Our annual ‘Top Ten Holocaust Books’ as recommended by this year’s cohort of students. As we have done for the past two years, our International MA students in Holocaust Studies compiled a list of Holocaust books which they found most thought-provoking, impactful, and moving.
All of the books on this year’s list are appearing for the first time. It is a unique collection made up mostly of nonfiction, academically inspired works but also includes a graphic novel, two fiction novels, and a suitable read for older children. Here are ten recommended Holocaust books worth reading today.
1. Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself: The Downfall of Ordinary Germans, 1945, Florian Huber, 2015 (Nonfiction)
The extraordinary German bestseller on the final days of the Third Reich. One of the last untold stories of the Third Reich is that of the extraordinary wave of suicides, carried out not just by much of the Nazi leadership, but by thousands of ordinary Germans, in the war”s closing period. Florian Huber’s remarkable book, a bestseller in Germany, confronts this terrible phenomenon. What drove whole families, who in many cases had already withstood years of deprivation, aerial bombing and deaths in battle, to do this? In a brilliantly written, thoughtful and original work, Huber sees the entire project of the Third Reich as a sequence of almost overwhelming emotions and scenes for many Germans. He describes some of the key events which shaped the period from the First World War to the end of the Second, showing how the sheer intensity, allure and ferocity of Hitler’s regime swept along millions. Its sudden end was, for many of them, simply impossible to absorb.
2. The Paris Architect, Charles Belfoure 2014 (Fiction)
Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces—behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe—detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.
3. Auschwitz and After, Charlotte Delbo, 1995 (Nonfiction)
In March 1942, French police arrested Charlotte Delbo and her husband, the resistance leader Georges Dudach, as they were preparing to distribute anti-German leaflets in Paris. The French turned them over to the Gestapo, who imprisoned them. Dudach was executed by firing squad in May; Delbo remained in prison until January 1943, when she was deported to Auschwitz and then to Ravensbruck, where she remained until the end of the war. This book – Delbo’s vignettes, poems of life in the concentration camp and afterwards – is a literary memoir. It is a document by a female resistance leader, a non-Jew and a writer who transforms the experience of the Holocaust into prose.
4. Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home, Nora Krug, 2018 (Nonfiction)
Nora Krug was born decades after the fall of the Nazi regime, but the Second World War cast a long shadow throughout her childhood and youth in the city of Karlsruhe, Germany. For Nora, the simple fact of her German citizenship bound her to the Holocaust and its unspeakable atrocities and left her without a sense of cultural belonging. Yet Nora knew little about her own family’s involvement in the war: though all four grandparents lived through the war, they never spoke of it. In her late thirties, after twelve years in the US, Krug realizes that living abroad has only intensified her need to ask the questions she didn’t dare to as a child and young adult. Returning to Germany, she visits archives, conducts research, and interviews family members, uncovering in the process the stories of her maternal grandfather, a driving teacher in Karlsruhe during the war, and her father’s brother Franz-Karl, who died as a teenage SS soldier in Italy. Her quest, spanning continents and generations, pieces together her family’s troubling story and reflects on what it means to be a German of her generation.
5. QB VII, Leon Uris, 1970 (Fiction)
Sir Adam Kelno has spent his whole life covering up his past. After his political beliefs land him in Jadwiga, Poland’s worst concentration camp, Kelno earns privileges with the Nazis by performing inhumane operations on Jewish prisoners. Now, after rebuilding his name in a British colony and being knighted by the British monarchy, Kelno finally feels safe returning to London. But his past catches up with him when the novelist Abraham Cady publishes a book naming Kelno one of the most sadistic doctors at Jadwiga. Anxious to quell the rumors, Kelno charges Cady with slandering his name. As the court proceeding draws out, Cady must fight to avenge his past as Kelno fights to save his future.
6. The Law in Nazi Germany: Ideology, Opportunism, and the Perversion of Justice, Alan E. Steinweis & Robert D. Rachlin, 2015 (Nonfiction)
While we often tend to think of the Third Reich as a zone of lawlessness, the Nazi dictatorship and its policies of persecution rested on a legal foundation set in place and maintained by judges, lawyers, and civil servants trained in the law. This volume offers a concise and compelling account of how these intelligent and well-educated legal professionals lent their skills and knowledge to a system of oppression and domination. The chapters address why German lawyers and jurists were attracted to Nazism; how their support of the regime resulted from a combination of ideological conviction, careerist opportunism, and legalistic self-delusion; and whether they were held accountable for their Nazi-era actions after 1945. This book also examines the experiences of Jewish lawyers who fell victim to anti-Semitic measures. The volume will appeal to scholars, students, and other readers with an interest in Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and the history of jurisprudence.
7. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr, 1971 (Semi-autobiographical)
Ideal for younger readers (8-12 years old) and adult readers alike, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, is a semi-autobiographical and unforgettable story of a Jewish family fleeing from Germany before the start of the Second World War. Originally published in 1971 , it is the first book of the Out of Hitler Time trilogy, a series of autobiographical novels that the bestselling author and illustrator wrote to explain her early life to her own children.
Suppose your country began to change. Suppose that without your noticing, it became dangerous for some people to live in Germany any longer. Suppose you found, to your complete surprise, that your own father was one of those people. That is what happened to Anna in 1933. She was nine years old when it began, too busy with her schoolwork and toboganning to take much notice of political posters, but out of them glared the face of Adolf Hitler, the man who would soon change the whole of Europe — starting with her own small life. Anna suddenly found things moving too fast for her to understand. One day, her father was unaccountably missing. Then she herself and her brother Max were being rushed by their mother, in alarming secrecy, away from everything they knew — home and schoolmates and well-loved toys — right out of Germany!
8. The Genocidal Gaze: From German Southwest Africa to the Third Reich, Elizabeth R. Baer, 2017 (Nonfiction)
The first genocide of the twentieth century, though not well known, was committed by Germans between 1904-1907 in the country we know today as Namibia, where they exterminated thousands of Herero and Nama people and subjected the surviving indigenous men, women, and children to forced labor. The perception of Africans as subhuman-lacking any kind of civilization, history, or meaningful religion-and the resulting justification for the violence against them is what author Elizabeth R. Baer refers to as the “genocidal gaze,” an attitude that was later perpetuated by the Nazis. Baer explores the threads of shared ideology in the Herero and Nama genocide and the Holocaust – concepts such as racial hierarchies, lebensraum (living space), rassenschande (racial shame), and endlösung (final solution) that were deployed by German authorities in 1904 and again in the 1930s and 1940s to justify genocide. She also notes the use of shared methodology-concentration camps, death camps, intentional starvation, rape, indiscriminate killing of women and children-in both instances. While previous scholars have made these links between the Herero and Nama genocide and that of the Holocaust, Baer’s book is the first to examine literary texts that demonstrate this connection.
9. Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust, Sonja M. Hedgepeth & Rochelle G. Saidel, 2010 (Nonfiction)
Using testimonies, Nazi documents, memoirs, and artistic representations, this volume of essays broadens and deepens comprehension of Jewish women’s experiences of rape and other forms of sexual violence during the Holocaust. The book goes beyond previous studies, and challenges claims that Jewish women were not sexually violated during the Holocaust. This anthology by an interdisciplinary and international group of scholars addresses topics such as rape, forced prostitution, assaults on childbearing, artistic representations of sexual violence, and psychological insights into survivor trauma. These subjects have traditionally been relegated to the edges or completely left out of Holocaust history, and this book aims to shift perceptions and promote new discourse.
10. Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz, Omer Bartov, 2019 (Nonfiction)
In Anatomy of a Genocide, Omer Bartov explains that ethnic cleansing doesn’t occur as is so often portrayed in popular history, with the quick ascent of a vitriolic political leader and the unleashing of military might. It begins in seeming peace, slowly and often unnoticed, the culmination of pent-up slights and grudges and indignities. The perpetrators aren’t just sociopathic soldiers. They are neighbors and friends and family. For more than two decades Bartov, whose mother was raised in Buczacz, traveled extensively throughout the region, scouring archives and amassing thousands of documents rarely seen until now. He has also made use of hundreds of first-person testimonies by victims, perpetrators, collaborators, and rescuers. Anatomy of a Genocide profoundly changes our understanding of the social dynamics of mass killing and the nature of the Holocaust as a whole. Bartov’s book isn’t just an attempt to understand what happened in the past. It’s a warning of how it could happen again, in our own towns and cities—much more easily than we might think.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocauststudies.haifa.ac.il/