A detailed and sobering account.

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An Auschwitz survivor refutes Holocaust deniers in this debut memoir.

Birnbaum was motivated to write this memoir by the fact that some people still deny the reality and scope of the pan-European mass killing and torture of Jews between 1938 and 1945—even though survivors, like himself, still walk among us. Born and raised in Przemysl, a Polish town near the Ukraine border, the author, along with his family, never had it easy. The anti-Semitic locals were more open about their bigotry after the Nazis invaded in 1939. Some old Jewish men were tied to carts, beaten, and mocked, and hundreds of other grown men in Birnbaum’s neighborhood were forced into manual labor or shot. All the Jewish families were crowded into a ghetto, from which Birnbaum watched children of collaborators playing beyond the barbed wire. In painful stages, the ghetto’s residents were placed on cattle cars; Birnbaum’s mother and siblings vanished, and his father was imprisoned and killed. The author was later sent to Szebnie concentration camp, where he was fed only “baleful gray liquid,” made to work extra hours on Jewish holidays, and forced to watch as fellow prisoners suffered torture. Herded again onto cattle cars, Birnbaum and his companions finally arrived at Auschwitz. It would be a travesty to paraphrase what he says he encountered there; this is a book that demands to be read in full. The cruelty and grotesquery of camp life reveals itself clearly through Birnbaum’s engaging, pellucid prose: The filth and insanity of the cattle cars, the smug sadism of the guards, and the agony of the tortured may provoke readers to tears and anger. At one point, he writes of how kapos and SS men at Szebnie barked “Schnell” (“fast”) day and night: “You had to wake up—schnell! You ate and drank—schnell! Worked schnell and died schnell.” Later sections, describing the writer’s escape and work with the Polish resistance, are compelling and even inspiring, but the first half of the book overshadows all else.

A detailed and sobering account.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5454-0291-7

Page Count: 328

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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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

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