The best books describing restitution experiences after World War 2

Who am I?

World War 2 has always interested me and my curiosity was strengthened a few years ago when my mother told me I was born illegitimate and my father had been the civil engineer building a nearby bomber airfield and a lodger with her parents. She was ashamed of what happened and lost contact with my father before I was born. Consequently, I wrote my first novel Unplanned. I then met the daughter of the Berlin mother in Abandoned in Berlin, and found it natural to pursue this story, given what I had discovered about my own upbringing. The effort has taught me to seek to forgive but never to forget.

I wrote...

Abandoned in Berlin: A True Story

By John R. Cammidge,

Book cover of Abandoned in Berlin: A True Story

What is my book about?

A true story of what happened to a block of Jewish-owned apartments in Berlin. A descendant of the family discovers the building during a visit to Berlin in 2016 and is determined to find out what took place. She learns that her mother, at age 11, became part-owner of the property, but because of her age and ownership, was forcibly placed under guardianship custody by the Nazis in 1933. Read how this arrangement is progressively used to seize the property and why the family flees to Vienna in late 1937.

The story ends in the 1950s when the family fights to recover the building. Judge whether or not justice is delivered. The descendant is advised that no new legal action can be taken.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin

John R. Cammidge Why did I love this book?

A true account of how the Nazis confiscated a Berlin business property belonging to a Jewish family and the actions taken to secure restitution. The story has a twist in that the claim for restitution could not be made until after 1989 because the building is located in the Soviet sector of the city.

The property was the business headquarters for a fur company and parts of it were leased. In 1937, the Victoria Insurance Company forecloses on the mortgage and transferred ownership of the building to Hitler’s railway system. The granddaughter investigates her ancestry and the way the building was lost, and then takes up the fight to obtain restitution. After several disappointments, she is successful.

I enjoyed the storyline because it is remarkably similar to what happens in my book. It provides another perspective of how the Nazis confiscated Jewish property, and only by reading books like this will people understand how Jews were persecuted, and how the scars of this persecution affect their descendants today.

By Dina Gold,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Stolen Legacy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This former BBC journalist's passionate search for justice is a suspenseful confrontation with World War II history. A fascinating journey." Anne-Marie O'Connor, national bestselling author of The Lady in Gold Dina Gold grew up hearing her grandmother's tales of the glamorous life in Berlin she once led before the Nazis came to power and her dreams of recovering a huge building she claimed belonged to the family - though she had no papers to prove ownership. When the Wall fell in 1989, Dina decided to battle for restitution. When the Third Reich was defeated in 1945 the building lay in…

Book cover of The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

John R. Cammidge Why did I love this book?

Here is a story of persistence and justice that inspired the movie Woman in Gold. By taking on the Austrian government, the portrait painted by Gustav Klint is eventually returned to its rightful owner. Once more we witness the reluctance of authorities to acknowledge what was perpetrated during Nazi times.

Taking place in Vienna, the events coincide with the experiences of the protagonist in my own book. The mother fled Germany in late 1937 and lived in Vienna until early 1941. She met her husband there, married him while he was in prison, heard that the Jewish children in her orphanage were killed, and witnessed her mother’s death. “It was the worst experience in my life,” she says.

I wish that the perseverance and outcome shown in this story could be mirrored in my own book, but rules introduced by West Germany in the 1950s make this impossible. The Lady in Gold is a thrilling story, with a happy outcome, but also is a hard-to-believe illustration of Austria’s reluctance to offer restitution after the War.

By Anne-Marie O'Connor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lady in Gold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true story that inspired the movie Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. The Award-Winning Nazi Art Theft Saga
Winner of the Marfield National Award for Arts Writing
 Winner of a California Book Award
 Library Journal Top 10 Book of 2012 
 Christian Science Monitor Top 15 Nonfiction of 2012
 Best Huffington Post Art Book 2012
 Top 12 Nonfiction 2012 of

The spellbinding story, part fairy tale, part suspense, of Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, one of the most emblematic portraits of its time; of the beautiful, seductive Viennese Jewish salon hostess who sat for it;…

Book cover of The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe's Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance

John R. Cammidge Why did I love this book?

