The best books about the Holocaust and the horror it inflicted

Michael Berenbaum Author Of The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
By Michael Berenbaum

The Books I Picked & Why

The Destruction of the European Jews

By Raul Hilberg

Book cover of The Destruction of the European Jews

Why this book?

There are several major histories of the Holocaust. Each has strengths and weaknesses, but they offer the reader an in-depth view of the events described in this work. The most influential of these histories is Raul Hilberg's The Destruction the European Jews: Revised and Definitive Edition, a three-volume study has also been condensed into a one-volume college edition. It provides an unequaled insight into how the Holocaust was perpetrated. The work is considered magisterial by many scholars of the  Holocaust. Hilberg used German documentation as his major source. He has been criticized by scholars for what they consider an overreliance on German material as well as his depiction of Jewish leadership as inept in responding to the events of the Holocaust. No one, including those who criticize, has written a better or more enduring work. First published more than a half-century ago, it has stood the test of time.

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By Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel

Book cover of Night

Why this book?

To understand the Holocaust, one must confront the experience of its victims; they can tell us what it was like to be there. I would suspect that there are more than ten thousand memoirs in virtually every language in the countries touched by the event and in the languages where Holocaust survivors made their post-war home. Two have entered the cannons of Holocaust Literature Elie Wiesel’s Night and Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. Wiesel described his inner experience, his relationship with his father, and his struggle with God. 

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Survival in Auschwitz

By Primo Levi

Book cover of Survival in Auschwitz

Why this book?

Originally published in Italian and entitled, If this be a Man. Both Wiesel and Levi were in Auschwitz III – Buna-Monowitz in 1944-1945, Wiesel as a religious boy of 15 arriving from Sighet as part of the Hungarian deportations, and Primo Levi as a trained chemist deported from Italy. Levi uses his scientific talent to depict the world he encountered, examining both the victims and their perpetrators with unforgiving accuracy. For an understanding of the women’s perspective see Carol Rittner and John K. Roth, eds., Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust.

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Art from the Ashes: A Holocaust Anthology

By Lawrence L. Langer

Book cover of Art from the Ashes: A Holocaust Anthology

Why this book?

The Holocaust is not solely the domain of historians or survivors. Lawrence Langer, a distinguished literary scholar, has shown us how much a study of Holocaust literature can contribute to our understanding. His work Art from the Ashes is an incomparable anthology, one that will need to be updated for the years since it was published as literary creativity is flourishing with regard to the Holocaust.

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Why?: Explaining the Holocaust

By Peter Hayes

Book cover of Why?: Explaining the Holocaust

Why this book?

Peter Hayes taught the Holocaust at Northwestern University for a generation. Before his retirement, he decided to share the wisdom of his teaching with those of us not fortunate enough to be in his classroom. He asked and addressed eight basic questions: Why the Jews? Why the Germans? Why murder? Why this swift and sweeping? Why didn’t more Jews fight back more often? Why did survival rates diverge? Why such limited help from outside? What legacies? What lessons?

Even if I do not concur with his answers, his questions are essential, his engagement informed, intelligent, wise.

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