September 08, 2022

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Journalist Linda Kinstler connects her family history to the Holocaust

Linda Kinstler
Linda KinstlerDavid Wilson

“There was this mystery of the family story, this hole that, as a journalist, I had a desire to fill in,” said Linda Kinstler. She was talking about her Latvian grandfather, who participated in the persecution and slaughter of his Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust. Although her grandfather’s life after World War II remained a mystery (he was rumored to have later joined the KGB), one of his Nazi associates, Herberts Cukurs, left a twisted tale that Kinstler follows in “Come to This Court and Cry” (PublicAffairs).

Cukurs, who was famous as an aviator, was also a mass killer of Jewish Latvians. He moved to South America following the war and in 1965 was murdered by the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, in Uruguay. In exploring her grandfather’s history, Kinstler stumbled upon Cukurs’ and learned there was an ongoing investigation, several decades after his death, to determine his guilt or innocence in the Holocaust.


“Come to This Court and Cry” examines what Kinstler called a “strange and confusing posthumous criminal investigation” through the lenses of history, memory, politics, and law — and her own personal connection to the crimes of the Holocaust. As a journalist and scholar, Kinstler said it was important to look at Cukurs’ legal case and judgment from every possible angle. “For me it was the only way of trying to understand the complexity of the story. I felt and I still feel an obligation to not simplify.”

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For Kinstler, who is Jewish through her mother’s family and lost family members in the Holocaust, reconciling her own family’s history is an ongoing project, one that dovetailed with the book. “The honest answer is that I’m still thinking about that for myself and for what that means to me,” she said.

The field of Holocaust studies now grapples with the fact that most witnesses are no longer living, Kinstler added, making it even more crucial “to show what’s at stake and what can be lost.” A verdict, she pointed out, not only makes a legal statement, but it can also rewrite history. “We’re seeing the particular history of the 20th century being weaponized in various ways both in Ukraine and domestically,” Kinstler said. “The most important thing is to understand that this history is not static and it can’t be taken for granted, and we can’t just treat these truths [about what happened during the Holocaust] as established because someone else will not. We have to constantly guard them.”


Linda Kinstler will read in person at 7 p.m. Monday at Harvard Book Store.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at