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

Who am I?

Because the Holocaust deals with ultimate issues, life and death, good and evil, people in the most extreme of conditions, it will continue to be a source of attraction to those who want to confront the ultimate issue. It has entered world culture as a defining event of 20th-century humanity and as the negative absolute in a world drawn to all sorts of relativism. I fear not Holocaust denial but its trivialization and vulgarization, not so much from antisemites and those who don’t understand its importance, but by those consumed by the Holocaust, consumed and overwhelmed. “Handle with care” is the advice of a sage. It is a rebuke to all of us when we do not.

I wrote...

The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

By Michael Berenbaum,

Book cover of The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

What is my book about?

This book is related to an event, an institution, and a mission. The event is the Holocaust. The institution is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, The Holocaust Memorial Museum is no ordinary museum. Its holdings cannot be a celebration, nor its catalogue self-regarding. Thus, this work is not a catalogue, but a study of history. It focuses not on the Museum, but on the story of the Holocaust that is told in the Museum. Thus, it is intended as a general introduction to the Holocaust many of the same tools as the Museum, text and graphics, photos, and testimony.  text, artifacts, photographs, oral histories, maps, documents, film, and music.

The World Must Know explores the Holocaust for those who seek to learn the history of the event independent of a visit to the Museum. For visitors to the Museum who seek additional information and a more in-depth survey of history, this book intensifies their experience.

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The books I picked & why

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.

The Destruction of the European Jews

By Raul Hilberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Destruction of the European Jews is widely considered the landmark study of the Holocaust. First published in 1961, Raul Hilberg's comprehensive account of how Germany annihilated the Jewish community of Europe spurred discussion, galvanized further research, and shaped the entire field of Holocaust studies. This revised and expanded edition of Hilberg's classic work extends the scope of his study and includes 80,000 words of new material, particularly from recently opened archives in eastern Europe, added over a lifetime of research. It is the work of a scholar who has devoted more than fifty years to exploring and analyzing the…


By Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel (translator),

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. 


By Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel (translator),

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Born into a Jewish ghetto in Hungary, as a child, Elie Wiesel was sent to the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. This is his account of that atrocity: the ever-increasing horrors he endured, the loss of his family and his struggle to survive in a world that stripped him of humanity, dignity and faith. Describing in simple terms the tragic murder of a people from a survivor's perspective, Night is among the most personal, intimate and poignant of all accounts of the Holocaust. A compelling consideration of the darkest side of human nature and the enduring power of…

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.

Survival in Auschwitz

By Primo Levi,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Survival in Auschwitz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true and harrowing account of Primo Levi’s experience at the German concentration camp of Auschwitz and his miraculous survival; hailed by The Times Literary Supplement as a “true work of art, this edition includes an exclusive conversation between the author and Philip Roth.

In 1943, Primo Levi, a twenty-five-year-old chemist and “Italian citizen of Jewish race,” was arrested by Italian fascists and deported from his native Turin to Auschwitz. Survival in Auschwitz is Levi’s classic account of his ten months in the German death camp, a harrowing story of systematic cruelty and miraculous endurance. Remarkable for its simplicity, restraint,…

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.

Art from the Ashes: A Holocaust Anthology

By Lawrence L. Langer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A comprehensive anthology of Holocaust literature that comprises selected fiction, poetry, and drama, as well as memoirs, transcripts of interviews with survivors, and diaries. With works by such authors as Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi, Paul Celan, and Tadeusz Borowski, this collection is envisaged as a textbook for the growing number of courses in the literature of the Holocaust, and as a supplementary text for broader courses in the history of the Holocaust.

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.

Why? Explaining the Holocaust

By Peter Hayes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Peter Hayes has been teaching Holocaust studies for decades and Why? grows out of the questions he's encountered from his students. Despite the outpouring of books, films, memorials, museums and courses devoted to the subject, a coherent explanation of why such carnage erupted still eludes people. Numerous myths have sprouted, many to console us that things could have gone differently if only some person or entity had acted more bravely or wisely; others cast new blame on favourite or surprising villains or even on historians.

Why? dispels many legends and debunks the most prevalent ones, including the claim that the…

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Interested in the Holocaust, Germany, and concentration camps?

8,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Holocaust, Germany, and concentration camps.

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