An astute, significant academic study of how civilization can go horribly wrong. Never again?




Perhaps now, generations after the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime, it’s time to take measure of what has happened to the perpetrators, the victims, and the few survivors. Fulbrook (German History/Univ. Coll. London, A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust, 2012, etc.) does just that.

The author effectively describes the brutal Germanic efficiency in the industrialized murder of homosexuals, “asocials,” and, overwhelmingly, Jews. Throughout her substantial text, Fulbrook movingly vivifies her outstanding research with individual histories. The methodological murders by the Third Reich began with the elimination of disabled, “useless” adults and children in the name of eugenic cleansing. Torture, dehumanization, and killing followed, and a considerable portion of the German population knew about the atrocities. Thousands were employed in the death camps, soldiers sent home snapshots of mass shootings, roundups were openly conducted in villages and cities, major industries worked expendable slave labor, and smoke filled the air in neighborhoods near the ovens. “The ‘it’ about which people allegedly ‘knew nothing’ was raging all around them,” writes Fulbrook. Nevertheless, the killers professed ignorance: “ ‘Forgetting’ seemed to be a privilege of the persecutors.” There were some postwar trials. The Russians were assiduous in meting out punishment, the Western allies less so, but few perpetrators were punished or even tried. The capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann brought fresh attention to Nazi crimes, but with the passage of time, it grew late for punishment of the culpable or compensation for anyone. Despite the increasing availability of memoirs, Anne Frank’s narrative, recovery of stolen artworks, film and TV presentations of Holocaust stories, and museums and monuments, through the decades and the passing of the afflicted survivors and their affected progeny, more persecutors evaded justice. “This continuing imbalance,” writes the author, “can only be recognized, and no longer rectified,” As they read this important contribution to Holocaust studies, especially now in the time of neo-Nazis, readers may wonder, is it all in the past?

An astute, significant academic study of how civilization can go horribly wrong. Never again?

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-19-068124-1

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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