The best YA coming-of-age novels that take place during the Holocaust

Who am I?

As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, this subject has always been close to my heart. I devoured any book I could on the Holocaust growing up and pursued an education with a focus on Judaic studies and Holocaust Literature in college. One day when I was in my twenties, I sat down with my grandmother and an 8mm camera and recorded her life story. It is this account that I wrote about in What She Lost. Today, I feel the need for these accounts is of utmost importance because of the rise in antisemitism and the fact that so many of the survivors are no longer with us. May we never forget.


I wrote...

What She Lost

By Melissa W. Hunter,

Book cover of What She Lost

What is my book about?

For thirteen-year-old Sarah Waldman, life in the small Polish town of Olkusz is idyllic, grounded in her loving, close-knit family and the traditions of their Jewish faith. But in 1939, as the Nazis come to power, a storm is gathering—a relentless, unforgiving storm that will sweep Sarah and her family into years of turmoil in the ghetto and concentration camps, ultimately tearing them apart. Will Sarah’s strong will and determination be enough for her to survive when everything she loves is taken from her?

Part memoir, part fiction, What She Lost is the reimagined true-life story of the author’s grandmother growing into a woman amid the anguish of the Holocaust. It is a tale of resilience, of rebuilding a life, and of rediscovering love.

The books I picked & why

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The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak,

Book cover of The Book Thief

Why this book?

The Book Thief remains to this day one of my favorite novels! When I first read the book ten years ago, I was immediately drawn to the unique way the story was told. The opening chapter introduces the reader to the narrator... Death. Surprisingly, Death is a sympathetic character who states that they have never needed a vacation more than during WW2. It took me a bit to get used to the narrator’s voice, but once I did, I was hooked. The prose is so beautifully written and poetic that the only way I can describe it is like reading a piece of art. The characters, an orphaned girl, a German couple, and the Jewish man they are hiding, became like family to me. I was so invested in their fates I couldn’t put the book down, and the ending moved me to tears. I suggest The Book Thief if for no other reason than it was so original and unlike any book I have read before. I still pick it up and flip through its pages just to reread certain passages and revisit characters that I have grown to miss. 

The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak,

Why should I read it?

24 authors picked The Book Thief as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Life affirming, triumphant and tragic . . . masterfully told. . . but also a wonderful page-turner' Guardian
'Brilliant and hugely ambitious' New York Times
'Extraordinary' Telegraph
___

HERE IS A SMALL FACT - YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

SOME IMPORTANT…


Number the Stars

By Lois Lowry,

Book cover of Number the Stars

Why this book?

I read Number the Stars when I was in junior high school, and it was perhaps one of the first books that inspired me to learn more about my grandmother’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor. The novel is appropriate for younger readers who are just learning about this period in time, and it illustrates the altruistic nature of everyday citizens who defied the Nazis and helped save lives. I appreciated how the novel was told from the point of view of a young Danish girl, Annemarie, who risks her own life to help her Jewish best friend’s family. Although a work of fiction, it highlights the resistance that took place in Denmark at the time. Not only does Number the Stars show the evolution of Annemarie’s character throughout the course of the book, it also illustrates how someone very young can perform acts of bravery during even the most dangerous of times. 

Number the Stars

By Lois Lowry,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Number the Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A powerful story set in Nazi occupied Denmark in 1943. Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen is called upon for a selfless act of bravery to help save her best-friend, Ellen - a Jew.

It is 1943 and for ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen life is still fun - school, family, sharing fairy stories with her little sister. But there are dangers and worries too - the Nazis have occupied Copenhagen and there are food shortages, curfews and the constant threat of being stopped by soldiers. And for Annemarie the dangers become even greater... her best-friend Ellen is a Jew. When Ellen's parents are taken…


Behind the Bedroom Wall

By Laura E. Williams,

Book cover of Behind the Bedroom Wall

Why this book?

