In This Review

The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War
The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War
By Martin Gilbert
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1986, 959 pp

A monument to humanity as it was caught in the terror of leering, relentless inhumanity. Each scene is palpable in its horror, each moment records the suffering of the victim and the sadism of the tormentor (German or East European). Here are the voices of the near-dead or of those closest to them, a record of absolute defenselessness, yet with instances of courage, defiance, decency and betrayal. This is not the story of the cold-blooded machine of destruction but of immediate, individual murder, of the killing of children, of such terror and degradation that even guard dogs cringed to do what SS men carried out. Here are the voices of the victims, culled from many available sources, but assembled as never before in a chorus of biblical pain.

Gilbert, the distinguished British historian, has created this monument, but not a history-the title notwithstanding. He writes with scant attention to existing literature or deeper questions. He contends, for example, that the worst occurred when "Germany was supreme. And with her supremacy came the thirst for Jewish blood." But did not the systematic murder coincide with Germany's defeat before Moscow? Gilbert says almost nothing about the complicity or knowledge of the German army, though he refers to the murder of Soviet prisoners of war. The early chapters try to sketch the historical background but are marred by factual errors.