An informative but superficial expose of the responsibility of Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain and his French subjects for sending thousands of Jews to their death during WW II. British journalist Webster explains that some 76,000 Jews, a quarter of all those in France at the outbreak of WW II, were sent to the concentration camps, many from that part of France not occupied by the Germans, and many at a time when the Germans were more concerned to consolidate their position than root out Jews. Vichy legislation overturned 150 years of tolerance towards French Jews, and was being prepared early in Petain's rule. The Statut des Juifs of 1940 excluded Jews from a wide range of professions, including all elected offices, teaching, and most civil-service appointments. According to Webster, evidence suggests that this was done under German pressure. Moreover, it would have been impossible to carry out the program without the active support of the French police. Webster sees the genesis of that French attitude toward Jews in a hysterical anti-Semitism that reached its height in the late 19th century, but that continued to play a part in political life through WW II. He exposes the callousness of Petain, who was neither the benign leader he was often portrayed to be, nor the impotent puppet of his premier, Pierre Laval. Webster also notes the courage of thousands of Frenchmen (and of some Italians, in that part of France occupied by them) in protecting Jews, often at the risk of their lives; but—just one instance of the book's lack of in-depth insight—he fails to explain properly why these brave souls bucked their governments and countryfolk to save Jews. Well-researched, but pedestrian writing and analysis make for an uninspired chronicle.

Pub Date: April 14, 1991

ISBN: 0-929587-55-3

Page Count: -

Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1991

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?