As I was compiling this list, a memory of this book came to mind. I’ve read so many novels on the Holocaust and had other titles I was planning to recommend, yet I kept coming back to this book. I distinctly remembered where I was when I read it... in my childhood bedroom... and the fact that I finished it in one sitting. I vaguely recalled the plot, but the impression it left on me was so strong that I found myself researching the book once more. I was surprised to discover it was published in 1996 when I was 22 years old, since I thought I was younger when I read it. But as I reread the novel (again in one sitting), it was definitely the book from my memories.

The story is told from the point-of-view of a young girl named Korinna, who is a member of the Jungmadel, a Nazi youth organization. During a time when citizens were reporting their own family members of suspicious activity that defied the Nazi party, the plot unfolds in such a way that we witness the main character challenging the beliefs she once held. It deals with themes of friendship, family, loyalty, and standing up for what’s right. 

Behind the Bedroom Wall

By Laura E. Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Behind the Bedroom Wall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's 1942. Thirteen-year-old Korinna Rehme is an active member of her local Jungmadel, a Nazi youth group, along with many of her friends. She believes that Hitler is helping Germany by instituting a program to deal with what he calls the "Jewish problem," a program that she witnesses as her Jewish neighbors are attacked and taken from their homes. Korinna's parents, however, are members of a secret underground group providing a means of escape to the Jews of their city. Korinna is shocked to discover that they are hiding a refugee family behind the wall of her bedroom. But as…


Night

By Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel (translator),

Book cover of Night

Why this book?

While Night by Elie Wiesel is required reading for many high schoolers today, I didn’t read the book myself until I was in college. Just as Number the Stars inspired me to learn more about my grandmother’s life, Night inspired me to actually write my family’s story! This short novel is one of the most impactful narratives of the Holocaust I’ve ever read, because it is a personal account of the atrocities of the Holocaust, as experienced by the author himself. Dr. Wiesel was just a teenager when he was taken into the concentration camps. What he lived through is unimaginable and heartbreaking, yet his record is a testimony to what so many who survived the Holocaust experienced firsthand. This novel lit a fire under my feet to record my family’s own experiences to share with readers so that humankind should “never forget” the horrors to which we are capable of stooping. 

Night

By Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel (translator),

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Born into a Jewish ghetto in Hungary, as a child, Elie Wiesel was sent to the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. This is his account of that atrocity: the ever-increasing horrors he endured, the loss of his family and his struggle to survive in a world that stripped him of humanity, dignity and faith. Describing in simple terms the tragic murder of a people from a survivor's perspective, Night is among the most personal, intimate and poignant of all accounts of the Holocaust. A compelling consideration of the darkest side of human nature and the enduring power of…


Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

By B.M. Mooyaart, Anne Frank,

Book cover of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Why this book?

This list would not be complete without Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I immediately fell in love with Anne when I read this classic book at a young age. Perhaps the quintessential story of a young girl coming-of-age during the Holocaust, the story unfolds through the letters 13-year-old Anne writes to her diary, whom she has named “Kitty.” Despite being hidden away from the world during her most formative years because she is Jewish, Anne experiences all the normal feelings and emotions of any teenage girl. Living in dire conditions and in constant danger of being discovered, Anne dreams of her future, is moody and temperamental, experiences young love, and dares to hold onto hope. It is a timeless story that shows that no matter our background, ethnicity, religion, or race, we are more alike than different. It also highlights the strength of familial bonds and the selfless, courageous acts that some people are willing to perform to save others. I read The Diary of a Young Girl to both of my daughters, and it was a wonderful and moving experience.    

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

By B.M. Mooyaart, Anne Frank,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Anne Frank as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With 30 per cent more material than previous editions, this new contemporary and fully anglicized translation gives the reader a deeper insight into Anne's world. Publication of the unabridged Definitive Edition on Penguin Audiobook, read by Helena Bonham-Carter, coincides.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Holocaust, Jewish history, and concentration camps?

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