• The Eichmann Trial by Deborah Lipstadt *** (of 4)

    In 2001 Deborah Lipstadt  was brought to trial in Britain for libeling by David Irving in Britain after she described him as a Holocaust denier.  Sitting on the witness defending the experiences of victims and survivors, Deborah Lipstadt recognized the parallels to the last great Holocaust trial.  Nearly 40 years earlier Adolph Eichmann stood inside a glass booth in an Israeli courtroom and insisted his actions were neither criminal nor anti-Semitic.  The Eichmann Trial is an excellent follow-up to Hunting Eichmann as Lipstadt places the trial in historical and global context.  Only 15 years after the end of WWII, Israeli prosecutors called a string of survivors to the witness stand.  The world’s reporters relayed the stories of individual suffering not abstract millions.  Jews the world over, Israelis, and gentiles were forced to ask themselves if they had been Germans would they have had the courage to risk their lives to save others.  If they had been European Jews would they have tried to preserve their own lives and the lives of their loved ones, no matter how slim the chances, by acquiescing, or would they have fought their captors, in an act of certain suicide.  This book dissects the question of what makes a fair trail in a situation like this?  It asks us to think about who we can judge — Eichmann, modern-day deniers — and maybe who we cannot, i.e., those Jews that worked for Germans to rule other Jews rather than defy Germans and die.  It’s a short book, more like a long academic essay that is packed with wrenching ethical questions.

  • Exodus by Leon Uris ** (of 4)

    Still singed by Holocaust crematoria, Jewish rebels fight to throw off the yoke of British imperialism in Palestine.  This is a book that launched a Jewish spirit of pride (and a movie that imprinted a generation) almost from the day it was published in 1960.  Unfortunately, the book is terribly dated.  The love story that threads the story is boring, the dialogue is preposterously square, and all the Arabs are stupid and dirty.  The book’s one strength is the insight it provides into the internal struggles of Jews trying to carve a safe haven from a global community of nations that has perpetrated 2,000 years of desecration and persecution.  Should Jews finally stand up and fight, really kill British citizens and soldiers?  Is that the kind of progress upon which to build a new nation?  It’s an interesting question and the history Uris provides of the Holocaust, the pogroms suffered by Eastern European Jewry, the outrageous actions perpetrated by British colonialists, and the hardships associated with creating a new homeland inside hostile territory are thorough and ring true.  Alas, we know now that even in the period leading up to the birth of the state of Israel, issues of conflict between Jews and Arabs were more complicated than Uris would have you believe.

  • See Under: Love by David Grossman ** (of 4)

    I wish I could have followed the story of Momik, a nine-year-old son of Holocaust survivors trying to make sense of the adults who have come to Israel from “Over There.”  The first quarter of the book is the young boy’s stream of consciousness reactions to “the beast” that has tortured his parents and their neighbors.  In the second quarter, Momik narrates the life of a Nazi persecuted writer.  The third is about Momik’s grandfather and the fourth an encyclopedia.  It is an interesting attempt to convert the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust into words, but the result for me was that while I remained totally intrigued by Grossman’s creation of scenes in 1950s Israel and 1940s “Over There” I couldn’t hang on.  There wasn’t really a plot.  I couldn’t always tell who was speaking.  Some sentences ran for pages. Reluctantly, I gave up without finishing.

  • A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev *** (of 4)


    The story of the use of homing pigeons during Israel’s War for Independence, the breed of people that train and keep them, and a moving pair of love stories, one among 1948 pigeon keepers and one contemporary.  Underlying the plot is a philosophical analysis of the pull of home.  Pigeons return to home and people must find and define theirs.   The plot sometimes sinks beneath the author’s poetry.  His full literary intent is probably best explained by an literature professor, which I’m not.  Won Israel’s Brenner Prize.

  • Bethlehem Road Murder by Batya Gur ** (of 4)

    At the height of the second intifada, with tensions between Israelis and Palestinians at the ignition point, a Jewish girl of Sephardic origin is found murdered in the attic of a house being renovated by Arab workers.  The characters peopling the block of the murder, including the police, are peaceniks, right-wingers, Ashkenazim elitists, Yemenite and Moroccan Jews, and hapless Palestinians caught up in the nightmare of distant suicide bombings and a ruthless Israeli police response.  Every chapter begins in obscurity and the plot focuses nearly entirely on the unfolding evidence.  So on the one hand you feel like a detective as things slowly become clearer, page by page, but on the other this is one of Gur’s weakest, because the characters are flat, and chief detective Michael Ohayan doesn’t do much but show up in scene after scene to examine a new clue.  April 2009.

  • Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb **** (of 4)

    Adolph Eichmann, architect, planner, and executor of “The Final Solution” for the Jews escaped to Argentina at the end of the World War II.  It took 15 years before Mossad and Shin Bet operatives for the young state of Israel discovered his whereabouts, kidnapped him, and returned him to Israel for trial.  That trial placed the Holocaust on the world stage.   From the start of the book to its final page Bascomb lets the facts speak for themselves.  Without over dramatization he recounts the words of Holocaust survivors who have become defenders of the new state of Israel.  They explain their plans and the risks required to kidnap a Nazi on foreign soil.  Simultaneously, Eichmann provides his twisted explanation of the need to eliminate the Jewish people.  The Spartan account is chilling and riveting.

  • Prisoners by Jeffrey Goldberg *** (of 4)

    Goldberg describes himself as a Zionist, former peace-nik, with an insatiable wish to meet people who want to kill him because he is Jewish. As a regular contributer to the New Yorker he’s an excellent writer with an ability to meet face to face with leaders of Islamic Jihad, the Taliban, and Hamas. In this book Goldberg is best when he’s doing journalism, describing the hell of Ketziot prison for Palestinians swept up by the IDF and in the end of the book when he refuses to relinquish his search for a Muslim Palestinian willing to put friendship with a Jew before desire for revenge. I had to wade through a long middle section of memoir that I didn’t quite care about. September 2007