Sprawling study by noted English historian Gilbert (A History of the Twentieth Century, 1999, etc.) celebrates hundreds of men and women who saved Jewish lives during the years of the Shoah.
These “Righteous Among Nations,” the Yad Vashem, were comparatively rare in WWII–era Europe, where homegrown fascists, nationalists, criminals, and ordinary people with scores to settle visited murder upon the Jews or stood by as it was committed en masse. Gilbert gathers some truly remarkable stories of the brave deeds of the Righteous: poor Polish farmers, for instance, who hid Jewish families under barn floors or in attics; Italian priests and nuns who disguised refugees as monks and novices (as in Assisi, where one hiding place was “the only convent in the world with a kosher kitchen”); British prisoners of war who smuggled Jews scheduled for annihilation into their own camps, keeping them fed and hidden for months at a time at grave risk to their own safety. These stories are marvelous moral lessons, of course, and it may seem churlish to complain about Gilbert’s approach to relating those exemplary deeds, which, sad to say, is eminently respectful but not especially interesting. He piles anecdote atop anecdote with little discrimination and even less commentary, save at the very end, when he briefly considers the various motives the Righteous may have had in doing their good deeds: hatred of the Nazis, religious devotion, simple human decency, and so on. In the end, the catalogue-like narrative is just a little numbing and more than a little repetitive; it would have been useful to have fewer stories with more consideration of what they mean.
Less memorable than other studies of the subject.