A necessary history about some of the worst atrocities of World War II.




Veterans tell their stories of liberating Nazi death camps in the closing months of World War II.

Journalist Hirsh (None Braver: U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen in the War on Terrorism, 2003, etc.) interviewed more than 150 veteran U.S. soldiers who discovered death camps in Germany and Austria. In 1945, the first to be uncovered by American troops was Ohrdruf, a subcamp of the soon-to-be-notorious Buchenwald. The horrors there were unlike any that even battle-hardened soldiers had seen before. Piles of corpses littered the ground, some covered in lime or partially incinerated. The death-camp survivors were emaciated and barely alive. Some 50 years later, many veterans repeat very similar details. Many describe the bodies as being “stacked up like cordwood,” the smells of the filth and decay are noted by nearly everyone and many note how German civilians from surrounding towns yelled “Nicht Nazi” in an effort to distance themselves from responsibility for the camps. Despite the repetition, each veteran comes across as a distinct individual, and each story adds shocking and/or poignant details. For example, one tells of discovering baskets of what he thought were pebbles, but that turned out to be teeth. The soldiers’ reactions to the horrors varied—some didn’t talk about what they saw for years, or even decades, while others made it their mission to tell as many people as possible. Hirsh should be commended for the diversity of his interview subjects, which include former GI and Ohrdruf liberator Charles T. Payne, President Obama’s great-uncle, who gained fame during the 2008 presidential campaign. Overall, the book is a worthy tribute to these soldiers and a valuable historical document.

A necessary history about some of the worst atrocities of World War II.

Pub Date: March 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-553-80756-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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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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