Strongly written and deeply researched, Ullrich’s account only suffers from an occasional surfeit of detail.

EIGHT DAYS IN MAY

THE FINAL COLLAPSE OF THE THIRD REICH

The author of an excellent two-volume biography of Hitler chronicles the demise of the Nazi regime.

The week between Hitler’s suicide, on April 30, and Germany’s unconditional surrender, on May 7 and 8, 1945, is often referred to as Germany’s “zero hour.” As German historian Ullrich writes, that short period represented a “profound caesura” between the end of Nazi rule and the beginning of whatever would come next. “Amid the exhaustion and bitterness,” he writes, “and despite the general lack of self-blame concerning the past, many Germans felt reinvigorated, almost euphoric, and ready to start over.” The author delivers a richly textured day-by-day account of that week in Germany and in parts of German-occupied Europe. On the morning of May 1, fighting continued in Berlin. A day later, Germany’s Army Group C surrendered in Italy. Throughout the book, Ullrich strains to encompass not just the political and military currents, but quotidian details, as well—e.g., that starving Berlin residents carved up dead horses on the street. The author excels in those smaller, more tightly focused moments, where his storytelling abilities are on full display. He relied on diaries, memoirs, and letters, among other sources, to inform his account, which is deeply researched without feeling weighed down. However, Ullrich’s descriptions of various political or military meetings sometimes feel onerous, as he lists the name and rank of every person present. These details might be crucial to a wider historical reckoning, but nonscholars may get bogged down. Ullrich can be uneven in his coverage, too, as when he describes the end of the war in the Netherlands but not in, say, England or France. Though his latest book is by no means comprehensive, it’s still a vital and often vibrant account of eight days when people all across Europe were suspended in confusion and chaos.

Strongly written and deeply researched, Ullrich’s account only suffers from an occasional surfeit of detail.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-827-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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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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In this meticulously detailed and evocative book, history comes alive, and it isn’t pretty.

THE ORDER OF THE DAY

A meditation on Austria’s capitulation to the Nazis. The book won the 2017 Prix Goncourt.

Vuillard (Sorrow of the Earth: Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull and the Tragedy of Show Business, 2017, etc.) is also a filmmaker, and these episodic vignettes have a cinematic quality to them. “The play is about to begin,” he writes on the first page, “but the curtain won’t rise….Even though the twentieth of February 1933 was not just any other day, most people spent the morning grinding away, immersed in the great, decent fallacy of work, with its small gestures that enfold a silent, conventional truth and reduce the entire epic of our lives to a diligent pantomime.” Having established his command of tone, the author proceeds through devastating character portraits of Hitler and Goebbels, who seduced and bullied their appeasers into believing that short-term accommodations would pay long-term dividends. The cold calculations of Austria’s captains of industries and the pathetic negotiations of leaders who knew that their protestations were mainly for show suggest the complicated complicity of a country where young women screamed for Hitler as if he were a teen idol. “The bride was willing; this was no rape, as some have claimed, but a proper wedding,” writes Vuillard. Yet the consummation was by no means as smoothly triumphant as the Nazi newsreels have depicted. The army’s entry into Austria was less a blitzkrieg than a mechanical breakdown, one that found Hitler stalled behind the tanks that refused to move as those prepared to hail his emergence wondered what had happened. “For it wasn’t only a few isolated tanks that had broken down,” writes the author, “not just the occasional armored truck—no, it was the vast majority of the great German army, and the road was now entirely blocked. It was like a slapstick comedy!” In the aftermath, some of those most responsible for Austria’s fall faced death by hanging, but at least one received an American professorship.

In this meticulously detailed and evocative book, history comes alive, and it isn’t pretty.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59051-969-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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