The best novels set during the post Holocaust period

The Books I Picked & Why

Mistress of the Ritz

By Melanie Benjamin

Book cover of Mistress of the Ritz

Why this book?

Manager of the Paris Ritz is a prestigious position, and the American wife of the Frenchman who is the manager leads a charmed life there – until the Nazi invasion of Paris. Once the Gestapo sets up their headquarters at the Ritz, the couple must negotiate their new, uncomfortable circumstances. As the war escalates, the danger to the American woman increases, especially since she has become involved with the Resistance. When the war is over, the American woman, Paris, and Parisians are not the same. Based on real people, this historical novel presents a heartbreaking picture of the aftermath of the Holocaust in Paris and the devastated lives left to deal with their devastated city.

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By Rose Ross

Book cover of Lila

Why this book?

Lila tells the story of two WW11 survivor families whose daughters are born on the same day in a Displaced Persons Camp, who immigrate to the United States around the same time, and take apartments in the same building in the South Bronx, New York. The immigrant neighborhood, full of busybody characters, is beautifully rendered. Everyone expects the two girls to be as close as sisters, their lives and fates happily intertwined. However, their growing-up years veer into dangerous territory. While one family manages to establish a home of love and caring, the other morphs into a den of dysfunction and perversion. Upending everyone’s expectations, the two girls embark on a path of jealousy and hatred. As secrets are revealed, their paths diverge, ending in tragedy. The novel is a shattering portrait of how trauma of the Holocaust and inherited trauma passed on to the next generation can destroy lives.

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The Takeaway Men

By Meryl Ain

Book cover of The Takeaway Men

Why this book?

This novel follows twin sisters who were born in a Displaced Persons Camp after the war and who immigrate to the United States with their parents. Their lives are shadowed by the Holocaust, despite the fact that they are safe in America and trying to adjust to American life. Whether or not they are truly free of the Nazi influence remains a question, especially after they discover that their parents have kept secrets from them, and a Nazi had been ‘hiding’ in their American community. The picture of post-Holocaust life and the way the Shoah has impacted Jewish immigrants in the United States makes this book a worthy addition to our understanding of the challenges and struggles facing refugees at that time.

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My Mother's Son

By David Hirshberg

Book cover of My Mother's Son

Why this book?

This award-winning novel combines a boy’s coming-of-age story with a well-wrought picture of American life and culture in Boston after the Holocaust. Told by a radio host remembering his growing up years in Boston in the 1950s, this book incorporates major events of the times – such as the Korean War, the polio scourge, events in baseball and politics – with the personal experience of growing up in a Jewish family in the post-Holocaust years. In the flashbacks, the voice of the child is perfectly rendered, and his adult views of his youth and of aging are delivered with wry wisdom. As the protagonist’s memorable relatives come to life, secrets are revealed, and the narrator assesses his life as it unfolded in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

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Lilac Girls

By Martha Hall Kelly

Book cover of Lilac Girls

Why this book?

The lives of three women intersect in the aftermath of the Holocaust. One is an American socialite, based on a real person, working in New York to bring Jewish refugees from Europe to safety. The other is a young Polish woman who had been imprisoned in Ravensbruck, the famed women’s concentration camp where cruel experiments were conducted on the inmates. The third is a German doctor who lands a job at Ravensbruck, justifying to herself the things she has to do there.  After the war, a confrontation involving the three women reveals much about the post-Holocaust world and the different ways people of different backgrounds and experiences deal with it.

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