The Best Books On Contemporary WWII Family Searches

The Books I Picked & Why

Alex's Wake: The Tragic Voyage of the St. Louis to Flee Nazi Germany-And a Grandson's Journey of Love and Remembrance

By Martin Goldsmith

Alex's Wake: The Tragic Voyage of the St. Louis to Flee Nazi Germany-And a Grandson's Journey of Love and Remembrance

Why this book?

In 1939, Goldsmith’s grandfather and uncle were passengers on the St. Louis and hoped to receive asylum from the mounting threats of Nazi Germany. The St. Louis was turned away from Cuba, the United States, then Canada, and its passengers returned to Europe. In this book, Goldsmith recounted his six-week journey across Europe to retrace the final steps of his grandfather and uncle’s long and harrowing journey. It’s a powerful memoir that has stayed with me years after reading it.


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Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind

By Sarah Wildman

Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind

Why this book?

In this book, Wildman recounted her years-long quest to discover what happened to her grandfather’s true love, a woman named Valy who he had to leave behind when he fled Vienna in 1938. As Wildman pieced together answers to Valy’s fate, she was forced to reconcile heartbreaking truths with long-held family lore.


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Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film

By Glenn Kurtz

Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film

Why this book?

In this book, Kurtz recounted the discovery of a snippet of film at his parents’ home in Florida that captured pre-WWII life in Nasielsk, Poland. Fewer than 100 of the town’s 3,000 Jewish residents survived the war. Kurtz embarked on a quest to learn about the place immortalized on film, and ended up making goosebump-inducing connections with some of those 100 survivors. It’s a remarkable story of dogged research (with more than a dash of serendipity).


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Chasing Portraits: A Great-Granddaughter's Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy

By Elizabeth Rynecki

Chasing Portraits: A Great-Granddaughter's Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy

Why this book?

Rynecki’s great-grandfather, Moshe, was a painter who documented moments of Jewish life in the interwar years: women sewing, children playing, wedding celebrations, men in prayer. When WWII broke out Moshe’s paintings were hidden, and afterward only a fraction were recovered. In this book, Rynecki recounted her decades-long quest to locate and archive the lost artwork. It’s a memoir about the lengths one will go to to ensure a lost family legacy will never be forgotten.


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The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War

By Louise Steinman

The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War

Why this book?

After Steinman’s parents passed away, she found a trove of WWII-era letters her father wrote along with a silk flag inscribed to a man named Yoshio Shimizu. In this book, Steinman recounted her years-long quest to learn who Shimizu was, a search that resulted in a trip to Japan to return the precious artifact. At the same time, by reading her father’s letters, Steinman discovered a tender and expressive side of her father—a side that had been wiped away by trauma. Steinman’s book shines a light on the universal cost of war.


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