The best Holocaust memoirs to understand what real people experienced

Sylvia Maultash Warsh Author Of Find Me Again: A Rebecca Temple Mystery
By Sylvia Maultash Warsh

Who am I?

I'm a child of Holocaust survivors who spent three years in slave labour camps. My mother told me stories of her experiences a child should probably not hear. The result is that my philosophy of life, and sometimes my writing, can be dark. It’s no surprise that this period of history imbues my novels. I chose to write mysteries to reach a wider audience, the Holocaust connections integral to the stories. During my research, I discovered a wealth of information on the Holocaust but learned that memoirs revealed best what happened to people on the ground. Memoirs draw you into the microcosm of a person’s life with its nostalgia, yearning, and inevitable heartbreak.


I wrote...

Find Me Again: A Rebecca Temple Mystery

By Sylvia Maultash Warsh,

Book cover of Find Me Again: A Rebecca Temple Mystery

What is my book about?

Still coming to terms with the death of her husband, Dr. Rebecca Temple tries to carry on with life as usual. She meets a charming Polish count who has written a historical novel based on his own family. After Rebecca discovers a murder, she realizes that his manuscript may contain clues to the killer’s identity. As Rebecca scours the manuscript for answers, she journeys back to Enlightenment Europe and uncovers the true story of a love affair between the girl who would become Catherine the Great and the young man who would become the last king of Poland.

A historical mystery that spans three centuries. Winner of the Edgar Award.

The books I picked & why

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Album of My Life

By Ann Szedlecki,

Book cover of Album of My Life

Why this book?

Ann Szedlecki’s richly detailed memoir starts: “I am the daughter of nobody... Who am I? My past is gone, disappeared.” As a student in my writing class for seniors, her slightly-accented voice read out excerpts of her poignant manuscript. How do you remember all this, I used to ask. She would just smile sadly. Her story begins in pre-war Poland, showing us the loving family later destroyed. When the Nazis invade, Jews are beaten and killed at random in the streets. At fourteen, she and her older brother head east to the Soviet Union, ending up in Siberia. A gifted writer, she depicts the brutality of life in a labour camp but also the kindness of strangers; then the heartbreaking description of returning to Poland to find none of her family survived.  

Album of My Life

By Ann Szedlecki,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ann Szedlecki was a Hollywood-film-loving fourteen-year-old when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and she fled to the Soviet Union with her older brother, hoping to return for the rest of her family later. Instead, she ended up spending most of the next six and a half years alone in the Soviet Union, enduring the harsh conditions of northern Siberia under Stalin’s Communist regime. Szedlecki’s beautifully written story, which lovingly reconstructs her pre-war childhood in Lodz, is also compelling for its candour about her experiences as a woman in the Soviet Union during World War II. As a very young…

If Only It Were Fiction

By Elsa Thon,

Book cover of If Only It Were Fiction

Why this book?

Elsa Thon recounts her war experiences in a cinematic tale with the eye of an artist. A teenager in Poland who had apprenticed in photo retouching, she was recruited by the Jewish underground. She left her family behind in the Warsaw Ghetto, ending up in Krakow with false papers. This was difficult for her, a deeply honest person. She writes, “I lied all the time.” She takes the reader with her on her dangerous journey, the degradation of a labour camp, and a forced march. Elsa was also a student in my seniors writing class and I found her to be generous and good-humoured, despite her painful past. She lost her whole family in the Holocaust but she writes that it was her “destiny” to survive. 

If Only It Were Fiction

By Elsa Thon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked If Only It Were Fiction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Elsa Thon was a sixteen-year-old photographer's apprentice when the Nazis occupied her town of Pruszków, Poland. When her family was sent to the Warsaw ghetto, Elsa joined a community farm and was recruited by the Underground. Despite her deep belief in destiny, Elsa refused to bow to her fate as a Jew in war-torn Poland.

After Long Silence

By Helen Fremont,

Book cover of After Long Silence

Why this book?

