Travelling in Search of the Past
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 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. 13th, 1997
ISBN: 0-231-10964-4
Page count: 468pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997


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