The Holocaust was one of the darkest moments in our history. During World War II, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime systematically killed some six million Jews in horrific concentration camps between the years of 1941 and 1945.
Remembering history, even the very tragic parts, is one way of honoring it and learning about the human condition. Thankfully, many authors have chronicled the experiences of the Holocaust to give the younger generation insight into that painful past.
Nonfiction Books About the Holocaust
These true accounts capture the horrors of this period, but can also offer hope for humanity.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
The Diary of Anne Frank effectively marries the sorrows of the period and the fresh innocence of childhood.
This honest account of a little girl who was hidden in a secret annex for 25 months is a heartfelt look into the horrors of the Holocaust.
13-year-old Anne writes about her experiences while her family was hiding from the Nazis, which ended with her family eventually getting captured by the Gestapo and murdered.
The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer
After her experience in a slave labor camp, Jewish law student Edith Hahn’s moved to Munich with a new identity, where she even married a Nazi officer who was aware of her heritage and kept her identity a secret.
The Nazi Officer’s Wife will amaze you with Edith’s story of survival during that most troublesome time in history.
The Last Jew of Treblinka by Chil Rajchman
Chil Rajchman originally wrote The Last Jew of Treblinka in Yiddish. This book follows the harrowing experiences of a man who worked at Treblinka, a camp intended for mass slaughter.
Working as a barber to shave the victims’ heads, Rajchman was among the very few people kept alive at the death camp.
Judenrat by Isaiah Trunk
Isaiah Trunk’s Judenrat details the Jewish councils that the Germans established in the ghettos. Hundreds of these ghettos were spread across Europe, and millions of Jews lived there with just some degree of control over their lives.
The Germans formed a Jewish council in each ghetto, appointing leaders of the councils to serve as mediators between the German leader and the Jews.
Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto by Emmanuel Ringelblum
Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto is another book on the situation in the ghettos. Historian Emmanuel Ringelblum started an organization in the Warsaw ghetto called the Oneg Shabbat group.
This group gathered on the Sabbath, and Ringelblum would commissoin his colleagues to gather important information about the ghettos.
They hid this information in metal milk cans, which they buried just before the Warsaw ghetto was destroyed and turned into a concentration camp. These first-hand accounts are at the center of the book.
Rena’s Promise by Rena Kornreich Gelissen and Heather Dune Macadam
Heather Dune Macadam and Rena Kornreich Gelissen’s book Rena’s Promise follows the experiences of Rena, one of the first Jews sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz after her family was forced to split apart.
During her three years in a concentration camp, Rena is reunited with her sister, Danka, and fights to keep her promise she made to always take care of her.
The book explores the bonds between women, illustrating how hope can shine through even the darkest moments.
The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn
Daniel Mendelsohn wrote The Lost as a memoir full of Biblical allusions, historical facts, and family stories.
The book traces Mendelsohn’s journey across Europe to discover truths about a great uncle with whom he shared an unusual resemblance.
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
Corrie ten Boom’s vivid and transparent account of her work in the Nazi Resistance show us a courageous view as her family worked to help others escape the Nazis.
Because of this, the Nazis arrested the ten Booms and sent Corrie to a concentration camp. Her survival holds testament to the power of an unwavering faith in God.
Night by Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel’s book Night is considered one of the best known memoirs on the death camps of the Holocaust. He was 14 years old when the Nazi overran his mostly Jewish city on the border of Romania and Hungary.
Up until 1944, the Nazis had mostly spared the Hungarian Jews, but the situation changed dramatically that year. The Nazis sent Wiesel to Auschwitz, where his father died. Miraculously, Wiesel survived.
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
The Boy on the Wooden Box was the inspiration for the award-winning film Schindler’s List.
The story revolves around 10-year-old Leon Leyson, whose family fled to a Krakow ghetto to escape the Nazis. Oskar Schindler plays a key role in helping Leyson’s family and many others avoid being killed by the Nazis.
Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz traces his experience in a concentration camp. The Nazis captured Levi, who was part of the Italian resistance, and sent him to Auschwitz, where he stayed until it was liberated one year later.
The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman
Wladyslaw Szpilman traces his experiences during World War II, beginning with his playing Chopin’s Nocturne as the bombing began in Warsaw.
He underwent intense struggles and suffered great loss. The book wraps up neatly as a German officer saves him while he is again playing Chopin on a piano in the middle of war-torn streets.
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder
Yale historian Timothy Snyder published this book in 2010 to explore the messy intersection between Hitler’s “Final Solution” and Stalin’s ideology.
He believes this combination killed about 14 million people across Europe’s “bloodlands”: Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Belarus, and the Baltics.
Five Chimneys by Olga Lengyel
Surgical assistant Olga Lengyel worked in Transylvania when the Germans deported her to Auschwitz. Thanks to her background, she was able to work in an infirmary.
Five Chimneys is her memoir, which offers a no-holds-barred account of her experiences during the war.
I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson
Livia Bitton-Jackson has written a poignant coming-of-age story in I Have Lived a Thousand Years. With the Nazi invasion of 1944, 13-year-old Elli Friedmann’s life was never the same again.
The Nazis stripped her of everything she knew and sent her to a ghetto. Her determination and strong faith were all that kept her alive during those dark years.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s insights to his experiences in a concentration camp have formed a foundation of hope for many readers.
