A fine work of scholarly detection, turning up a story that deserves to be much better known.




Intriguing history of the only U.S. government agency ever founded with the express purpose “to save the lives of civilians being murdered by a wartime enemy.”

America’s closed-door immigration policy, the product of an intractably isolationist Congress, did not budge during much of World War II, even after Hitler’s program of annihilation became a known reality. As U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum archivist and curator Erbelding writes, it was largely thanks to a German-American lawyer named John Pehle that formerly private efforts at rescue became official ones. Firmly committed to an activist sense of justice, Pehle worked at the Treasury Department, leading efforts to freeze the assets and accounts of the nation’s enemies—and thus “economically fighting the war long before Pearl Harbor.” His office also monitored relief funds to Jewish refugees, and it was from that starting point that Pehle eventually organized the War Refugee Board, which, beginning formally in January 1944, provided such funding. Moreover, the WRB was its own clandestine operation on a par with the OSS, funding Resistance fighters in France, paying smugglers, bribing officials, and even floating efforts to negotiate with the Nazis directly to ransom European Jews. The last proved controversial and fell apart thanks to institutional resistance. As the author writes, “Great Britain refused any bargain designed to stave off Germany’s defeat, nor could it care for a million released prisoners, which would undoubtedly force the Allies to call a temporary halt to the war.” Even WRB efforts to make the Holocaust known to American soldiers and those on the homefront were quashed. But many of the WRB’s efforts were more successful overall, including opening diplomatic pathways to allow Jews to enter and settle in British Palestine, saving thousands of lives in the bargain. The denouement of the story is satisfying, too, for Pehle helped prosecute Nazi war criminals, while one of his colleagues became mayor of New York.

A fine work of scholarly detection, turning up a story that deserves to be much better known.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-54251-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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