There are no new metaphors, perhaps no words not already written, to describe the horrors of the Holocaust. But Laurence Rees conveys the terrible times using a distinctive technique. As the former head of BBC-TV history programmes, he spent 25 years interviewing and recording the accounts of survivors, witnesses and perpetrators, and The Holocaust — A New History mirrors the style of a documentary film. The narration pans out to give historical context and the grotesque, big picture. The insanity of the Nazi intent is almost unfathomable, numbing. Rees then zooms in, to harrowing individual testimonies and short stories which personalise the terror. The impression is effective, devastating. We grasp the zeitgeist, then gasp as we read the reality of its implementation: children wrenched from mothers; the hunger of the ghettos; spectacles being crushed – preludes to immeasurably worse as the chronology moves beyond the early 1940s. Rees’s approach, and his skill, unravels the Holoca...

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