Reviews for Judgment Before Nuremberg : The Holocaust in the Ukraine and the First Nazi War Crimes Trial

Booklist Reviews 2012 March #2
The systematic extermination of Jews by Nazis did not begin in Germany or even Poland but in the Soviet Ukraine following the invasion, in June 1941, and the first effort to try the perpetrators for war crimes occurred not at Nuremberg but in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov, in December 1943. Dawson, a journalist whose mother escaped the Holocaust in the Ukraine, utilized newly available Soviet archival material to chronicle both the horrors of the massacres and the subsequent trial, and his narrative is interspersed with the riveting story of his mother's struggle to survive. The task of rounding up and slaughtering Jews was carried out primarily by specially trained murder squads called Einsatzgruppen, and Dawson chillingly describes both their training and actions. But their mass shootings were messy and inefficient, which led Himmler and the SS to devise a more efficient method of genocide in the death camps. Dawson allows his narrative to get sidetracked with ruminations over the origins of German anti-Semitism, but when he stays on point, he provides a valuable, if terrifying, glimpse into one of the more neglected aspects of the Holocaust. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 February #2
Dawson (Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy's Story of Survival, 2009) investigates a little-known story of the Holocaust and its aftermath. The Ukraine is often something of a coda to discussions of the Holocaust and World War II. Despite suffering a death toll in the millions, it has been little studied and understood. Its reoccupation by the Soviet Union following the war hid survivors, textual sources and physical evidence behind the Iron Curtain, and memories receded. During the process of researching his previous book about his mother's improbable escape from the death camps as a Jewish Ukrainian, Dawson came across a detail so obscure that in the course of more than 100 public readings, he never encountered anyone who was familiar with it. The first war-crimes trial against the Nazis took place not in Nuremberg, but in Kharkov, Ukraine, which was also the site of some of the first systematic killings of the Holocaust. Using these events as bookends, the author presents a personal, moving exploration of the human experience during the Final Solution. The Eastern Front was an area of experimentation, and many methods of killing were used before "Himmler's dream of an antiseptic Holocaust in which there was no blood and bones" was realized. Less a systematic history than an impressionistic memoir of the author's family and millions like them, the book is sometimes annoyingly cutesy: "For those who ended up in the dock at Nuremberg, denial was just a river in Egypt." Despite some minor flaws, Dawson's humanist treatment of his chilling subject and illumination of events all but forgotten make it well worth reading. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 March #2

Dawson (columnist, Orlando Sentinel; Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy's Story of Survival, 1941-1946) here writes of his mother's journey to survive the Holocaust. Ukrainian Jews from Kharkov, her family fell victim to the 1941-42 mass killings in the fields of Drobitsky Yar, the first German attack against the Jews and one little recognized in popular history. Beginning with the German invasion of the Soviet Union earlier in 1941, Dawson strives to correct that omission by vividly detailing the brutal massacres. Writing with a journalist's eye for story and emotion, he draws upon previous research as well as new interviews. In spite of the title, he only touches on the Nazi war crimes trials held by the Soviets in 1943, two years before the Nuremberg trials. Much of the book is taken up with accounts of the reactions of schoolchildren and other audiences and individuals with whom he spoke about his travels and research. VERDICT While the results may not be unbiased scholarly research, Dawson's emotionally engaging account illuminates an aspect of Holocaust studies long underacknowledged. Recommended for scholars and lay readers alike desiring to understand the Holocaust in its entirety.--Elizabeth Zeitz, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH

[Page 116]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.