Holocaust Journey: Traveling in Search of the Past

Martin Gilbert, Author Columbia University Press $90 (288p) ISBN 978-0-231-10964-2
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.)
Reviewed on: 10/06/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
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