The best books to learn about the Holocaust: before, during, and after

The Books I Picked & Why

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

By John Hendrix

Book cover of The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

Why this book?

This meaningful graphic YA novel, by talented award-winning illustrator John Hendrix, makes accessible to both youths and adults the history behind Hitler’s rise to power, and reveals how much of Germany allowed for his ascendancy and enabled him. But mostly, it's a touching tribute to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the few high-profile German Upstanders. Learn the history of attempted assassinations and why Bonhoeffer made the ultimate sacrifice.


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They Were Like Family to Me: Stories

By Helen Maryles Shankman

Book cover of They Were Like Family to Me: Stories

Why this book?

This finalist for the Story Prize is one of the most tightly woven, inventive, important collections I've ever read. Shankman draws from personal family history to explore intersecting lives in a Polish village during Nazi occupation. Layered with mystical beings and historical events, somehow she captures, in the midst of the atrocities, the greater reality of our human interconnectedness. Everyone I’ve recommended this book to has thanked me for doing so.


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Tzili: The Story of a Life

By Aharon Appelfeld, Dalya Bilu

Book cover of Tzili: The Story of a Life

Why this book?

Appelfeld is considered one of Israel’s foremost writers. He writes fluidly in beautiful, spare, fable-like prose. Appelfeld himself was a child survivor who escaped a camp and hid in the countryside and woods, making his “faction” all the more authentic and powerful. The title character, Tzili, is a young Jewish girl who hides from the Germans in a country not specified (but is likely Ukraine). This novel brings to light the harsh conditions and horrors that “free” survivors faced, both during and after the war. 


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Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto

By Tilar J. Mazzeo

Book cover of Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto

Why this book?

I can’t recall reading a more absorbing nonfiction book than this National Jewish Book Award Finalist. An astounding story of well-known Upstander Irena Sendler, who saved roughly 2,500 Jewish children in Poland at great personal cost. She survived capture and torture, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. While many films and biographies exist about Sendler, this one, heavily researched, gripping, and minutely detailed, is a must. Available also in a special edition for young adults.


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Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory

By Elizabeth Rosner

Book cover of Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory

Why this book?

We should begin to focus as well on the aftermath of the Holocaust. In this acclaimed book, part history, part memoir, Rosner excels at quilting together a tragic story of trauma and recovery. While she explores her parents' history during the Holocaust, she weaves in other events such as 9/11, Hiroshima, and Syria. We learn about the study of epigenetics: that trauma not only affects emotions and thoughts, it invades physical bodies and is passed on to the next generation in our DNA. You won’t look at trauma the same way again.


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