Helen Fremont has managed to write a memoir that reads like detective fiction. All she and her sister Lara knew of their Polish parents’ past was that they had survived Siberia and a concentration camp. The sisters were raised Catholic and it’s not until Fremont is an adult in Boston that she discovers the family is Jewish. Slowly piecing the past together, the sisters find out that after great trauma, their parents constructed post-war identities hiding their Jewishness. This story interested me because I had a Hungarian friend in university who was brought up in a convent but who learned as an adult that she was Jewish. In my youth I struggled to understand; this book gave me insight.

After Long Silence

By Helen Fremont,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Fascinating . . . A tragic saga, but at the same time it often reads like a thriller filled with acts of extraordinary courage, descriptions of dangerous journeys and a series of secret identities.”—Chicago Tribune

“To this day, I don't even know what my mother's real name is.”

Helen Fremont was raised as a Roman Catholic. It wasn't until she was an adult, practicing law in Boston, that she discovered her parents were Jewish—Holocaust survivors living invented lives. Not even their names were their own. In this powerful memoir, Helen Fremont delves into the secrets that held her family in…

The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust

By Edith Hahn Beer, Susan Dworkin,

Book cover of The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust

Why this book?

This unlikely story has a different focus from other Holocaust memoirs. After working in a slave labour camp, Edith Hahn, a Viennese Jew, was ordered to report for transport east, and probable death, but instead went into hiding with a new identity thanks to two Christian friends. Jews hiding in plain sight were called U-boats. Though trained as a lawyer, she worked as an ignorant nurse’s aide in a hospital and met a Nazi Party member who fell in love with her. She told him she was Jewish but he wanted to marry her anyway and became both a protector and a constant threat. In an unsentimental style and with surprising dark humour, Hahn has written a gripping account of that period when being found out would have been fatal.

The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust

By Edith Hahn Beer, Susan Dworkin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Nazi Officer's Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Edith Hahn was an outspoken young woman studying law in Vienna when the Gestapo forced her and her mother into a ghetto, issuing them papers branded with a "J". Soon Edith was taken away to a labour camp and when she returned home after months away she found her mother had been deported. Her boyfriend, Pepi, proved too terrified to help her, but a Christian friend was not. Using the woman's identity papers, she fled to Munich. There she met Werner Vetter, a Nazi party member who fell in love with her and, despite her protests and even her eventual…

My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin

By Peter Gay,

Book cover of My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin

Why this book?

Peter Gay was a child in Nazi Berlin in the 1930s. I read his book to see what life was like there while writing my third novel, much of which takes place in Nazi Berlin. Gay was an academic historian but this memoir is deeply personal, laced with self-deprecating humour. His assimilated life (he and his father were staunch atheists) was relatively unaffected by the regime until 1933 when he became a Jew overnight by law. The Nazis quickly stripped the Jews of all rights, culminating in the violent Kristallnacht in 1938. He and his parents managed to escape to the U.S. six months later. Many of his relatives were killed. The underlying question in the book: why didn’t his family—and by extension other Jewish families—leave right after 1933 when Nazi plans became clear?

My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin

By Peter Gay,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked My German Question as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this poignant book, a renowned historian tells of his youth as an assimilated, anti-religious Jew in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1939-"the story," says Peter Gay, "of a poisoning and how I dealt with it." With his customary eloquence and analytic acumen, Gay describes his family, the life they led, and the reasons they did not emigrate sooner, and he explores his own ambivalent feelings-then and now-toward Germany and the Germans.
Gay relates that the early years of the Nazi regime were relatively benign for his family: as a schoolboy at the Goethe Gymnasium he experienced no ridicule or…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Holocaust, Jewish history, and Poland?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Holocaust, Jewish history, and Poland.

The Holocaust Explore 193 books about the Holocaust
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Poland Explore 85 books about Poland

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Choices Under Fire, The Pink Triangle, and Our Mothers' War if you like this list.