7 books you should read about the Holocaust
My friend Amanda and I travelled to Poland in the fall of 2017. I still feel strange admitting this, but I really wanted to go to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Ever since I was a kid, I've been slightly obsessed with memoirs and historical fiction books that tell stories of World War II in Europe. I can't quite explain why - perhaps it was because each person's story of resilience was so meaningful, or maybe it made me feel lucky for the life I lived. Either way, when we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, no amount of reading could have prepared me for the experience of being there in person. I'm not sure what I believe happens to us when we die, but I was pretty certain that the souls of the dead were there. Roll your eyes if you want, but when our tour guide led us into one of the gas chambers, I definitely felt the presence of...something. If you've been to Auschwitz-Birkenau, you probably know exactly what I mean.
Travel tip: If you are planning a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, make sure you book in advance. You can book online on the Museum's website. Normally I don't like guided tours, but I highly recommend joining a tour rather than walking around on your own. It might also be a good idea to schedule your visit at the beginning of your trip to Poland, rather than the end. In my opinion, it's better to put something this intense at the beginning so you can end with something more positive.
In books, I had read about the piles of clothing, hair, shoes, and other personal belongings that were collected by the Nazis in what the prisoners referred to as 'Canada'. I also visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington during high school, so I thought I would be better prepared for this part of the tour. But you can't possibly imagine seeing that much human hair - at one point I saw a braid in the pile quite like my own, and struggled to hold back tears. As the tour continued, I began to wonder why I decided to come here in the first place. Isn't travelling supposed to be fun? Why would I come to such a sad place? But at the end of the tour the guide addressed this exact thought - she said that people come to hear stories of what happened as a way to remember the lives that were lost. Survivors share their stories in whatever way they can so that we can make sure that something like this never happens again.
So here are seven of my favourite books about the Holocaust in no particular order. Although they are all sad in their own way, they tell important stories of those who survived (and those who didn't). If you are planning a trip to Poland and/or Auschwitz-Birkenau, I definitely suggest trying to read a few of these before or during your visit. Book Depository has great prices and ships free worldwide!
This one really hit me hard. Bartnikowski retells his memories from the perspective of a child in Auschwitz, which is something I had never encountered before. His memories are sad and horrific, but he also tells a powerful story of resilience. I picked this one up at the museum while I was visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau.
If you are looking for something a little less intense, this is a memoir written by a Polish girl who's family spent over 20 months hiding in a bunker during the war. It's well written and tells a story of the hardships that also occurred outside the concentration camps.
This book is not just on this list, but also on my all-time favourites list and my favourite graphic novels list. Spiegelman tells the story of his father living through WWII and life in the concentration camps... but he depicts the Jews as mice, the Germans as cats, and the Poles as pigs. In my opinion, telling the story in this way makes it a little more palatable for those who can't quite handle reading other memoirs.
I always think it sounds strange to say I 'enjoyed' a book about the Holocaust, but this one was well-written and memorable. Lengyel tells her shocking story of working in the infirmary at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and discusses issues that specifically affected women in the concentration camps. She also does an incredible job describing the camp - I could actually identify which buildings she was referring to.
Most of you have probably seen the movie, but the book is better. This is also another great choice if you want to read more about life in Poland during the war. If you are travelling to Krakow (which I highly recommend) you can visit Schindler's factory while you're there.
This is a good option for teens, or anyone looking to read a Holocaust memoir with less specific details. I don't know of any other memoirs that tell the story of a Mengele twin, so it provides insight into that specific aspect of the camps.
This is another well-known title that probably doesn't need much description. Besides the Diary of Anne Frank, I think this was one of the first Holocaust memoirs I read. The other two books in the trilogy are still on my to-read list.
Have another book to share? Let me know in the comments below.
Want other book recommendations? Check out my reviews on Goodreads.