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Library Journal Review
Celebrated historian Gilbert here investigates those proclaimed the Righteous Among Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Archive in Jerusalem, for helping to save Jews during World War II. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Books have been written about individuals who risked their own safety to aid Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. Yet this comprehensive examination by noted historian Gilbert (The First World War, etc.), recounted largely through first-person accounts by the Jews they rescued, is an important contribution. These thumbnail sketches of rescuers, their methods and, in some cases, the horrors they endured as a result of their courageous choices haven't previously been gathered in one volume. The result of 25 years of research sparked by witnessing Oskar Schindler's 1974 funeral procession in Jerusalem, Gilbert's country-by-country examination reveals as much about quiet dissent in Nazi-occupied Europe as it does about the human spirit. "For anyone who is honoured today for saving Jewish lives, there were ten or more who did the same," says one rescuer. In Vilna, a German officer, Maj. Karl Plagge, protected Jews from 1939 until 1944, by employing them in his Motor Vehicle Repair Park. In Germany, a young slave laborer, her feet frozen from working outdoors in the snow, was given a pair of shoes by an elderly couple in a remote wooded area; she never learned their names. The number of accounts is overwhelming, and fitting them all in one volume requires that each, to a degree, be given short shrift. But the very fact that there were so many tales of courage is reason to take heed of this heartening aspect of one of history's darkest moments. 32 pages of b&w photos, 20 maps. (Feb. 4) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
The Holocaust was a dreary commentary on the human condition for more than just the obvious reason. While the horrifying savagery of those who carried out mass murder comes immediately to mind, the passive acquiescence of millions who stood by as their fellow citizens were abused and slaughtered is equally depressing. There were, however, "righteous Gentiles" (to use the Jewish term) who risked their lives to hide Jews or smuggle them to safety. Gilbert, best known for his biography of Churchill, shows that these courageous people came from all European social classes and ethnic groups. They included Catholic priests and nuns, Greek aristocrats, Polish villagers, and Bosnian Muslims. Many of them braved social ostracism, and some were betrayed and imprisoned for their efforts. On one level, this work is an uplifting tribute to the power of individuals willing to stand for common decency. Unfortunately, it also makes one acutely aware that most people, even those with humane instincts, did not take that stand. This emotionally stirring book is an essential addition to Holocaust collections. Jay Freeman
Kirkus Book Review
Sprawling study by noted English historian Gilbert (A History of the Twentieth Century, 1999, etc.) celebrates hundreds of men and women who saved Jewish lives during the years of the Shoah. These "Righteous Among Nations," the Yad Vashem, were comparatively rare in WWII-era Europe, where homegrown fascists, nationalists, criminals, and ordinary people with scores to settle visited murder upon the Jews or stood by as it was committed en masse. Gilbert gathers some truly remarkable stories of the brave deeds of the Righteous: poor Polish farmers, for instance, who hid Jewish families under barn floors or in attics; Italian priests and nuns who disguised refugees as monks and novices (as in Assisi, where one hiding place was "the only convent in the world with a kosher kitchen"); British prisoners of war who smuggled Jews scheduled for annihilation into their own camps, keeping them fed and hidden for months at a time at grave risk to their own safety. These stories are marvelous moral lessons, of course, and it may seem churlish to complain about Gilbert's approach to relating those exemplary deeds, which, sad to say, is eminently respectful but not especially interesting. He piles anecdote atop anecdote with little discrimination and even less commentary, save at the very end, when he briefly considers the various motives the Righteous may have had in doing their good deeds: hatred of the Nazis, religious devotion, simple human decency, and so on. In the end, the catalogue-like narrative is just a little numbing and more than a little repetitive; it would have been useful to have fewer stories with more consideration of what they mean. Less memorable than other studies of the subject.