In 1996 Martin Gilbert was asked to lead students on a tour of the places in Europe that were the stage of one of history's greatest human tragedies. The two-week journey that resulted, with England's leading Holocaust and World War II scholar as its guide, culminated in this powerful travel narrative.
Martin Gilbert is professor of Holocaust Studies at University College, London. He is the author of many books, including Final Journey, The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy, and Atlas of the Holocaust.
In the summer of 1996, historian Gilbert (The Day the War Ended) traveled for two weeks with a group of his graduate students to a number of sites they had been studying in Poland, Germany and the Czech and Slovak Republics. The result is Gilbert's travel diary, a peculiar amalgamation of dreary minute-by-minute notations ("8.55 p.m. Reach my room. There is just time for a shower"), along with more emotional entries ("6.20 p.m. We wander about over the rough ground [of Belzec death camp in Poland]. Some are silent, some are crying. All are disconsolate....). The banality of a bus tour and stays in odd hotels juxtaposed with information about the deprivation, tortures and death that Jews met along the same routes are presumably intended to be a meaningful contrast, but the structure is neither interesting nor illuminating, and editing lapses (e.g., defining a "mikvah" at every mention) magnify redundancies. The best, most informative segments aren't Gilbert's diary snippets, but rather his excellent historical comments and the longer excerpts from many eyewitness writings. (The pages from Jan Karski's The Secret State, describing Izbica camp, give new meaning to the term "unspeakable.") Most travel diaries are significant only to those who have been on the journey, and despite its wealth of historical knowledge, Gilbert's is no exception. (Nov.)
Gilbert... is a dedicated guide to this difficult material. We can be grateful for his thoroughness, courage and guidance. Los Angeles Times Book Review The achievement of Gilbert's Holocaust Journey is to reduce to comprehensible, human terms, the scale of genocide that to many is still unimaginable. Literary Review (UK) A powerfully moving narrative that reveals the deepest thoughts and feelings of 13 travelers during the summer of 1996... Without overpowering his readers, [Gilbert] juxtaposes the histories of the places visited with descriptions of what they look like today. The overall effect is to make the past live by transferring it to the present, where it can be handled and evaluated anew. America A travelogue, spanning two weeks, of the essential sites of the Holocaust, by the venerable historian and author of many books... [Gilbert] guides one of his classes on an extraordinary field trip... He lectures at the most significant sights--of desecrated synagogues, book burnings, and gas chambers... To these moving testaments Gilbert here adds the voices of his fellow travelers, both Jews and non-Jews, who draw closer as the trip progresses and they relive the terrible history... The very best book for any Jew, or any human being, planning the same soul-searching trip. Kirkus Reviews
Gilbert (Holocaust studies, Univ. of London; History of the Twentieth Century, LJ 9/15/97) has added an interesting dimension to Holocaust studies by chronicling a tour of Holocaust sites that he conducted with a dozen students and friends; the text of documents they studied at each stop is included. Gilbert not only describes their itinerary and the problems of conducting a tour but integrates the history of European Jewry into his narrative. He then details the specific events of the Holocaust associated with each location. Although many of his stories are well known to students of the Shoah, the result is more than a chronicle of his tour, for the book provides a window into how more than a millennium of Jewish history came to an end and in many cases almost vanished. Recommended for all Judaica collections and Holocaust libraries.‘Frederic Krome, Northern Kentucky Univ., Highland Heights