irony: Auschwitz is an international tourist destination now, with professionals and amateurs alike making money as if it were Yellowstone or Machu Picchu. The very best book for any Jew, or any human being, planning the same soul-searching trip. (52 photos, 53 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 1997

ISBN: 0-231-10964-4

Page Count: 468

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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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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