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The Journal of Hélène Berr Hardcover – November 11, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Weinstein Books; Book Club edition (November 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1602860645
  • ISBN-13: 978-1602860643
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #907,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Iwas abruptly assailed by the feeling that I had to describe reality, writes Berr midway through this urgent firsthand account of the devastation of Paris's Jewish community during WWII. This journal, which begins in 1942 as the record of a young woman's intense and buzzing inner life, becomes over time a record of human suffering: How will the world be cleansed unless it is made to understand the full extent of the evil it is doing? Berr, daughter of a prosperous assimilated Jewish family, was forced to quit her studies at the Sorbonne, joined an underground network to save Jewish children, saw her father arrested and beloved friends deported. But as compelling as external trials are the thoughts and feeling of this brilliant, passionate and brave young woman. As the noose tightens around Paris's Jews, Berr wonders if she still has the right to find momentary pleasure in reading; she questions herself for falling into instinctive, primitive hatred of Germans. Yet in one overpowering moment of rage, she rails against impassive Parisian Christians who crucify Christ every day. Berr died in Bergen-Belsen in 1944, five days before the camp's liberation, but her vibrant voice—full of anguish, compassion, indignation and defiance—springs from these pages—as extraordinary a document of occupied France as Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française. Photos. (Nov.)
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"A worthy addition to Holocaust literature, evoking the sweetness of one life lost and reminding us with urgent clarity how inexorably it was swept under those tragic times." --Kirkus Review

Customer Reviews

He had inscribed a book for her, which she received as a treasure.
Story Circle Book Reviews
There are many people who come to read this journal with expectations of it being like the Diary of Anne Frank.
Her desire to see good in people did not allow to comprehend what horror mankind can inflict on one another.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By K. C. Washington on November 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I had a sense of sinking and could only repeat: Stop. Stop. Stop.,
every fiber of my body engaged in stopping the unrelenting forward march of the Nazis. Of course I knew ultimately what was in store for the young French Jew Helene Berr, but as I read the new English translation of The Journal Of Helene Berr, I found myself helpless to do anything less than hope against hope that she and her family, and the women of the U.G.I.F. and the orphaned children, indeed all those who would be touched by the hand of evil, would be spared.
The Journal is the intimate, enchanting diary of the appealing, whip smart Helene Berr. Twenty-one, an eager, romantic student at the Sorbonne, Helene entrusts her most intimate hopes and dreams, passions and fears to her journal through the tense, horrifying years of 1942 through 1944. As the German presence in Paris becomes increasingly ubiquitous and rumors swirl and solidify into terrifying fact, Helene writes. She writes of the death of a puppy love, the flowering of a new, deeper love, the arrest of her father, the arrests and murders of friends and strangers, and her need to be courageous, not only for herself, but for others.
With wit, clarity, and an almost shocking intelligence, she allows us to see a huge historical event through the eyes of one and thereby the whole. She embodies the consternation that thousands must have felt when confronted with the order to wear the yellow star identifying them as Jews:
"This evening I've changed my mind: I now think it is cowardly not to wear it, vis-à-vis people who will. Only, if I do wear it, I want to stay very elegant and dignified at all times so that people can see what that means. I want to do whatever is most courageous. This evening I believe that means wearing the star.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Carol A. Jevrem on July 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Helene Berr - an assimilated French Jew - started writing a journal during the German occupation in April 1942 when she was 21 years old. Her family was well-to-do and she studied at the Sorbonne. She was intelligent, cultured, and sensitive, had many friends, and loved life.

For a time her life under the Germans remained fairly normal. She continued to visit friends and the family's summer place in the country, read English literature, and played violin at small recitals. She fell in love with a young man and wrote of her passion for nature and poetry.

Things started to change for her when Jews were ordered to wear the yellow star. She began to feel different from other people and thought about fleeing to the south of France where it was supposedly safer for Jews. However, she couldn't bring herself to act in what she considered a "cowardly" way and decided to remain in Paris.

She wrote about the roundups of Jews and their transfer to transit camps like Gurs and Drancy - and from there, somewhere to the east. Many of her friends were snatched off the streets and deported with no notice whatsoever. At this point she helped out at a Jewish aid organization, taking orphaned children for nature walks and working at the group's headquarters - until the Germans closed it and the children were deported.

Her last entry in February 1944 reads: "Horror. Horror. Horror." She was deported and sent to Auschwitz and later to Bergen-Belsen. By chance, Anne Frank, the famous diary writer, was there at the same time. Helene contracted typhus (also like Anne) and died after a beating a few days before the camp was liberated.

Helene Berr's journal is unique and moving and deserves to be widely read.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on January 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
There is no shortage of books on the Holocaust. We have, of course, the diary of Anne Frank, which appears to be the definitive nonfiction work recording World War II. It always seems more difficult, though, to find out what the war was like in France, as most accounts by or about Jews seem to focus on eastern Europe.

Hélène Berr was a French university student at the time of the war. A violin player and student of English literature, she wrote a journal that by any account would be considered an accomplishment in style, literary analysis and flow. Her prose is beautiful, and you almost forget that you are reading about the Holocaust, as it is just as interesting to read her thoughts on music and literature.

Again, a comparison with Anne Frank seems the best way to illustrate Berr's own journal. Frank lived in the Secret Annex and had nothing else to do but write for long hours in her diary. Once she heard that diaries were going to be collected after the war, she even went back and began to edit it with the intent of publication. It was written because she was a regular girl who kept a journal whenever she had the free time. Not everyone knows what it feels like to live in Nazi-occupied Paris, but more of us do know what it feels like to be in love with two people at once or to be frustrated with your family, friends or schoolwork. In that basic humanity, we can insert ourselves immediately into Berr's world, and then we follow her into the darker times, as the Gestapo gain more and more control over it.

Berr's family struggles to hold on when her father is taken to a prison. The man she loves is forced to flee France for his safety, and she watches as friends and neighbors are taken by the Gestapo to various prisons and camps.
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