The best books about childhood in Nazi Germany

Who am I?

Why did I end up spending almost a third of my life researching Nazi boarding schools, and childhood under the Third Reich more generally? I sometimes wonder if it was because I myself was sent to boarding school at the age of nine – somehow, I can sympathise with what these children had to endure, as well as knowing full well from a historian’s perspective which hardships were truly unique to a National Socialist elite education, and which were simply the kind of heart-ache that’s common to any institution which takes children away from their parents at a young age… 


I wrote...

The Third Reich's Elite Schools: A History of the Napolas

By Helen Roche,

Book cover of The Third Reich's Elite Schools: A History of the Napolas

What is my book about?

The Third Reich’s Elite Schools tells the story of the Napolas, Nazi Germany’s state training academies for the future elite. Modelled on the English public schools, the Prussian cadet corps, and the harsh educational practices of ancient Sparta, these boarding schools took pupils from the age of ten upwards, moulding them into potential future leaders of the Third Reich. 

Fusing original research from eighty archives worldwide and eyewitness testimonies from over 100 former pupils, the book provides the first in-depth account of everyday life at the schools, while also shedding fresh light on the history of the Third Reich.

The books I picked & why

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Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust

By Livia E. Bitton Jackson,

Book cover of Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust

Why this book?

Elli tells the true story of a teenage Holocaust survivor – when I first read the book I was still a teenager myself; I could sympathise with Elli’s everyday fears and anxieties over boys she liked or troubles with her family, even as her world descended into the most unimaginable of horrors. It’s one of the most moving books I’ve ever read, and her story stayed with me for a very long time after I finished reading.


Witnesses of War: Children's Lives Under the Nazis

By Nicholas Stargardt,

Book cover of Witnesses of War: Children's Lives Under the Nazis

Why this book?

Nick Stargardt’s Witnesses of War is the kind of book I’d love to write – it’s really one of the most comprehensive and accessible studies of children’s experiences under Nazism out there. The author doesn’t shy away from describing the lives of the Third Reich’s youthful victims in harrowing detail, but he also explores the lives of children who were seduced by the Nazi dictatorship. "In war," he writes, "all children are victims." 


School for Barbarians: Education Under the Nazis

By Erika Mann,

Book cover of School for Barbarians: Education Under the Nazis

Why this book?

Written during the Third Reich itself, this is the hard-hitting book that told the world just how heinous Nazi education policy was – although it was only heeded by a prescient few at the time. Anyone who is worried about how easily schooling can become subject to ideology should definitely read this book!


Children and Play in the Holocaust: Games among the Shadows

By George Eisen,

Book cover of Children and Play in the Holocaust: Games among the Shadows

Why this book?

This is a book that grabbed my attention straight away because it shows just how powerful the human spirit can be. Eisen explores the ways in which children caught in the horror of the Holocaust attempted to make sense of their surroundings. They might be playing in bomb craters; they might even be playing alongside the death-camps of Auschwitz, but these children’s spirit of play survived even in the shadow of annihilation. 


Survivors: Children's Lives After the Holocaust

By Rebecca Clifford,

Book cover of Survivors: Children's Lives After the Holocaust

Why this book?

I first had the privilege of reading Survivors when we were searching for a new professor of transnational history in my department at Durham University; Rebecca is now a treasured colleague, and her ability to tell these child survivors’ stories is second to none! Her writing is humane, passionate, and exquisite. I would recommend this book to anyone who truly wants to understand the impact of the Holocaust on those who survived it as children.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Nazi Germany, Holocaust survivors, and the Holocaust?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Nazi Germany, Holocaust survivors, and the Holocaust.

Nazi Germany Explore 98 books about Nazi Germany
Holocaust Survivors Explore 33 books about Holocaust survivors
The Holocaust Explore 176 books about the Holocaust

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Holocaust Chronicle, and Travelers in the Third Reich if you like this list.