LAST WITNESSES

AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE CHILDREN OF WORLD WAR II

As usual, Alexievich shines a bright light on those who were there; an excellent book but not for the faint of heart.

The Nobel laureate brings her unique style of collecting firsthand memories to the stories of those who were children during World War II.

Like all of Alexievich’s (The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II, 2017, etc.) books, this one makes for a difficult but powerful reading experience. The Nazis ruthlessly killed entire villages or took all the men who might be partisans out to be shot, transporting women and children to concentration camps. One universal memory of these children was the complete lack of color: Everything was gray or black; spring never arrived. Many raged that they never had a childhood, which was stolen from them. As one 13-year-old recounts, “I learned to be a good shot….But I forgot my math….” The children were not immune to Nazi tortures, and the author does not hide that fact from readers. Even 70 years later, many couldn’t bear to remember the horrors of separation, the killings, and the hunger, which was perpetual—many ate grass, bark, even dirt. One man said there were no tears in him; he didn’t know how to cry. The ages of Alexievich’s subjects range from 4 to 15 years, most in the younger range because the teenagers were usually taken for slave labor or shot. Children were sold as slaves to German farmers and worked to death, but one of the most heinous crimes has to be the Aryan-looking children’s being taken to camps so their blood could be used for transfusions for injured soldiers. The stories of escaping to the East, many alone, are remarkable, especially as we see the total strangers who took them in and treated them as family. Strangers were all they knew, and it was strangers who saved them. There are some uplifting stories of parents finding their children after the war, but many never found anyone.

As usual, Alexievich shines a bright light on those who were there; an excellent book but not for the faint of heart.

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-58875-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

NIGHT

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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