As the years go by, fewer and fewer individuals remain who experienced and remember the terrible events that occurred during the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed millions, including six million Jews. It’s up to the rest of us to never forget the atrocities and horrors that they faced. Now, the rest of us can keep their stories alive through the works that tell of their experiences. Here are some must-read Holocaust memoirs and books based on true accounts everyone should read.
‘Night’ by Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel first began working on his memoir Night in the 1950s and has become an essential read about the Holocaust. Night tells the year Elie Wiesel spent in Auschwitz and then Buchenwald and the horrors he faced, the loss of his family, and implores that these horrors must never happen again. Deeply emotional, heartbreaking, and impactful, Night’s story will stay with you.
‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank
Anne Frank’s Diary is one of the most well-known accounts from the Holocaust. Her diary shows her daily experience of what it was like to live in hiding, facing constant fear and struggle. If you haven’t already, this is a must-read.
‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor E. Frankl
Frankl, who became a psychiatrist, wrote this memoir from his own experience and his patients’ stories. It offers a deep look at suffering, how we, as humans, cope with it, and dives into the human drive to finding meaning in life. A different and unique perspective on the Holocaust, Man’s Search for Meaning will move you and leave you thinking.
‘The Complete Maus’ by Art Speigelman
Maus is a graphic novel that depicts the Nazis as cats and the Jews as mice. Speigelman illustrates his father’s experience in the Holocaust and how it affected him during his life living in America after escaping. Maus is a story within a story that will appeal to even non-graphic novel fans.
‘Five Chimneys’ by Olga Lengyel
Five Chimneys is the story of a Hungarian woman who was a surgical assistant deported to Auschwitz. There she works in the infirmary, and while the job saves her life, she is also subjected to the horrors and medical experimentation that occurred at the concentration camp. This memoir goes into what she observed and provides a deeply uncomfortable account of life at Auschwitz from a different perspective.
‘A Lucky Child’ by Thomas Buergenthal
In this memoir, Thomas Buergenthal tells what he experienced as a young boy as he survived two ghettos, a labor camp, and Auschwitz. He recounts his efforts to survive in stark details that took his wits and some incredible strokes of luck. After the war, he became an international judge in the International Court of Justice in The Hague to fight the type of tyranny he survived.
‘Imprisoned’ by Arturo Benvenutti
Author Arturo Benvenutti met with many Holocaust survivors, and beyond just their stories, these survivors shared the artwork they created while in concentration camps. Consisting of artwork ranging from pencil and ink drawings to charcoal sketches, watercolors, and engravings. Imprisoned shows their experience in a way that can’t be said in words. If you want a very different, visual, and personal account of the Holocaust, this will be sure to leave a mark.
‘Resistance’ by Israel Gutman
Ghettos were another part of the Nazi’s plan to exterminate the Jews, and the experiences there are also important to remember. Resistance recounts the Warsaw Ghetto uprising that pitted hundreds of ill-equipped Jews against the Nazi police after it’s ordered that the whole ghetto be burned down. Israel, a survivor of the uprising, used his own experience and the letters and diaries of fellow inhabitants of the ghetto to tell the tale. Resistance illustrates the best-known example of the Jews fighting back.
‘The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939–45’ by Władysław Szpilman
Saved because a music-loving policeman recognized him, tells of the time between the final radio broadcast of Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor, played by Szpilman, in September 1939 and when broadcasts returned six years later. The Pianist recounts the years between, where his family is deported and killed, tells of close calls, and how the author gets help from a German officer, whose diary pages are reprinted in the memoir tells of his outrage at what he saw. It’s an eye-opening, tragic, and moving tale.
‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris
The numbered tattoos that Jews had marked on them as prisoners in concentration have become an enduring symbol of the atrocities of the Holocaust as the yellow Star of David. In this fictional account based on interviews with Holocaust survivors and Auschwitz tattooist Ludwig Sokolov, readers will find a story of human extremes, evil and compassion. While it confronts readers with Ludwig’s harrowing experience, it is also a tale of hope and courage.
‘The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust’ by Edith Hahn Beer, Susan Dworkin
In this memoir, Edith Hahn recounts what she went through to hide from persecution during the Holocaust. Forged papers, hiding underground, and in plain sight. Hahn would end up marrying a Nazi officer who keeps her secret. She lived in constant fear of her secret slipping but incredibly managed to keep all of her forged papers and family photos, and letters that would reveal her, despite the risk. It’s a gripping, complex story of strength and resilience.
‘This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen’ by Tadeusz Borowski
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen tells five short stories about the author’s time in Auschwitz and Dachau. Borowski’s book is different from other accounts since he was a political prisoner, arrested due to his fiancée’s resistance activities. The stories are written with a heavy amount of dark humor, unlike any other account.
‘Fragments of Isabella’ By Isabella Leitner
Isabella Leitner’s account of the Holocaust has become a classic, and it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The memoir recounts various memories and feelings as she loses her mother and a sister, leaving her and three other sisters dependent on each other to survive, making it an emotional and deeply moving perspective.
‘But You Did Not Come Back’ by Marceline Loridan-Ivens
At age 15, Marceline and her father were captured and sent to two different concentration camps, him to Auschwitz and her to Birkenau. The final communication between the two was a note smuggled into Birkenau, giving her hope that her father was alive, but unfortunately, she would learn the truth after the war. Written as a letter to her father, it’s an upsetting tale that will deeply affect readers.
‘I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree: A Memoir of a Schindler’s List Survivor’ by Laura Hillman
This memoir tells of the author’s youth and the hard decision she made to go back home to be with her family despite knowing the terrible things happening. Enduring the horrors in the concentration camps, her only hope for survival, Oskar Schindler and his list. Another tale of hope and love despite the horrors happening around the author.
‘All But My Life: A Memoir’ by Gerda Weissmann Klein
Another memoir, Klein tells her story of childhood, which changed when her and her family were taken away by the Nazis. As the title by the end of the war, she would lose everyone she cares about. Despite this, she never gives up hope and brings light to the communities and friendships she formed while imprisoned. The synopsis for the memoir puts it best: “It introduces [readers] to last century’s terrible history of devastation and prejudice, yet offers them hope that the effects of hatred can be overcome.”
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