The best books about the Holocaust in Ukraine

Jeffrey Veidlinger Author Of In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust
By Jeffrey Veidlinger

Who am I?

My father survived the Holocaust in Budapest and my mother’s immediate family fled Poland just before she was born, leaving behind a large extended family. I grew up witnessing the trauma of suffering and loss. As a professional historian, I had already written several books on Russian-Jewish history, mostly on culture and theater, when I joined a group that was interviewing Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivors in Ukraine. Since 2014, I have been teaching courses on the Holocaust at the University of Michigan and soon after became involved with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where I serve on the Academic Committee.


I wrote...

In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust

By Jeffrey Veidlinger,

Book cover of In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust

What is my book about?

Between 1918 and 1921, over a hundred thousand Jews were murdered in Ukraine by peasants, townsmen, and soldiers who blamed the Jews for the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Largely forgotten today, these pogroms—ethnic riots—dominated headlines and international affairs in their time. Aid workers warned that six million Jews were in danger of complete extermination. Twenty years later, these dire predictions would come true.

Drawing upon long-neglected archival materials, including thousands of newly discovered witness testimonies, trial records, and official orders, acclaimed historian Jeffrey Veidlinger shows for the first time how this wave of genocidal violence created the conditions for the Holocaust. He explains how so many different groups of people came to the same conclusion: that killing Jews was an acceptable response to their various problems.

The books I picked & why

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The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews

By Patrick Desbois,

Book cover of The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews

Why this book?

In deeply personal terms, Father Desbois describes how his curiosity about his grandfather’s incarceration in Ukraine led him to study the atrocities committed there against the Jews. The book is written in an almost conversational style, creating a sense of intimacy between Father Desbois and the reader. Desbois is able to persuade those who witnessed atrocities to open up and confess what they have seen and what they remember. Together with a team of ballistic experts, interpreters, historians, and archaeologists, he identified numerous sites of mass graves. Desbois, who popularized the term “The Holocaust by Bullets,” has been instrumental in expanding our understanding of the Holocaust beyond the death camps and the ghettos to the more intimate killings that took place in Ukraine and elsewhere in the Soviet Union.


The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed

By Wendy Lower,

Book cover of The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed

Why this book?

In an attempt to name the people in a single photograph, Lower demonstrates how intimate and participatory the Nazi killing process was in the Soviet Union. The photo itself is disturbing, and Lower’s investigation into its origins shows how much more chilling the story behind it actually was. Written in riveting prose, Lower leads her readers through her own discovery process, demystifying academic research. 


Ordinary Men

By Christopher R. Browning,

Book cover of Ordinary Men

Why this book?

In this classic work, Browning shows that many of those who perpetrated atrocities during the Holocaust were not monsters or rabid ideologues, but rather were ordinary men, acting without coercion and making their own decisions. The book is terrifying because it does not allow the reader to distance themself from the perpetrators and forces the horrifying question: “what would I have done.” Although the book is set in Poland rather than Ukraine, many of the same dynamics took place to the east.


Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel

By A. Anatoli, David Floyd (translator),

Book cover of Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel

Why this book?

First published in a censored version in the Soviet Union in 1966, Kuznetsov managed to publish an uncensored version in 1970 after his defection to the UK. The book was one of the first accounts of the massacre that killed more than 33,000 Jews over the course of two days, September 29-30, 1941. Readers can hear the sense of urgency in Kuznetsov’s voice as he tells the world what happened in that place.


Life and Fate

By Vasily Grossman,

Book cover of Life and Fate

Why this book?

Written in 1959 by a journalist who was among the first to document the atrocities taking place in the East, Life and Fate, is much more than a book about the Holocaust. In the epic style of War and Peace, Grossman’s novel captures the mood in the Soviet Union during the terrible years of 1942-1943 through the perspective of a single fictional extended family. The narrative situates the genocide of the Jews within the context of the war and the Stalinist repressions. 


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Interested in the Holocaust, World War 2, and Ukraine?

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