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SIMON WIESENTHAL

THE LIFE AND LEGENDS

An often repetitive but powerful biography.

The life of the famed “Nazi hunter.”

Israeli journalist Segev (1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East, 2007, etc.) labors mightily to separate the facts from the myths surrounding Simon Wiesenthal (1908–2005). The author examines Wiesenthal’s horrifying accounts of his experiences in Nazi death camps during World War II, and he knocks down accusations spread by Wiesenthal's detractors that the postwar crusader actually had collaborated with Nazis. Wiesenthal's renown during his long life and after his death is tied largely to the stories of how he tracked down Nazi murderers of Jews and other ethnic victims—with Adolf Eichmann's capture and punishment leading the list. The fame derives in large part from Wiesenthal's own books as well as movies about him starring actors Laurence Olivier and Ben Kingsley. Although largely a Wiesenthal admirer, Segev demonstrates his subject's exaggerations, lies and seemingly bottomless vanity. Wiesenthal operated mostly from Vienna, Austria, after World War II, but traveled the globe as an investigator, lobbyist and public speaker. The biography moves beyond detailed—and sometimes tedious—controversies enveloping Wiesenthal's words and actions to consider such vital questions as who should be considered a war criminal, and for what offenses? “The hunt for Nazi war criminals and their prosecution entailed many basic legal and ethical questions,” writes the author, “and demanded new definitions of crime, guilt, responsibility, punishment and justice.” After all, many of the Nazi death-camp commanders claimed they were just following orders, as do soldiers from every nation that wages war. Segev also wisely examines a larger context insisted upon by Wiesenthal—that the Nazis exterminated not just Jews, but other groups such as Gypsies. Many Jewish leaders and Zionists in general found Wiesenthal's thinking offensive, but Segev gives him his proper due.

An often repetitive but powerful biography.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-51946-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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

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