The best Holocaust memoirs revealing the emotional & mental contours and development of the protagonist

Who am I?

My passion for the topic was an inevitable calling. I knew that my grandfather’s story had to be told in some form, but during his lifetime, I was too young to know how to put it together. As a teenager, I knew his story was a book, but I was not yet a writer. Fate declared that I should get my feet wet in the writing field in myriad ways, as if I was polishing my craft so that when I could put the elements of my grandfather’s life together, I was ready for the task. The reason my list is entitled with its exact name is because it’s a form of penance.


I wrote...

Zaidy's War: Four Armies, Three Continents, Two Brothers. One Man's Impossible Story of Endurance

By Martin Bodek,

Book cover of Zaidy's War: Four Armies, Three Continents, Two Brothers. One Man's Impossible Story of Endurance

What is my book about?

You won't believe this story, told lovingly by the subject's grandson: The tale of a man who served 4 armies, was present for historic WWII battles, refused cannibalism, walked 1,600 miles home, escaped poisoning, emerged with honor, and rebuilt his life.

The books I picked & why

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Survival in Auschwitz

By Primo Levi,

Book cover of Survival in Auschwitz

Why this book?

Before the onset of WWII, Levi was one kind of a professional. At the end of it, he was quite another. This life switch fascinates me in general as a possibility in anyone’s life, but Levi’s switch is drastic. He transforms, and his narrative explains how and why.

It is not coincidence, therefore, that the narrative of Zaidy’s War closely mimics Levi’s style of writing: perceptive, Omni-thinking, calm, and nearly dispassionate.

I love this Holocaust memoir above all for its chameleonic quality, its deep insights, and eye-opening humanistic epiphanies and revelations.

Survival in Auschwitz

By Primo Levi,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Survival in Auschwitz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true and harrowing account of Primo Levi’s experience at the German concentration camp of Auschwitz and his miraculous survival; hailed by The Times Literary Supplement as a “true work of art, this edition includes an exclusive conversation between the author and Philip Roth.

In 1943, Primo Levi, a twenty-five-year-old chemist and “Italian citizen of Jewish race,” was arrested by Italian fascists and deported from his native Turin to Auschwitz. Survival in Auschwitz is Levi’s classic account of his ten months in the German death camp, a harrowing story of systematic cruelty and miraculous endurance. Remarkable for its simplicity, restraint,…


Man’s Search for Meaning

By Viktor Frankl,

Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

Why this book?

In apposition to the Levi book I listed first, Frankl becomes more of what he already is, which is a transformation of a completely different sort. The author’s professional life becomes magnified, his thought processes on suffering become exponential. The Holocaust experience affects him so much, so deeply, that he emerges with a new field of thought that shakes up the foundational thought on mental health that Freud had well established. One is not a slave to his own mind; one can attain mastery under any circumstances with certain shifts of reason. Resonant for all time, and certainly for our time.

Man’s Search for Meaning

By Viktor Frankl,

Why should I read it?

26 authors picked Man’s Search for Meaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the outstanding classics to emerge from the Holocaust, Man's Search for Meaning is Viktor Frankl's story of his struggle for survival in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. Today, this remarkable tribute to hope offers us an avenue to finding greater meaning and purpose in our own lives.


Night

By Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel (translator),

Book cover of Night

Why this book?

Night, is, of course, seminal Holocaust reading, and would top any list no matter what said list is titled. It is really that core to the curriculum, you could say. For me, it’s the Holocaust through the lens of a teenager facing loss. In a world where Gen Z, Y, and X are miscommunicating with each of their generational forebears, it is worth pausing to read this and empathize with the loss of family, and the loss and hollowing out of the self. “What is happening to me? What is happening here? What is this personal hell” rings throughout. It is well worth noting that the original manuscript was filled with rage, and accusations against the creator. You get hints of that as you’re reading, and it is enough to feel that as an undercurrent to what was edited into a memoir of contemplation, rather than anger, but the anger is there. He was a lost teenager, after all, not the wizened gentleman he would eventually become.

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…


The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story

By Nechama Birnbaum,

Book cover of The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story

Why this book?

This gem is the New Kid on the Block (dating myself a bit). At barely a year old, it is quite a find, and the most popular work in Amsterdam Publisher’s house. There’s a reason for that. This work is not Holocaust-by-Numbers. Yes, it follows certain tropes, especially when time-lining the protagonist’s life, but what the memoirist captures with depth is the inner mental state of her grandmother, in her travail and experience. The author is young, but was mature enough, when capturing the story, to ask the necessary and deep questions. Where the manuscript departs from the norm is where the story takes on a Fairy Tale quality. Nature is pulled in frequently to serve as metaphor for emotion, especially in the passages of dream-state hopefulness. This is horrific and beautiful at the same time.

The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story

By Nechama Birnbaum,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Rosie was always told her red hair was a curse, but she never believed it. She often dreamed what it would look like under a white veil with the man of her dreams by her side. However, her life takes a harrowing turn in 1944 when she is forced out of her home and sent to the most gruesome of places: Auschwitz.

Upon arrival, Rosie’s head is shaved and along with the loss of her beautiful hair, she loses the life she once cherished. Among the chaos and surrounded by hopelessness, Rosie realizes the only thing the Nazis cannot take…


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

By Mark Haddon,

Book cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Why this book?

Perhaps you think I’m playing fast and loose with my final recommendation. Perhaps you sense that this is my favorite book, and I’m finding any cause for inclusion. You’d be correct and incorrect. “Holocaust” means "burnt whole,” after all (In Greek; few people know this), and there isn’t a part of the character’s life that isn’t. His mind is of a non-mainstream state, his mother is dead, and a neighborhood dog has been murdered. Things only get worse as more is revealed. Christopher triumphs, however, with the most self-affirming and powerful closing statement of any book I’ve ever read. The journey through the character’s mind is unparalleled in literature. Even the attempt is supremely gutsy, and no book I’ve ever read – fiction or non-fiction – has endowed me with a greater sense of empathy.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

By Mark Haddon,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year

'Outstanding...a stunningly good read' Observer

'Mark Haddon's portrayal of an emotionally dissociated mind is a superb achievement... Wise and bleakly funny' Ian McEwan

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger's Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the…


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