A solid addition to a vast literature.



A good general history that’s also a relentlessly depressing example of a subject that can never make for light reading.

Wistrich (Modern Jewish History/Hebrew Univ., Jerusalem; Antisemitism, 1992) reminds us that anti-Semitic references first appeared in the New Testament. There, Jews were denounced as enemies of the faith, obsessed with money, sex, and power. Massacres began with the Crusades and occurred regularly through the 19th century. While 18th-century Enlightenment ideals and the rise of democracy eliminated much of violent persecution from western Europe and its colonies, a vigorous anti-Semitism persisted in even advanced nations. Hitler, however, was different. The author writes of Hitler’s youth in vividly anti-Semitic Vienna and discusses the writers who influenced his thought and that of 20th-century Europeans, right-wing opinion as well as the mainstream. As a historian, the author seeks explanations, so he had assumed historical anti-Semitism explained the Holocaust. In fact, it explained only anti-Semitism. Hitler’s obsession with wiping out the Jews was his alone. Attacks on Jews played a minor role in the electoral success of Hitler’s party. If he had continued as a garden-variety anti-Semite, the Nazis would have gone along. The mechanics of the Holocaust make dismal reading: on the Allied side, every leading political and religious figure behaved badly; but most dismal of all, the author points, the Nazis could have killed nearly as many Jews simply working alone. An effort to kill every Jew was impossible without universal cooperation, of course—from national governments through local police through leaders of the Jews themselves. So in country after country, officials often cooperated with frightening enthusiasm. Later, many people who did so explained that they were forced to, that refusing would have provoked even worse Nazi atrocities of retaliation. But they were wrong. In every country that refused to cooperate (Bulgaria, Finland, Denmark, Italy), the Nazis simply grumbled and turned their attention elsewhere.

A solid addition to a vast literature.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-679-64222-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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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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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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