Cohen’s superb history restores them to memory.




The Nazi death camps were populated by “Jews and so-called troublemakers”—and at the very end of WWII, writes Cohen (Hearts Grown Brutal, 1998), by Americans who fit the description.

Award-winning New York Times correspondent Cohen opens still-fresh wounds at a time when influential German historians are calling for closure to the inconvenient matter of the Holocaust. “Germany wants to look forward. It wants above all to be ‘normal,’ ” he writes. “But in almost every German family there is a locked drawer, a place where some secret is kept.” The eastern German town of Berga harbored more than its share of secrets, for as the Allied armies were advancing on all sides, the SS hastened to build an underground synthetic-fuel production facility there. A low-level officer named Willy Hack was put in charge of the operation, and when the emaciated Jewish prisoners he requisitioned from nearby Buchenwald proved “incapable of productive effort,” he found a new supply of slave laborers in Americans taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge. Throughout the winter of 1944–45, some 350 of them worked alongside European prisoners in the mine galleries of Berga; most were American Jews carefully singled out for extermination, but the rest were those alleged troublemakers “and others simply grabbed at random.” The conditions were among the most brutal American POWs were ever forced to endure, though odd moments of humanity punctuated their captivity, as when the citizens of Berga sent the prisoners Christmas cookies and occasionally smuggled other food to them. While the Russian army advanced, the surviving Americans were marched west; dozens died along the way. Amazingly, Cohen writes, only days after being liberated by US troops, the survivors were required to sign security clearances that demanded that they remain silent about their imprisonment; one later guessed that the order “was expedient given the desire not to embarrass the German government” at the dawn of the Cold War—and so the men of Berga were forgotten.

Cohen’s superb history restores them to memory.

Pub Date: April 27, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-41410-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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?


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?