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A ruminative exploration of the murkiness of collective memory.

The American-born daughter of a German Jew tells the story of her father’s tiny village, where charity mostly trumped hate during Hitler’s reign.

Schwartz (Thoughts from a Queen-Sized Bed, 2002, etc.) compiles material from personal interviews, local archives and Holocaust literature into an eloquent and affectionate account of Benheim (a fictional name). Jews and Catholics had lived as friends in this small southwestern farming community for centuries, until Nazis from a nearby town shattered the interracial and interreligious peace by destroying the local synagogue on Kristallnacht in 1938. A number of the town’s Jews had left the year before; some established a refugee community in Israel, others emigrated to America, as Schwartz’s father did. Many chose to stay and were aided by their Christian neighbors; nonetheless, almost a third of Benheim’s Jewish population eventually died in concentration camps. Schwartz’s main concern is to distinguish between historical truth and inherited nostalgia, to find out whether Benheim really was a uniquely peaceful hamlet of loyal neighbors who rejected the Nazis’s systematized stereotyping and brutality. Her final tally reveals a town in which personal decency was frequently upheld. The village’s most cherished story (recounted in several versions) is of a policeman who hid the synagogue’s Torah during Kristallnacht, then gave it to his Jewish neighbors to take to Israel. Wisely conceding that village life during the Holocaust wasn’t always so generous, Schwartz also includes stories of Christians turning their heads so as not to see the deportations and of the Nazi-appointed mayor erecting a swastika over the village. The town contained “contradictions that refuse a neat labeling,” the author acknowledges, to the chagrin of Holocaust scholars who favor more official records. As she got to know the surviving villagers, she writes, “their stories [made] my need for judgment recede.” Schwartz’s tone is gentle, her prose brilliantly clear and her insights keen, if not entirely new.

A ruminative exploration of the murkiness of collective memory.

Pub Date: March 20, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8032-1374-6

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2008

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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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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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