Like many, I was taught about the Holocaust via Anne Frank. It was in fourth grade, Mrs. Stephens’ class. I remember wanting to learn everything I could about the Holocaust because my 9-year-old mind couldn’t comprehend humans murdering other humans simply for being different.
Adult me still doesn’t understand.
I scoured the library for books (this was pre-internet!) and looked at pictures that I probably shouldn’t have at such a young age. But that instilled in me an interest in and passion for Holocaust education. And since I’ve always been an avid reader, I’ve read a lot of books by and about survivors. In light of recent events, I wanted to share these as a reminder of what unchallenged hatred can do. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. For more book recommendations, go here.
Full disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. Any funds generated by the sale of books via these links will be donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
If you’ve read my other must-read lists, you know I’m a fan of Erik Larson. I think this might be my favorite from him. It tells the story of William Dodd, the US ambassador to Germany from 1933-1937. FDR appointed him shortly after becoming president, which happened shortly after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Dodd wrote to Roosevelt about the true state of affairs in Germany, which many were hesitant to believe because the Nazi propaganda machine was running in full force. I think it’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read and, unfortunately, feels relevant today.
Night by Elie Wiesel
This is probably the most famous book about the Holocaust and for good reason. Wiesel survived both Auschwitz and Buchenwald and wrote Night to bear witness. It’s short but powerful, raw, and horrific. If you are going to read one book about the Holocaust, make it this one.
Hiding for Our Lives by Esther Gutman Lederman and Ezjel Lederman
A few years ago, I did a short volunteering stint with the Holocaust Speakers Bureau of Chapel Hill. During my time there, I was tasked with interviewing a few survivors about their journey to North Carolina and their lives here. One of those survivors was Esther. I will probably never forget the afternoon I spent with her. She told me her story over lunch (she had a kosher hot dog, I had a BLT) and I feverishly wrote down notes between bites. Like my own grandmother would, she told me to order dessert because I didn’t eat enough. She complained that her kids begged her to stop playing tennis a few years ago because of her age. She stopped but insisted that at age 90, she could still play just fine! Before we parted, she gave me a copy of her book, which I cherish. In it, she and her husband tell their story of hiding from the Nazis in a potato cellar, losing family members, and coming to the US after the war. It’s incredible and I will never forget what she told me about writing the book and speaking about her experience: “I still speak about it because I want this generation to be able to stand up to deniers. I want them to be able to say, ‘I’ve met someone who lived through it. I heard her story. It happened.'”
In My Hands: Memoirs of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke
Irene was a teenager when the Nazis invaded her native Poland. In this book, she tells about life in occupied Poland, working in a hotel frequented by German officers, and saving the Jewish workers she supervised at the hotel. She ended up hiding some of those workers in the home of the Nazi officer she worked for. It’s actually classified as a young adult book so if you are looking for something for preteens or younger teenagers, this is a great pick.
Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening by Primo Levi
I think Survival in Auschwitz is one of the most well-known Holocaust memoirs and The Reawakening is a continuation of Levi’s story. Levi was arrested as part of the anti-fascist resistance in Italy and sent to Auschwitz. The Reawakening picks up with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviets and chronicles Levi’s journey back to Italy. It also explores his feelings as he grapples with his experiences and life after liberation, which I found fascinating.
Our Crime Was Being Jewish by Michael S. Pitch
This is another book I was fortunate enough to snag for a few dollars via Book Bub. It is a collection of stories by Holocaust survivors, over 500 stories by over 350 survivors. They tell about their lives before the war, imprisonment, and liberation. It is incredible to have so many stories and perspectives in one book.
The Collaborator by Alice Kaplan
This last one is not quite a Holocaust story but still a very important one. What constitutes a collaborator? Does publishing an anti-Semitic newspaper mean that you are guilty of collaboration? Robert Brasillach, a Frenchman, was a vehement anti-Semite and editor of the fascist newspaper Je Suis Partout. While he didn’t directly murder anyone, his beliefs were in line with Nazi ideology and no doubt emboldened French Nazi sympathizers. But did he deserve to be executed for it? Kaplan discusses Brasillach’s life, career, and what qualifies as collaboration in a way that makes it hard to put this one down.
Do you have another recommendation? A book everyone should read? Please share!
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