After witnessing the deaths of many of his family members, the psychiatrist struggled with the meaning of life. He came out of the experience with the conviction that man can find meaning even in the midst of the worst suffering.
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp
In this memoir which inspired the hit musical The Sound of Music, Baroness Maria Augusta Trapp shares the true story of her life and romance with the baron. She also recounts the family’s escape from Austria when the Nazis occupied the country, and their subsequent life in America.
While the musical and the movie starring Julie Andrews made us familiar with Maria and the children, here you will find the true account of all that they went through.
Fictional Books About the Holocaust
Although the Holocaust was a horrifying real event, many fiction writers have also published books set during this time.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Lois Lowry’s book Number The Stars won the Newbery Medal in 1990 for its “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,.”
Both adults and children can get a glimpse of the fearful struggles of Jews during that time of extreme persecution.
The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
This book by Jim Shepard follows one boy, Aron, who smuggles forbidden goods to keep his family alive in a Jewish ghetto. He ends up getting torn away from his family, eventually being rescued by a doctor.
The Zion Covenant Series by Bodie and Brock Thoene
This fictional series by Brock and Bodie Thoene traces the years leading up to World War II through the eyes of ordinary characters, such as Simon and Leah Fedstein.
They effectively capture the terrifying experiences of the Jews as they escape from Nazi Germany, as well as the harsh treatment they received from the countries they fled to.
The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum
Another children’s book that also speaks to adults offers an interesting glimpse to the Holocaust: the story is set in occupied Holland, where the Verhagen family, who man the huge windmill called The Winged Watchman, have to make life-and-death decisions.
They hide a Jewish child and RAF pilot gunned down by the Germans, all while keeping away from a neighbor who signed up to be a spy against his own countrymen.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, All the Light We Cannot See follows the story of a blind little girl named Marie-Laure and a young orphan boy named Werner.
Marie-Laure is assigned to smuggle a valuable jewel out of war-torn Paris. Meanwhile, Werner is a radio expert enlisted in the German army assigned to track down the resistance. The encounter each other several times in the book as each does everything he can to survive the terrible war and preserve their humanity.
Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar
The novel, fictionalized but based on a true story, follows Helene Hannemann, whose husband and children are arrested by the German police for their Romani heritage.
The German-born Hannemann refuses to let them take her husband and children alone, and instead accompanies them all the way to Auschwitz. They separate her husband from them, and here her trials begin as a German in the prison camp.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Markus Zusak takes an interesting look at the Holocaust by using Death as the narrator. The book revolves around a little girl named Liesel, who preserves her humanity in the depths of 1939 Nazi Germany by stealing books to share with her neighbors whenever a bombing raid takes place.
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved books by PBS, The Book Thief has since also been developed into a movie.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
The boy in the title is young Bruno, whose father is given a promotion and needs to move the family. Their new home, surrounded by a tall fence, has few children for Bruno to play with.
Eventually he meets another boy about his age, and despite their differences, a friendship starts to develop between them, which ultimately results in tragic consequences.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
This memoir-type novel tells about a young man traveling to Ukraine with a tattered photograph: he’s on a journey to find the lady who saved his grandfather from the Nazis.
Other than the photograph, he has few clues as to who she is, but he presses on with the help of a translator, an apparently blind man, and his guide dog.
If I Should Die Before I Wake by Han Nolan
Han Nolan expertly challenges readers to approach the Holocaust from a new angle: using a young girl named Hilary, she traces her journey in joining a gang of neo-Nazis in her desire to make friends and belong somewhere.
But Hilary has a bad accident that leaves her injured—and strangely wakes up as a Jewish girl named Chana, now struggling to stay alive in concentration camps and the ghettos during the Holocaust.
Jacob the Liar by Jurek Becker
Jacob the Liar is about Jacob Heym, a man in the ghetto in Lodz, Poland. A practical joke results in his being called to the police precinct, a trip from which very few Jews return.
While there, he hears news of the Red Army approaching Poland. But because he couldn’t convince anyone that he heard the news from inside the precinct, he lies and says he heard it from a radio in his possession—something that is illegal for Jews.
The Last of the Just by Andre Schwarz-Bart
This classic novel tells about a Jewish man named Ernie Levy, who lives under the shadow of the expanding National Socialism in Europe during the 1920s.
Levy is considered the last of his line, whose family dates back to the time God blessed his ancestor as one of the 36 Just Men in Jewish tradition. In the midst of the fight for survival, Levy grapples with the issues of honoring tradition and family.
Mendelssohn is On the Roof by Jiri Weil
Mendelssohn Is On the Roof is a thought-provoking book follows an aspiring SS officer, assigned to take the statue of Felix Mendelssohn off the roof of the Prague concert hall.
He doesn’t know which statue is that of the Jewish composer, and he mistakenly removes the one with a large nose, a hint of the racial slur during that time. It turns out the statue he removed was Richard Wagner’s.
Remembering the Holocaust
Painful as it may be to read about, it’s important that current and future generations continue to study the Holocaust, remember its victims, and take action to ensure that it never happens again.
Reading about history in general can help us to better understand the directions we need to take for a better future. For more on this topic, check out our lists of the best books about history and books about WWII.
Are there any books about the Holocaust that have resonated with you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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