May 24, 2011

The Holocaust Chronicle (Best Holocaust books review)

The Holocaust Chronicle (Best Holocaust books review)

The pictures are the point in this hefty and impressive reference work about the systematic murder of six million Jews. It differs from other such works in its inclusion of more than 2,000 color and black-and-white photographs from archives and private collections, and in its format: designed to highlight the photos while a timeline across the bottom of each page provides a running chronology of Holocaust-related events from 1933 to 1946.

The top two-thirds of the page present two or three photographs with informative captions; the text was written by a team of historians. The result is a comprehensive account that documents a wide range of events from the hanging of five Poles in Krak?w for "aiding Jews" to the deportation of 700 Jews from Milan to Auschwitz and the Spanish government's diplomatic rescue of 365 Greek Jews from Belsen. The arresting objects, people and locations depicted include a wooden pin made by a Bergen-Belsen inmate; a Polish Jehovah's Witness who survived the Stutthof labor camp; and a cramped Amsterdam basement where two Dutch Jews hid for most of the war. 

A substantial prologue considers the "Roots of the Holocaust" in earlier history; an epilogue describes the "Aftermath," including the founding of the state of Israel, the continuing hunt for surviving war criminals and the recent controversies over Pope Pius XII. As a source of information, this work can't rival the multivolume Encyclopedia of the HolocaustAnor does it mean to do so. Instead, it aims to introduce readers familiar with the Holocaust to a broader range of data, and to a startling set of indelible images.

hundreds of photos, this collaborative effort by over half a dozen historians is an ambitious attempt to create a comprehensive account of the Shoah suitable for a wide audience. The contents are organized chronologically in 16 chapters, from "Roots of the Holocaust" through "The Pursuit of Justice." A day-by-day time line appears on the bottom of each page, while the rest of the text combines images drawn from archives from around the world with textual explanations. Special sections, highlighted in yellow, often deal with the most controversial of issues, such as the role of the Vatican. One of the most difficult things to do in a book with so many illustrations is to integrate analysis with the visual imagery. In most cases, the authors succeed in contextualizing the people, the events, and their significance, meeting a relatively high standard of scholarship and narrative. However, the lack of a central theme, other than the Holocaust broadly defined, means that everything that can possibly relate is crammed in; readers would do best to examine the index for subjects of interest or to read randomly for information. The glossary and bibliography are well done.

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