The best books on intergenerational trauma after genocides

Who am I?

Born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after World War 2, Ettie immigrated with her parents to the USA. She grew up and was educated in New York City and Pennsylvania and immigrated to Israel after completing graduate school. After retiring from a career in international schools in 6 countries, she currently resides in Arizona with her husband. She is a Board member for the Phoenix Holocaust Association and devotes much time to giving presentations to youth and adults worldwide.


I wrote...

Book cover of A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama's Survival from Lithuania to America

What is my book about?

With the Nazi occupation of Kovno (Lithuania), her life changed forever. Zlata Santocki Sidrer was Jewish, but she survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Gone was her normal life and her teenage dream of becoming a doctor. Instead, she witnessed untold deprivations, massacres, imprisonment, hunger, and slave labor before being transported to the Stutthof Concentration Camp. Her story of the death march is a testament to her fighting spirit and the limits of human endurance. Yet the challenges did not end with liberation.

Lovingly compiled from recorded interviews and researched by her eldest daughter, Ettie, this is an account of a remarkably resilient woman who raised herself out of the ashes after unimaginable hardship and sorrow. She found love and happiness where none could be expected — a secret marriage in the ghetto and life-saving friendships. She describes escapes, dangerous border crossings, and reunifications.

The books I picked & why

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Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory

By Elizabeth Rosner,

Book cover of Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory

Why this book?

Rosner offers us a smorgasbord of disparate, yet connected essays of varying lengths, including stories, anecdotes, snippets of memoirs, and musings, tied together by the human experience of trauma. As a child of survivors, Rosner uses some images from her own family’s experiences in the Holocaust, but also weaves in stories, writings, observations, and meetings with other victims of trauma – and their descendants. In my long career in international schools in 6 countries, I have met survivors of trauma-or their descendants- from Vietnam, Cambodia, Armenia, China, and from African-Americans and Native Americans in the USA. It is uncanny to see and feel our commonalities and the invisible bond which allows us to share the idiosyncrasies specific to our own families. The variety of Rosner’s essays and anecdotes makes this a fascinating read. Her introductory alphabetical word list, which she entitles “The Alphabet of Inadequate Language” is an excellent entre into the book.

I am passionate about the book because both my parents were survivors of the Holocaust. I have analyzed the elements of my childhood, and how my parents’ experiences impacted my own behavior and beliefs. My personal voice follows my mother’s testimony in the book – I am sure Mama wouldn’t mind.

Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory

By Elizabeth Rosner,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Survivor Café as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As featured on NPR and in The New York Times, Survivor Cafe is a bold work of nonfiction that examines the ways that survivors, witnesses, and post-war generations talk about and shape traumatic experiences.

As firsthand survivors of many of the twentieth century's most monumental events―the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Killing Fields―begin to pass away, Survivor Café addresses urgent questions: How do we carry those stories forward? How do we collectively ensure that the horrors of the past are not forgotten?

Elizabeth Rosner organizes her book around three trips with her father to Buchenwald concentration camp―in 1983, in 1995, and in…


I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors

By Bernice Eisenstein,

Book cover of I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors

Why this book?

My 3rd grade teacher told me I had no artistic talent, and since I could not afford to hire an artist for my book- so I have no illustrations. Thus, I envy Eisenstein’s artistic talent in illustrating her memoir. Actually, I admire her double skills, as both a writer and an artist. Her sensitive, astute, and often humorous, analysis of her childhood with her Holocaust survivor parents was incredibly familiar to me. There were times I laughed hysterically, with tears in my eyes. Some of her anecdotes seemed as if they came right out of my own childhood recollection of family stories, such as her story about a gold wedding band that was hidden during dark days in a concentration camp, the parental silences or tears about the past, her “drug-like-addiction” to learning everything about the Holocaust, in order to envision her parents and their lives before the war, and her need to see Auschwitz with her own eyes.

I am passionate about this book because both my parents were survivors of the Holocaust. I started learning about the Holocaust after my birth in a Displaced Person’s camp in Germany, and I have been researching it ever since- almost like an obsession. I too, have made the effort to analyze the impact of the Holocaust on my beliefs and my behaviors. As an educator, I always believed that these feelings and behaviors were due to ‘nurture’ but with today’s advances in genetic research, we are now learning that much of it could be due to ‘nature.’

I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors

By Bernice Eisenstein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors distills, through text and drawings, including panels in the comic-book format, Bernice Eisenstein’s memories of her 1950s’ childhood in Toronto with her Yiddish-speaking parents, whose often unspoken experiences of war were nevertheless always present. The memories also draw on inherited fragments of stories about relatives lost to the war whom she never met.

Eisenstein’s parents met in Auschwitz, near the end of the war and were married shortly after Liberation. The book began to take root in her imagination several years ago, almost a decade after her father’s death.

With poignancy and searing…


Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors

By Helen Epstein,

Book cover of Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors

Why this book?

