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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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