Books Magazine

Nonfiction November: Books About the Holocaust

By Curlygeek04 @curlygeek04

This week’s Nonfiction November topic is about nonfiction that shaped your view of the world. Hosted by Rebekah at She Seeks Nonfiction:

One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book or books have impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way?

Nonfiction November: Books about the Holocaust

I decided to write about books I’ve read about the Holocaust, because it’s a particularly relevant subject right now. On my recent trip to Germany and Austria, we visited memorials, museums, historical sites and a concentration camp. While I already knew quite a bit about the Holocaust, this trip gave me a lot to think about.

Since I missed last week’s Book Pairing, I’m going to do a little bit of that as well. I’ll talk about memoirs by Holocaust survivors and their families, then mostly-memoir family histories, and then novels about the Holocaust. 

I grew up thinking about the Holocaust more than most kids. My father is a Holocaust survivor. His father escaped on one of the last boats out of Europe when my dad was just six years old. It required most of the family income (and a lot of insight and courage) to get the false papers needed to get out of Czechoslovakia, and most of his family perished.

Like many survivors, my father didn’t talk about this, so I didn’t know very much until we were older. I remember encountering the term Hitler in Harriet the Spy (Harriet calls someone a “Lady Hitler” and I just had to know what that meant). I remember seeing books on my parents’ shelves I wasn’t ready to read, and I knew how important Judaism was to my parents even though we weren’t very religious. And I remember shows like V (in 1983) that depicted Nazis in a way I found terrifying (before I knew how terrifying the reality was). Still, I wasn’t able to connect those references to my own family history for some time.

The best books about the Holocaust are worldview shapers for me, because they are about the psychology of trauma, of survival, and of hatred. Each of these books tells a similarly horrifying story, but they give us critical insights so we can begin to understand what happened and see how it might happen again. In the three books I highlight here, they are about individuals and families coming to terms with what happened. This isn’t just world history; these events shaped my own identity.

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The book I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about the Holocaust through the eye of a survivor is The Choice by Edith Eva Eger. Eger chronicled her experiences as a teen in Hungary sent to Auschwitz and Mauthausen, to liberation. Interestingly, much of her book focuses on dealing with the trauma in the years after the Holocaust, where most books just focus on the experience itself. In dealing with her own trauma, she becomes a therapist who spends her life helping others cope with trauma. It’s a powerful story.

A second book you might not have heard of is Mala’s Cat by Mala Kacenberg. Mala was born in Poland and this memoir is about her incredible journey. Mala survives many horrible events by hiding, covering up her identity and pretending she isn’t Jewish.

Another memoir I loved was When Time Stopped by Arianna Neumann. Neumann knows very little about her father’s history until she finds a box of documents and begins to research his past. Her father lived in Czechoslovakia, so I was able to learn much more about the country my father comes from.

Of course, if you want to read about the Holocaust, Night by Elie Wiesel and The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank are great places to start, but you’ve heard about those already.

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Additionally, two authors have written fictionalized versions of their family histories that feel like memoirs: The Postcard by Anne Berest and We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. Both are written by women who researched their family’s experiences during the Holocaust. I learned a lot from both books, though I much prefer straight nonfiction to fictionalization.

Finally, here are some novels I recommend pairing with to these memoirs about the Holocaust: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman, and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.

There are many other books on this topic, of course. Do you have any recommendations?

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