AGAINST ALL ODDS

HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS AND THE SUCCESSFUL LIVES THEY MADE IN AMERICA

The first book-length study to document and analyze the ordeals and successes of immigrant Holocaust survivors. After an animated dose of terminally neurotic survivors in Art Spiegelman's Maus, it's refreshing to encounter survivors like Congressman Tom Lantos of California. Helmreich (Sociology and Judaic Studies/CCNY; The Things They Say Behind Your Back, 1982, etc.) interviews scores of businessmen, housewives, civic leaders, and even a brigadier general to dash the stereotypical notion of broken people haunted by their nightmarish past. The survivors who emerge in this wide-ranging social, economic, political, and psychological study are far from a ``normal'' group, however. They are clannish and insular, feeling close only to other former denizens of ``Planet Auschwitz.'' They like to see large Jewish gatherings because only then do they ``know that Hitler did not win.'' The research points to variety, with some extremism, in their political and economic expressions. Many survivors also share an obsessive interest in their children's education and in Israel's well-being. While a minority have turned their backs on a God that had ``forsaken them,'' a surprisingly large percentage of those interviewed can ``see the hand of God'' in the events of the Forties. Helmreich is at his best with journalistic quotes and anecdotes from survivors struggling to make it in America, while his extensive sociological notes will be a boon to further research. A highly readable study that probes the unprecedented scarring and healing of some of this century's most remarkable victims.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-671-66956-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1992

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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