The best books about the Holocaust and generational trauma

Why am I passionate about this?

I thought I knew everything I needed to know about the Holocaust, which is that my father lost some members of his family. An email from a nephew I didn’t know existed sent me on a trail of documents that led me to a much deeper understanding of not just the Holocaust as a historical event, but more broadly about the impact that it had on the families of survivors, of people who were spared internment for one reason or another, but were wracked by guilt, besieged by family members who were not so lucky, and who passed down their feelings of guilt, anger, and pessimism to future generations.


I wrote...

The Silk Factory: Finding Threads of My Family's True Holocaust Story

By Michael Hickins,

Book cover of The Silk Factory: Finding Threads of My Family's True Holocaust Story

What is my book about?

Acclaimed former journalist Michael Hickins wondered why he seemed doomed to repeat the same pattern of failed marriages and unhappy children. Then came an email from a nephew he knew nothing about—one that led him to new insights into his family’s life during the Holocaust, the discovery that the silk factory taken from his family by the Nazi government was still in operation, and about the heroism of a French small-town mayor who saved his father’s life. What once seemed like fuzzy anecdotes about the Holocaust came into sharper focus and helped explain why his parents behaved the way they did, laying the foundation for his own behaviors and misadventures.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History

Michael Hickins Why did I love this book?

What Art Spiegelman does is nothing short of miraculous – he popularizes a story most people only know at a great remove, he makes it personal while making it universal, and uses graphics to deepen rather than to trivialize a heartbreaking historical event, and he helps explain the horrors of the Shoah to a younger generation puzzled by the odd behaviors and tempers of their elders. 

By Art Spiegelman,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Maus I as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling first installment of the graphic novel acclaimed as “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” (Wall Street Journal) and “the first masterpiece in comic book history” (The New Yorker) • PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • One of Variety’s “Banned and Challenged Books Everyone Should Read”

A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats.

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his…


Book cover of Exit Berlin: How One Woman Saved Her Family from Nazi Germany

Michael Hickins Why did I love this book?

Even those of us who are familiar with historical details of the Holocaust have a mostly generalized understanding of the fraught relationships between US-based Jews and Jews in Europe.

Bonelli uses primary source materials, mainly letters, to inform a very well-crafted narrative in service of educating American Jews about the travails of European Jewry and helps explain the older generation of Jews to an often-befuddled younger generation.

By Charlotte R. Bonelli, Natascha Bodemann (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The agonizing correspondence between Jewish family members ensnared in the Nazi grip and their American relatives

Just a week after the Kristallnacht terror in 1938, young Luzie Hatch, a German Jew, fled Berlin to resettle in New York. Her rescuer was an American-born cousin and industrialist, Arnold Hatch. Arnold spoke no German, so Luzie quickly became translator, intermediary, and advocate for family left behind. Soon an unending stream of desperate requests from German relatives made their way to Arnold's desk.

Luzie Hatch had faithfully preserved her letters both to and from far-flung relatives during the World War II era as…


Book cover of The Glassmaker's Son: Looking for the World my Father left behind in Nazi Germany

Michael Hickins Why did I love this book?

Peter Kupfer travels back to Germany on several occasions to delve into the business his father was forced to abandon because of the Nuremberg Laws, helping him understand his father – and especially, his father’s emotional distance, and shows how Jews after the Shoah plunged ahead with their lives with something between stoicism and nihilism, which made it difficult for subsequent generations to understand their own emotions. 

By Peter Kupfer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A blend of lyrical memoir and sober history, The Glassmaker's Son recounts a son's decades-long quest to uncover the world his father left behind in Nazi Germany. Along the way, he makes a series of surprising discoveries about his family, who were important players in the Bavarian glassmaking industry. After his grandfather was forced to sell the family villa, for instance, the Nazis turned it into their regional headquarters before it was destroyed by American artillery in the closing days of the war. In another twist, the author recovers a pair of lost portraits of his great-grandparents that an elderly…


Book cover of The Girl Who Counted Numbers

Michael Hickins Why did I love this book?

This novel tells the story of a typically sheltered American Jewish girl on a personal mission to Israel just as the country (and the world) is grappling with the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

It reveals the impact of the Holocaust not just on the protagonist’s father, who lived through it, but on the young girl herself as she struggles with the burdens of history, class, and immigration. Set in the past, it casts a bright light on our today.

By Roslyn Bernstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"This compelling, character-driven story will captivate even those with limited knowledge of Jewish history, the Nazis, or Eichmann and teach valuable lessons along the way. An engrossing mystery wrapped in a coming-of-age story and the heart-rending legacy of the Holocaust." - Kirkus Review (Starred Review)

Susan Reich is a 17-year-old American who goes to Israel seeking to solve a family mystery. Susan’s quest takes her to unexpected places where she confronts layers of history that she never knew. While trying to find her missing uncle, with the Adolf Eichmann trial in the background, she explores awakening emotions in herself and…


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

Michael Hickins Why did I love this book?

In this amazingly inventive novel, Rotkowitz creates a world in which a young woman with everything to live for is haunted by imaginary demons – demons that stand for the horrible experiences her family endured during the time of the Holocaust, and which she must exorcise if she is ever to find true happiness in the true world of the living.

By Ruth Rotkowitz,

Why should I read it?

2 authors 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…


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Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

By K.R. Wilson,

Book cover of Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

K.R. Wilson Author Of Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Reader History enthusiast Occasional composer Sometime chorister

K.R.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When King Priam's pregnant daughter was fleeing the sack of Troy, Stan was there. When Jesus of Nazareth was beaten and crucified, Stan was there - one crossover. He’s been a Hittite warrior, a Silk Road mercenary, a reluctant rebel in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, and an information peddler in the cabarets of post-war Berlin. Stan doesn't die, and he doesn't know why. And now he's being investigated for a horrific crime.

As Stan tells his story, from his origins as an Anatolian sheep farmer to his custody in a Toronto police interview room, he brings a wry, anachronistic…

Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

By K.R. Wilson,

What is this book about?

Long-listed for the 2022 Leacock Medal for Humour

When King Priam's pregnant daughter was fleeing the sack of Troy, Stan was there. When Jesus of Nazareth was beaten and crucified, Stan was there - one cross over. Stan has been a Hittite warrior, a Roman legionnaire, a mercenary for the caravans of the Silk Road and a Great War German grunt. He’s been a toymaker in a time of plague, a reluctant rebel in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and an information peddler in the cabarets of post-war Berlin. Stan doesn't die, and he doesn't know why. And now he's…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Holocaust, Holocaust survivors, and Germany?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Holocaust, Holocaust survivors, and Germany.

The Holocaust Explore 394 books about the Holocaust
Holocaust Survivors Explore 52 books about Holocaust survivors
Germany Explore 483 books about Germany