“[The Righteous] deserves to be read side by side with the studies claiming that there were no rays of light, no manifestations of humanity and goodness in those dark days.” The New York Times
“A timely [book] for a new century . . . The questions raised in this book lie at the heart of our humanity.” The Guardian
“This is a book that should, that must, be read.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Whoever saves one life, it is as if he saved the entire world." This ancient Jewish saying is echoed by Sir Martin Gilbert's The Righteous, a tribute to thousands of non-Jews who helped save Jews during the Holocaust. The bittersweet fruit of a quarter century of labor, this book recounts the heroic acts (not always successful) of ordinary people during a time of institutionalized madness. Mere summary can not convey the book's cumulative power.
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) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Mining the extensive archives of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Authority, along with memoirs and personal reminiscences, Gilbert (Univ. of London; The First World War) narrates the story of those gentiles acknowledged by Vashem as "Righteous Among the Nations." Why some people chose to perform heroic deeds during the Holocaust often varied according to local circumstances. One of the book's virtues is Gilbert's ability to set the local context briefly before recounting the personal stories, thus keeping the human dimension paramount. A major criticism of "rescue studies" is that rescuers were in the minority; clearly, had there been more righteous, there would have been more survivors. Although Gilbert acknowledges that the sheer weight of Nazi power, along with the depth of local collaboration, certainly ensured that the number of rescuers would remain small, he justly claims that this makes their acts all the more worthy of study. Interestingly, in the chapter on Italy, Gilbert avoids delving into the intense controversy about the role of the papacy. Although Gilbert provides some analysis of the rescuers' motivations, the book is more descriptive than analytical. Still, it is recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/02.]-Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati
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 thesubject.