The plundering of books by the Nazis, especially literature belonging to the Jewish community, is the topic of this novel. Many books are untraceable today and their legitimate owners are long since dead. Nazis confiscated literature for various reasons, some involving original manuscripts, others used to seek out the enemies of the Reich, and quantities were gathered as status indicators. Once the war was over, there were book collections taken for a second time and justified as “liberated” rather than “plundered!” 

I enjoyed the novel because it covers an aspect of the Holocaust that is rarely addressed and offers insights into what happened to many books that disappeared from Jewish collections during Nazi times. We know there was a book store on the ground floor of the apartment block in my story and that the family belonged to a publishing dynasty. But no one survives today to tell us what happened.

By Anders Rydell, Henning Koch (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book Thieves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A most valuable book." —Christian Science Monitor

For readers of The Monuments Men and The Hare with Amber Eyes, the story of the Nazis' systematic pillaging of Europe's libraries, and the small team of heroic librarians now working to return the stolen books to their rightful owners.

While the Nazi party was being condemned by much of the world for burning books, they were already hard at work perpetrating an even greater literary crime. Through extensive new research that included records saved by the Monuments Men themselves—Anders Rydell tells the untold story of Nazi book theft, as he himself joins…

Book cover of Restitution: A Family's Fight for Their Heritage Lost in the Holocaust

John R. Cammidge Why did I love this book?

This is a story of retrieving fine art from Prague and returning it to its rightful owners in Canada. Four paintings were left in the care of a friend when the Reeser family fled Czechoslovakia as Hitler’s army arrived on March 15, 1939. For 50 years, the family was denied access to their property. Here is an account of determination and love that combines accurate descriptions of history with fictional speculation on how the paintings were retrieved. The Reeser family was fortunate to know what they had and where it was.

I enjoyed the plot in this book and the persistence of the protagonists. It is gratifying to read a story where a family who lost everything at the start of the War, persevered to become reunited with the family treasures once Communism fell in Eastern Europe. The story blends accurate history with imaginative fiction, making it a delight to read.

By Kathy Kacer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Restitution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story of the Reesers, a Jewish family who emigrated to Canada from Czechoslovakia on the eve of WWII. They fled the Nazis and left behind four valuable oil paintings. It would take years for the Reeser family, led by matriarch Mari Reeser, and then her son Karl, to retrieve them. Along the way they had help from two unlikely sources - a mid-level diplomat at the Canadian embassy in Prague, and a daring Dutch-Canadian art smuggler.

Book cover of Alice's Book: How the Nazis Stole My Grandmother's Cookbook

John R. Cammidge Why did I love this book?

This is a story about the best-selling Viennese cookbook that was stolen by the Nazis and republished under someone else’s name during the War. The text and color photographs are identical, but the names of the authors are different. The original author, Alice Urbach, who was Jewish, had her book “Aryanized” for over 80 years, even though her hands are still featured in the illustrations. It shows how respectable businesses and individuals can continue to profit from the persecution of Jews long after the Holocaust ended. 

I found this a quite remarkable story that has only recently been published in English. It demonstrates the extremes to which the Nazis went to stamp out anything that was Jewish. Only in 2021 were the rights returned to the original author posthumously.

By Karina Urbach, Jamie Bulloch (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alice's Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Unputdownable . . . Urbach has also retold the tragic Holocaust story in quite unforgettable lines" A.N. Wilson

"This fascinating book, by Alice's granddaughter Karina Urbach, shines a spotlight on this lesser-known aspect of Nazi looting" The Times

"A gripping piece of 20th-century family history but also something much more original: a rare insight into the 'Aryanisation' of Jewish-authored books during the Nazi regime" Financial Times

What happened to the books that were too valuable to burn?

Alice Urbach had her own cooking school in Vienna, but in 1938 she was forced to flee to England, like so many others.…

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The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…

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