A personal and imaginative yet overlong perspective on German history.




The inhabitants of a summer house reveal Germany’s political, economic, and social history.

In 2013, journalist and biographer Harding (Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, 2013) traveled to the lakeside vacation home outside Berlin where his grandmother had spent a bucolic childhood. He was shocked by its condition: abandoned, in disrepair, its roof cracked, its chimneys crumbling, the once-beloved refuge was in possession of the city of Potsdam, scheduled for demolition. The only way to save it, he learned, was to “prove that it was culturally and historically significant.” Harding’s efforts to amass that proof have resulted in a well-researched, intermittently interesting overview of 20th-century German history, focused on five families who lived in the house. In the 1890s, Otto Wollank, a wealthy businessman, bought the property, adding to his already large holdings in Berlin. In 1927, his son-in-law, an early Nazi supporter, leased part of the land to Harding’s great-grandfather Alfred Alexander, a prominent Jewish physician. After the Nazis took power, the Alexanders—including their daughter, who became Harding’s grandmother—reluctantly fled to London. Although the author claims that “virulent nationalism and anti-Semitism…[were] a rarity in the Germany of 1929,” he concedes that Jews could not serve in the army, secure a university professorship, or hold other state positions without converting to Christianity. The story he tells of Nazi persecution of Jews is, sadly, familiar. After the war, the house’s residents included a working-class family whose access to the lake was cut off by the Berlin Wall. Surprisingly, Hardings’ relatives responded with hostility to his pleas to claim and restore the house, eventually giving in and participating in a cleanup day. The house was saved, and Harding asks readers to contribute to its restoration.

A personal and imaginative yet overlong perspective on German history.

Pub Date: July 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-06506-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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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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