Not just another tale of concentration camp terrors, Helm delivers a gripping story of the women who outlasted them and had...




Just when you thought you knew all about the Holocaust camps, Helm (A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII, 2006) chronicles the history of this much-ignored site for women.

It was little different from other camps, its primary purpose removing those who would sully the German gene pool and using them as slave labor. In the Nazis’ obsessive record-keeping, each inmate had a file and was identified by a colored patch dividing them into political prisoners, asocials (lesbians, prostitutes), Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jews. Prussian efficiency required paperwork and approvals for every action or move. Even punitive beatings (as opposed to the everyday cruelties) required the signature of Heinrich Himmler himself. However, this is not really the story of the deaths by gas, firing squad, lethal injection, poison and neglect (starvation); the author smartly focuses on the incredible ways that a wide variety of women fought to survive. Those who were sent to factories, like Siemens, purposely sabotaged the arms they worked on. The imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses and Red Army medics succeeded in refusing to work on armaments. Poles who had been used in medical experiments found a way to smuggle their stories out written in their own urine. Not all had the strength to withstand the barbaric conditions, and 40,000 to 50,000 of the 123,000 prisoners died. Only a Swedish mission miraculously saved 17,000 lives toward the end of the war. This camp isn’t well-known for a number of reasons: The staff destroyed all records, it was in the Russian zone, victims wouldn’t discuss it, Russian prisoners were actually punished for being caught, the camp was on a smaller scale, and the contention was that “they were only women.”

Not just another tale of concentration camp terrors, Helm delivers a gripping story of the women who outlasted them and had the strength to share with the author and us 60 years later.

Pub Date: March 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-52059-1

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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