A chilling documentation of what happened in Germany when the Nazis seized power and put their ideas on eugenics and euthanasia into action. Burleigh (International History/London School of Economics; coauthor, The Racial State, not reviewed) points out that the Nazi program began with a humanitarian rationalization: Mentally and physically disabled children were subject to ``mercy killing'' as a form of deliverance. Soon, however, ``mercy killing'' evolved into the elimination of ``life unworthy of life'' as the Nazi killing machine expanded to include more and more victims, and as political, legal, moral, and religious opposition was quashed by the fear of reprisals and totalitarian power. Burleigh demonstrates how Nazi eugenics perverted German medicine and science: Scientists approved the sterilization of some 400,000 people between 1934 and 1945 to eradicate ``degenerative heredity'' in order to ``improve the race.'' Doctors, particularly psychiatrists, were encouraged to falsify medical records, give lethal injections, starve patients, and use other creative means of murder while ignoring the age-old dictum of the physician, ``Do no harm.'' Burleigh also details how asylum populations were decimated as managers, bureaucrats, lawyers, doctors, nurses, and other professionals, corrupted by monetary awards and promotions, played their parts in the Nazi murder industry. Daily killings became routine as Nazi propagandists extolled social Darwinism. Burleigh describes how victims were targeted, including Jews, foreigners, enemies of the Reich, gypsies, and those who lacked ``labor values.'' Occasional accounts of humanity brighten the grim story, as medical Schindlers saved patients from death by listing them as valuable workers who were badly needed. After the war, some of the Nazi eugenicists, tried at Nuremberg and in German courts, were executed, while others received light sentences. Most melted into the general population under new identities. A notable contribution to the history of Nazi Germany—and a sobering reminder of what can happen when the claims of science, bureaucracy, and expertise go unchallenged.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1995

ISBN: 0-521-41613-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Cambridge Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1994

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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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