Unique—and essential to any understanding of German mentalités in the Hitler era.




A trove of transcripts of bugged recordings providing specific, startling evidence that German soldiers in World War II were not just following orders.

Neitzel (Modern History/Univ. of Glasgow) and Welzer (Social Psychology/Univ. of Hanover) pore over two stores of documents from the British and American national archives,  numbering some 150,000 pages in all, of transcripts from recordings of German prisoners of war secretly made in various holding facilities. Those prisoners passed the time by telling each other tales relating the ugly stuff of war: killing enemy soldiers and civilians alike, slaughtering Jews, raping women. “The stories we will be examining in this book…were not intended to be well-rounded, consistent, or logical,” the authors write. “They were told to create excitement, elicit interest, or provide space and opportunity for the interlocutor to add commentary or stories of his own.” One such story involves a Gestapo officer who propositioned a Russian woman, and on being rejected, shot her and had sex with the dead body. Did the event happen? We’re not sure; what matters is that the soldier who told the story and the one who heard it believed it was true. Other reports were closer to the documentable mark. For instance, the SS and the Wehrmacht had a fierce rivalry that continued behind the prison walls, with SS soldiers insisting that they were indispensable and Wehrmacht soldiers marveling at the grimly ridiculous losses they sustained. Some prisoners vied to out-Nazi the Nazis, with one general saying that there would be no complaint about their actions if only they’d been successful in exterminating the Jews. The authors layer on commentary that sometimes threatens to bury the soldiers’ stories in a gray cloak of academese, but the point remains: These German soldiers were utterly normal, for all the atrocities they committed, men who killed simply “because it’s their job.”

Unique—and essential to any understanding of German mentalités in the Hitler era.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95812-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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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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