Book Reviews

To Save a Life: Stories of Jewish Rescue -
Ellen Land-Weber

Arcata, CA: Humboldt University, 1998. CD-ROM.

Review by Karin Doerr (Modern Languages [German], Concordia University, Montreal,) and Gary Evans (Communication Studies [and History], University of Ottawa), Canada.


The literature of the Holocaust is vast. For the most part the focus is on its victims or its perpetrators. Only a small body of work concerns itself with the topic of rescue, that is, saving Jewish lives. One reason, of course, is that such stories are too few in number. Ellen Land-Weber informs us that only of one tenth of one percent of the population of Nazi-occupied European countries saved persecuted Jews. Therefore, their acts of courage stand out and show an individual heroism when it was more common to turn a blind eye to the persecution of the Jews.

Inspired by the example of Huboldt State University professors Samuel and Pearl Oliner who have interviewed hundreds of such rescuers of Jews, Ellen Land-Weber has focused on a handful of brave people who saved a dozen individuals. In recording their stories, she presents us with profiles of rescuers as ordinary women and men who took extraordinary risks. The
individuals were from several European countries. 

The result is a balanced and carefully researched work that is available on CD-ROM and the Internet. Land-Weber shows each life within the complex reality of the war and the Holocaust. In order to understand the different individual situations, she has added both useful historical timelines and specific background information that one does not normally find in biographical or autobiographical accounts. The appended maps are particularly helpful, as for example delineating geopolitical events like the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, in 1938-39. In addition, Land-Weber has provided short bibliographies of important reference works in each

With these various sources of information, To Save a Life: Stories of Jewish Rescue work goes beyond the genre of personal accounts and becomes a reference source in CD-ROM. Further, Land-Weber, a professional photographer and professor of digital imaging, has interspersed these stories of rescue with numerous present and past photographs, demonstrating that the photo is a strong element of communication in a text. While complementing the narration of what happened during the Holocaust, they also provide the reader with concrete visual images of people and places that usually are absent. Putting a face on the individuals involved allows the reader to come closer to the human side of history. For this reason, these visual images enhance the recorded events and circumstances tremendously. 

All of the above qualities make Ellen Land-Weber's project a perfect teaching and learning tool in a culture course. It could also be employed in a special lecture on the subject of German history, integrated into German studies courses, or used as source information for student projects. This particular CD-ROM text is very easy to navigate and would be a great asset in libraries and classrooms of schools and universities. A further and valuable aspect of this project is that it serves as an antidote to a contemporary ethos that seems to encourages the pursuit of
individualism. To Save a Life shows that altruism and personal risk for something greater than oneself are values that enrich and ennoble a civilization. As a microcosm of a colossal historic event that we still struggle to comprehend, these personal stories will help build a bridge to
the next generation in secondary and post-secondary education, for Ellen Land-Weber has provided examples that celebrate "the potential of the human spirit." In addition, To Save a Life is easier to teach because it deals with life rather than death, but it does not efface the horrific reality of the Holocaust.

This review first appeared in THE BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR HOLOCAUST STUDIES at the University of Vermont, vol. 4 number 1, Fall 1999.

Note: The printed version of this CD-ROM book is being published by the University of Illinois Press and will be out in the Fall of 2000. To obtain a flyer please contact the author at:

© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
All rights reserved.