The best books about the concentration camps of the Holocaust

Patrick Hicks Author Of The Commandant of Lubizec: A Novel of the Holocaust and Operation Reinhard
By Patrick Hicks

Who am I?

I’ve dedicated most of my writing career to the Holocaust, and in order to create novels that are historically accurate, I’ve interviewed survivors, as well as done research at many of the camps. It is one thing to study Auschwitz, but it’s an entirely different thing to walk its soil. I give lectures on the Holocaust and do readings from my novels all across the country, and I view my work as a way to open discussion about what happened in Europe between 1933-1945. As I often say, just because we live in a post-Holocaust world, does not mean we have come to understand the Holocaust.


I wrote...

The Commandant of Lubizec: A Novel of the Holocaust and Operation Reinhard

By Patrick Hicks,

Book cover of The Commandant of Lubizec: A Novel of the Holocaust and Operation Reinhard

What is my book about?

The Commandant of Lubizec is a harrowing account of a death camp that never existed, but easily could have in the Nazi state. Told as a historical account in a documentary style, it explores the atmosphere of a death camp. It describes what it was like to watch the trains roll in, and it probes into the mind of its commandant, Hans-Peter Guth. How could he murder thousands of people each day and then go home to laugh with his children? This is not only an unflinching portrayal of the machinery of the gas chambers, it is also the story of how prisoners burned the camp to the ground and fled into the woods. It is a story of rebellion and survival. It is a story of life amid death.

The books I picked & why

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Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers

By Filip Müller,

Book cover of Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers

Why this book?

This is a shattering account of a man who was forced to work in the gas chambers of Auschwitz for several years. Not only did he see the serial mass murder up close, but he also witnessed the failed rebellion at Crematorium IV on October 7, 1944. Müller’s writing is sparse and harrowing as he describes daily life in the Third Reich’s largest concentration camp. This is an essential document about the Holocaust and it helps the reader understand what it meant to be part of the Sonderkommando—those unfortunate prisoners who were forced to work in the gas chambers and crematoria. This is an unforgettable and vital book.


The Last Jew of Treblinka

By Chil Rajchman,

Book cover of The Last Jew of Treblinka

Why this book?

When I first read this book, I didn’t know much about Treblinka, and in order to write my book I needed to read as much as I could about the extermination camps. I read Raichman’s memoir in one sitting because his account of surviving Treblinka is so immediate and visual. Whenever I’m asked about books on the Holocaust, I always recommend this one. He describes thousands of innocent people getting off trains, being separated, and then being forced to run naked up the “The Road to Heaven” and into the gas chambers. No other book captures Treblinka as well as this one does. Some 900,000 people died in Treblinka, and nearly all of them were Jewish. Raichman’s account is deeply moving, poignant, and heart-rending.


Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps

By Yitzhak Arad,

Book cover of Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps

Why this book?

Most people don’t understand the difference between a concentration camp and a death camp. Between 1942-1943, a new phase of the Holocaust was undertaken by the Nazis under the code name “Operation Reinhard.” It was designed to murder all of the Jews of Poland. Camps were set up with one purpose: the swift and unrelenting slaughter of innocent families and villages. In this supremely detailed historical account, Yitzhak Arad explains the construction and daily operation of Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka. In these three camps alone, nearly two million people were murdered. This book helped me to understand this aspect of the Holocaust in new and important ways. It haunts me still.


Night

By Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel (translator),

Book cover of Night

Why this book?

If there is a single book about the Holocaust that most people have read, it’s probably Wiesel’s account of entering Auschwitz with his family and witnessing so much horror orbiting around him. Wiesel’s emotional story of trying to keep his father alive—and also trying to understand how a loving God could allow a place like Auschwitz to exist—is taught in schools all across the world. There is a reason this slim but powerful book has become an introduction to the Holocaust for so many. My copy is a mere 106 pages, but those few pages changed me. I must have read this when I was fourteen or fifteen, and I’ve never forgotten it.


Survival in Auschwitz

By Primo Levi,

Book cover of Survival in Auschwitz

Why this book?

Like Wiesel, Levi explains his daily survival at Auschwitz and we learn about how vast and huge the camp was during its peak operation. Levi goes into the sociology of camp life and tries to explain what Auschwitz did to the mind and spirit. Importantly, he tries to help us understand what survival did to those who managed to walk away from the killing, and he is deeply thoughtful. He nudges us to ask what it means to be human after experiencing the Holocaust. I had a hard time choosing between this book and his other masterpiece, The Drowned and the Saved. Both probe what it means to live a good life in the face of evil. 


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