The best books on the Holocaust, bringing to life the stories of both victims and heroes

Why am I passionate about this?

I was 12 years old when, in Amsterdam on a family holiday, I was taken to see the Anne Frank House. Until then I knew very little about WW2, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. After viewing the ‘secret annexe’ my father bought me The Diary of Anne Frank, which was on sale there, and I started reading it in the car as we drove off. The book sparked my deep lifelong interest in that chapter of history. Many years later I discovered that my own mother also had an extraordinary wartime story. By then I was a journalist and knew I’d have to write a book about it—Deadly Carousel.  


I wrote...

Deadly Carousel: A Diva’s Exploits in Wartime Budapest

By Monica Porter,

Book cover of Deadly Carousel: A Diva’s Exploits in Wartime Budapest

What is my book about?

Deadly Carousel tells the story of Monica’s glamorous mother, Vali Racz, a celebrated singer and actress in Hungary during the Second World War. In 1944 the country was occupied by the Nazis and while Vali was safely ‘Aryan’, she was horrified by the persecution of the Jews, many of whom were friends and colleagues. With the streets outside awash with terror and brutality, she risked her own life by turning her Budapest villa into a secret refuge for a group of Jewish fugitives. When she was inadvertently betrayed to the Gestapo her survival, and theirs, hung by a thread.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Soaring Underground: A Young Fugitive's Life in Nazi Berlin

Monica Porter Why did I love this book?

This autobiography showed me that a tale of survival against the odds, in the most dangerous of times, can also be highly entertaining. To avoid deportation to the death camps, Jewish teenager Lothar Orbach assumes a fake Aryan identity and launches into a precarious underground existence in the heart of the Nazi empire, living off his wits, dodging the authorities and mixing with various shady characters. In my favourite episode, he and his hustler pal Tad meet two sex-starved teenage sisters, the daughters of a prominent Nazi family living in the elegant house of a deported Jewish professor. As the parents are away, Lothar and Tad move in and fulfil the girls’ lusty desires in return for homecooked meals…until the day they stuff two suitcases with food, clothes, alcohol and jewellery, and scarper back underground. Marvellous.

By Larry Orbach, Vivien Orbach-Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Now in book form, this is the intensely moving first-person account of "the Auschwitz Memoirist's extraordinary manuscript" described in Philip Roth's Patrimony: A True Story.

This is the true story of a young man born at the wrong time in the wrong place. Lothar Orbach's family proudly traces its German heritage back to the fifteenth century, but that is no help to a Jewish boy coming of age in Hitler's Berlin.

At the center of this world gone mad is Lothar, outwardly a cagey, amoral street thug, inwardly a sensitive, romantic youth, devoted son, and increasingly religious Jew, clinging to…


Book cover of Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews

Monica Porter Why did I love this book?

Anyone who wants to know what a real-life, daring British secret agent looks like (hint: nothing like James Bond) should read about Frank Foley. The son of a West Country railway worker, only 5’2” tall, he wore a tweed jacket and owlish spectacles. Not very sexy. Officially a ‘passport control officer’ at the British embassy in Berlin, in fact he was the ringmaster of a spy network. Following Hitler’s rise to power he focused on saving Jews. As time was of the essence, he dispensed with cumbersome bureaucracy: "I pounded on the desks until I got what I wanted." As well as issuing thousands of life-saving visas, he hid in his own home Jews fleeing the Gestapo and helped them acquire forged documents. With no diplomatic immunity, he could have been arrested as a spy and shot. So often in life the unassuming ‘little guy’ is the greatest hero of all.

By Michael Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As the horror of Nazism tightened its grip on Germany, Jews found themselves trapped and desperate. For many, their only hope of salvation came in the form of a small, bespectacled British man: Frank Foley. Working as a Berlin Passport Control Officer, Foley helped thousands of Jews to flee the country with visas and false passports, personally entering the camps to get Jews out, and sheltering those on the run from the Gestapo in his own apartment. Described by a Jewish leader as 'the Pimpernel of the Jews', Foley was an unsung hero of the Holocaust.But why is this extraordinary…


Book cover of Desperate Journey: Vienna-Paris-Auschwitz

Monica Porter Why did I love this book?

If Lothar Orbach survived in Berlin by creeping about in the shadows, Freddie did the opposite. This Viennese Jew brazenly entered the lion’s den of Nazi-occupied Paris and hobnobbed with the Wehrmacht. His true story is so amazing it would seem preposterous in a novel. Freddie left Austria after Hitler’s annexation of his country, and aged 20, with a false Aryan identity, he headed for the City of Lights. There he befriended Nazi soldiers and sold them his services as a guide to the red-light district, thereby earning commission from the nightspots and brothels to which he ushered them. "In reality I was a pimp," he writes. "But I didn’t consider it a situation I should be ashamed of. Because it saved my life." His luck ran out when a spurned lover betrayed him to the Gestapo, and he ended up in Auschwitz. Thankfully this remarkably resourceful man stayed alive…but only just, till liberation.

