A vivid chronicle of 1930s Germany conveyed through the life of a lesser-known historical figure.

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THE BERLIN MISSION

THE AMERICAN WHO RESISTED NAZI GERMANY FROM WITHIN

The story of Raymond Geist (1885-1955), United States consul in Berlin from 1929 to 1939.

Breitman (Emeritus, History/American Univ.; co-author: FDR and the Jews, 2013, etc.) maintains convincingly that Geist was the most competent American diplomatic figure in Germany, especially after the Nazis took power in 1933. A professional actor and scholar (Harvard doctorate), he was overqualified in 1921 when he joined the Consular Service, at the time separate and inferior to the Diplomatic Service, concerned mostly with visa matters and problems of American citizens. During Geist’s assignment in Berlin, these duties became a matter of life and death. Few colleagues knew how to deal with the Nazis, and the ambassadors were callow political appointees. Far more educated, fluent in German, and a natural schmoozer, Geist became so valuable that superiors kept him in Berlin for a decade even though consuls usually rotated after a few years. Most scholars agree on the value of Geist’s reports to U.S. officials, in which he emphasized the Nazi regime’s brutality, predicted Hitler’s intention to go to war, and described the vicious persecution of Jews, warning that it would end in mass murder. He worked hard and often creatively to process the avalanche of requests for U.S. visas, but, a loyal civil servant, he obeyed America’s restrictive immigration laws. The sad truth is that most Americans, including members of Congress, overwhelmingly opposed admitting refugees, and many high officials in the State Department were anti-Semitic. Although sympathetic, Franklin Roosevelt refused to twist arms. “In the fiscal year from July 1, 1933, to June 30, 1934, 891 people got US immigration visas in Berlin,” writes Breitman. “This means that somewhere around twelve thousand people were either formally rejected or, more commonly, placed on the informal and inactive waiting list.” The author deplores this heartless policy, but he mostly praises Geist’s efforts, which were admirable but never heroic.

A vivid chronicle of 1930s Germany conveyed through the life of a lesser-known historical figure.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5417-4216-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 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...

NIGHT

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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