This book was groundbreaking, as it was the first of its kind when it was published in 1979; it has become the icon of a generation and the author became our champion. The author-journalist opened the conversation and exposed an entire generation to the commonalities among us – it gave us all a voice and permission to “open the iron box deep inside all of us.”

After interviewing several hundred children of Jewish survivors of World War 2, it became abundantly clear that, while each of our parents had survived in different ways and in disparate locations, and came from various socio-economic levels, we shared so many commonalities - of stories heard, behaviors learned, fears and tears acknowledged, and traumas transferred.

My parents had difficulty telling us about the horrors they endured, but they never ignored our questions or hid the stories or ‘shushhhed’ their friends. In fact, it was my mother who gifted me this book right after its publication. She understood that I needed to hear the voices of others, like myself.  I am passionate about the book because it changed my life. I suddenly realized that I was not alone with many of my quirky fears and feelings, but that I was part of a club, of others who shared the same. Both of my parents were survivors of the Lithuanian episode of the Holocaust. I started learning about it after my birth in a Displaced Person’s camp in Germany. I have spent my life in its shadow and after my retirement I have been researching the Holocaust and devoting my time to educating both youth and adults.


Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors

By Helen Epstein,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Children of the Holocaust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I set out to find a group of people who, like me, were possessed by a history they had never lived."

The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Helen Epstein traveled from America to Europe to Israel, searching for one vital thin in common: their parent's persecution by the Nazis. She found:

* Gabriela Korda, who was raised by her parents as a German Protestant in South America;
* Albert Singerman, who fought in the jungles of Vietnam to prove that he, too, could survive a grueling ordeal;
* Deborah Schwartz, a Southern beauty queen who-at the Miss America pageant, played the…


The Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma

By Gita Arian Baack,

Book cover of The Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma

Why this book?

This is an excellent book that speaks to those who have inherited trauma from their ancestors. While Baack uses ample research and narratives about the victims of the Holocaust, the book is relevant for other descendants of long or short-lasting, acknowledged or non-acknowledged traumas, including: victims of genocides, ethnic cleansings, refugee camp residents, racism, wars, and other forms of victimization or natural disasters - and - their witnesses. Based on interviews with many descendants of trauma, the author focuses on giving the ‘inheritors’ a platform to describe, not only, their parents’ histories, but mostly their own. The book is instructional, as she also includes questions for individual or group reflection. The author’s emphasis on the non-pathological perspective is both productive and a relief, including chapters on resilience, post-traumatic grown, epigenetics, and more.

I am passionate about the book because I am a child of Holocaust survivors. Over many years, I made myself an expert on my family’s stories, but it has only been recently that I allowed myself to reflect on my own story as an “inheritor.”  After many years of living and working in 6 countries, I have met other descendants of trauma, from Cambodia, Native-American, African-American, Vietnam, Armenia, China, and others, with whom I had an almost immediate and inexplicable affinity. This book helped me understand that bond.

The Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma

By Gita Arian Baack,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Our family legacies, both positive and negative, are passed down from one generation to the next in ways that are not fully understood. This secondary form of trauma, which Gita Baack calls "Inherited Trauma," has not received adequate attention-a failing that perpetuates cycles of pain, hatred, and violence. In The Inheritors, readers are given the opportunity to reflect on the inherited burdens they carry, as well as the resilience that has given them the power of survival. Through engaging stories and unique concepts, readers will learn new ways to explore the unknowns in their legacies, reflect on questions that are…


In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Second Generation

By Aaron Hass,

Book cover of In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Second Generation

Why this book?

If Epstein’s book, published in 1979, was the first expose about the commonalities among the children of the Holocaust, Hass’ book was the second. Hass succeeded in melding oral history, memoir, and his professions as a clinical psychologist and university professor. This book is helpful, not only to those of the second generation, but to mental health professionals, as well. It was also helpful to me, as it explained the unique, and often difficult, relationship between the survivor parents and their children.

I am passionate about the book because as a child of survivors, I have also had to grapple with the effects of my parents’ trauma. Of course, as a young child, I had no idea that my parents’ behaviors were special or different. It was only at an older age, I began noticing the differences between the atmosphere and attitudes in my home vs. those of my friends.  After years of research, narrow reading, and attending innumerable lectures, I have, only more recently, with age and maturity, been able to get a handle on this challenging topic.

In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Second Generation

By Aaron Hass,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Shadow of the Holocaust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The most important event in my life occurred before I was born,' one child of concentration camp survivors has observed. The Holocaust did not end with the liberation of survivors after the collapse of the Third Reich, for the legacy of their suffering extends to a generation that never faced an SS storm- trooper. With a rich blend of oral history, memoir, and psychological interpretation, Aaron Hass deepens our understanding of the price of that legacy for the second generation. What are the effects of growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust? Drawing on interviews and survey materials, Aaron…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Holocaust, Holocaust survivors, and genocide?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Three Minutes in Poland, Irena's Children, and They Were Like Family to Me if you like this list.