The best novels on post-Holocaust coming of age fiction

Who am I?

As the only child of Holocaust survivors, I wanted to know everything, and my parents would tell me nothing. "It is to spare you" would be my mother's words of comfort to me. Sadly they were not. Growing up is at best complex; growing up as children of Holocaust survivors is even more so. Some second-generation children could escape the shadow of their parents' suffering; for others, their parents' experiences led them, as I did, into early maturity.


I wrote...

Lila

By Rose Ross,

Book cover of Lila

What is my book about?

Lila is about two children born the same day, minutes apart, in a displaced persons camp in Germany. Their parents, Holocaust survivors, saw them as miracles and that their lives would bond them forever. They were wrong. 

Both families relocate to the United States, settle in the South Bronx in the same neighborhood, and start their new lives. Both girls experience the conflicts of their relationship and their parents. By the summer of 1960, everyone finds themselves in the turmoil of love, friendship, and competition. Secrets are exposed, accusations made, leading to an act of vengeance.

The books I picked & why

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Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

By Ruth Rotkowitz,

Book cover of Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

Why this book?

I chose this book because it was the first book I read that dealt with the issue of the second generation in a way that was immediately intimate and personal. Set in the eighties, Marcia Gold struggles with the connection and disconnection of people around her toward the events. The challenge of her job as a guidance counselor in helping young girls make decisions, her peer's attitude toward her role, including her boyfriend Jason, all add to her lingering anger, resentment, unexplained dreams, and nightmares. At the end of the story, Marcia decides to rid herself of her demons, the scarring of her parent's history as Holocaust survivors, and move on to redefining herself. Escaping The Whale is honest and genuine.

Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

By Ruth Rotkowitz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

To everyone who knows her, 28-year-old Marcia Gold leads the perfect life. A high school guidance counselor in 1980 Brooklyn, New York who specializes in helping pregnant teens, Marcia thrives in her work. She also has a handsome, successful boyfriend who has won the approval of her Jewish, Holocaust-survivor family – no easy feat.However, beneath the shiny surface lurks another reality. Plagued by frightening and debilitating panic attacks brought on by her family’s wartime legacy and exacerbated by the Iranian hostage crisis in the news, Marcia becomes convinced that “demons” are occupying her closet and her mind. Determined to keep…


The Whale Surfaces: Prequel to Escaping The Whale

By Ruth Rotkowitz,

Book cover of The Whale Surfaces: Prequel to Escaping The Whale

Why this book?

After reading Escaping The Whale, I was eager to meet Marcia Gold as a young girl. Here again, Ruth Rotkowitz does not disappoint. The desires and dreams of Holocaust survivors for their children to have an innocent and happy childhood are not always possible. Marcia, a young girl in the 1960's experiences the impact of her parent's history and the complications they bring to the anxiety of adolescence and the emotional problems that will be part of her life in the future.

The Whale Surfaces: Prequel to Escaping The Whale

By Ruth Rotkowitz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What is childhood? Bubbles and snowmen? Picnics and ice cream? Sunshine and laughter? We have been fed a romantic fantasy of the innocence and bliss of childhood. In The Whale Surfaces, author Ruth Rotkowitz holds a microscope to those idealized years in the life of the protagonist she created in her debut novel, Escaping the Whale. This microscope, at times, becomes a sledgehammer.

Marcia Gold is the daughter of Holocaust survivors whose lives have been defined by their painful experiences in Europe. A sensitive child, Marcia has absorbed this history as her own, and the Holocaust looms over her childhood…


The Takeaway Men

By Meryl Ain,

Book cover of The Takeaway Men

Why this book?

Takeaway Men is a novel that proves once again that you can never forget. Aron and Judy Lubinski and their twin daughters, Bronka and Johanna, leave a Displaced Person Camp in Poland and immigrate to America, hoping to build a new life and escape the horrors of the Holocaust behind them. Through the kindness of Izzy, a cousin that immigrated earlier to America, they settle in Izzy and his wife, Faye's home in Queens, NY. In their neighborhood, we meet other immigrants, survivors, all working hard to build a better life for themselves and their children. Each of the other characters has a different story. They bring another perception of how people try to deal with the experiences of loss, trauma, doubt, and everyday complexities of life. We see this most clearly in the inner thoughts of Aron and Judy. Their struggle is, at times, painful and sorrowful and affects their daughters and those around them. For me, it is Bronka and Johanna that is the real story. The way they see their father's silence, lack of joy for anything, their mother trying to make it all right, the awareness of secrets of not only their parents but those around them, the feeling of doubt, desire to rebel are uniquely different for each of them. There are too few novels that write about the challenges of children of survivors growing up. Takeaway Men does. It is an essential part of the literature of post-holocaust coming-of-age fiction.

The Takeaway Men

By Meryl Ain,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With the cloud of the Holocaust still looming over them, twin sisters Bronka and Johanna Lubinski and their parents arrive in the US from a Displaced Persons Camp. In the years after World War II, they experience the difficulties of adjusting to American culture as well as the burgeoning fear of the Cold War. Years later, the discovery of a former Nazi hiding in their community brings the Holocaust out of the shadows. As the girls get older, they start to wonder about their parents' pasts, and they begin to demand answers. But it soon becomes clear that those memories…


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Interested in the Holocaust, coming of age, and World War 2?

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