By Freddie Knoller, John Landaw,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Freddie Knoller was so used to anti-semitism that he hardly questioned it, not since the day at school when, aged six years old, he punched a fellow pupil for shouting "Sans Jud" at him. November 9th 1938 the telephone rang: "The Synagogue is burning" Brownshirts entered the courtyard of the Knoller's apartment building. The crash of breaking windows, a scream and the body of a neighbour lay crumpled in the courtyard. Kristallnacht had come to the Knollers. This is the all too familiar background to Freddie Knoller's story of persecution, flight and the death camps of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. From…


Book cover of The Hero of Budapest: The Triumph and Tragedy of Raoul Wallenberg

Monica Porter Why did I love this book?

For me (and not just because my family is Hungarian), Wallenberg’s story is the most heart-wrenching of all accounts of Holocaust heroism. He was the Swedish diplomat in Nazi-occupied Budapest who worked tirelessly to save Jewish lives, despite death threats to himself. He issued thousands of Swedish protection documents and set up Jewish safe-houses. One incident particularly brings a lump to my throat. Hearing of a death march of Jewish deportees, he drove to the Hungarian border to head it off. Clutching a bunch of Swedish passports, he ordered the Arrow Cross guards (Hungarian fascists) to stand aside whilst he searched for the Jews entitled to them. The suspicious guards surrounded him with pointed bayonets, but he shouted above their heads that he had passes for anyone who had ‘lost’ them. Hands were raised throughout the crowd. Wallenberg was so convincing that the SS officer in charge finally relented. The Swede distributed the passports to hundreds of people and led his charges away. After the war he should have received every honour going. Instead, he was abducted by the Soviets and died in a Russian prison. 

By Bengt Jangfeldt, Harry D. Watson (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The story of Raoul Wallenberg - the Swedish businessman who, at immense personal risk, rescued many of Budapest's Jews from the Holocaust and subsequently disappeared into the Soviet prison system - is one of the most fascinating episodes of World War II. Yet the complete story of his life and fate can only be told now - and for the first time in this book - following access to the Russian and Swedish archival sources, previously not used. Born into a wealthy Swedish family, Wallenberg was a moderately successful businessman when he was recruited by the War Refugee Board to…


Book cover of Night

Monica Porter Why did I love this book?

I was in my early twenties when I read this short memoir by the Transylvanian-born writer Elie Wiesel, and found it so harrowing that I couldn’t sleep for three weeks afterwards. Wiesel was 15 when his family was deported to the death camps; he was the only member to survive. He spent the rest of his long life writing and teaching about the Holocaust and in 1986 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. My father, who was a journalist, went to Oslo to interview him at the time and later told me that Wiesel had the saddest eyes of anyone he’d ever met. Yes, it is a disturbing read and you might lose some sleep afterwards. But I believe we owe it to the victims of the Holocaust not to turn away. 

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…


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The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

By John Winn Miller,

Book cover of The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

John Winn Miller

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The Hunt for the Peggy C is best described as Casablanca meets Das Boot. It is about an American smuggler who struggles to rescue a Jewish family on his rusty cargo ship, outraging his mutinous crew of misfits and provoking a hair-raising chase by a brutal Nazi U-boat captain bent on revenge.

During the nerve-wracking 3,000-mile escape, Rogers falls in love with the family’s eldest daughter, Miriam, a sweet medical student with a militant streak. Everything seems hopeless when Jake is badly wounded, and Miriam must prove she’s as tough as her rhetoric to put down a mutiny by some of Jake’s fed-up crew–just as the U-boat closes in for the kill.

The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

By John Winn Miller,

What is this book about?

John Winn Miller's THE HUNT FOR THE PEGGY C, a semifinalist in the Clive Cussler Adventure Writers Competition, captures the breathless suspense of early World War II in the North Atlantic. Captain Jake Rogers, experienced in running his tramp steamer through U-boat-infested waters to transport vital supplies and contraband to the highest bidder, takes on his most dangerous cargo yet after witnessing the oppression of Jews in Amsterdam: a Jewish family fleeing Nazi persecution.

The normally aloof Rogers finds himself drawn in by the family's warmth and faith, but he can't afford to let his guard down when Oberleutnant Viktor…


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Interested in the Holocaust, concentration camps, and intelligence services?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Holocaust, concentration camps, and intelligence services.

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