The best books about Holocaust survivors

25 authors have picked their favorite books about Holocaust survivors and why they recommend each book.

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The Complete Maus

By Art Spiegelman,

Book cover of The Complete Maus

The Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel has been hailed 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). For me, Spiegelman’s books are about more than the Holocaust. It is the tale within a tale, about the author’s relationship to his father’s legacy of trauma, that I find most compelling. The Second Generation (children of survivors) didn’t experience the Holocaust and can’t bear witness, and yet growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust impacts everything about their lives. Spiegelman’s Maus I and II books capture this in a remarkably profound way.


Who am I?

Elizabeth Rynecki is the great-granddaughter of Polish-Jewish artist, Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943). She grew up with her great-grandfather's paintings prominently displayed on the walls of her family home and understood from an early age that the art connected her to a legacy from "the old country": Poland. Elizabeth has a BA in Rhetoric from Bates College ('91) and an MA in Rhetoric and Communication from UC Davis ('94). Her Master's thesis focused on children of Holocaust survivors. Her book, Chasing Portraits: A Great-Granddaughter’s Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy, was published by NAL/Penguin Random House in September 2016. Her documentary film, also titled Chasing Portraits, had its world premiere in Poland in 2018 and has screened at numerous film festivals across North America. The film can be streamed on Amazon, iTunes, Kanopy, and OvidTV.


I wrote...

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

By Elizabeth Rynecki,

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

What is my book about?

The memoir of one woman's emotional quest to find the art of her Polish-Jewish great-grandfather lost during World War II. Moshe Rynecki's body of work reached close to eight hundred paintings and sculptures before his life came to a tragic end. It was his great-granddaughter Elizabeth who sought to rediscover his legacy, setting upon a journey to seek out what had been lost but never forgotten...

Children of the Holocaust

By Helen Epstein,

Book cover of Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors

I found this book decades ago symbolically languishing on a remainders table in the back of Moe’s Bookstore in Berkeley. I nearly fainted when I read the title. Could this book be about me and others like me, members of a generation that wasn’t supposed to be born? This groundbreaking book, considered the Bible of children of Holocaust survivors, gives voice to the multigenerational impact of the Holocaust which we, the second generation, inherited directly from our parents who were the lucky few to survive while two-thirds of European Jewry was wiped out. As a psychotherapist, I have recommended this book to clients and their partners to better understand family dynamics, grief, trauma, resiliency, and determination to create a better world.

Who am I?

I am a member of a generation that wasn’t supposed to be born. My parents were Hungarian Holocaust survivors and I was born amidst the fragments of European Jewry that remained. As a psychotherapist, I have specialized in helping people navigate the multigenerational reverberations of the Holocaust. Having a witness to your own experience, in therapy and through books, provides comfort, understanding, and hope.


I wrote...

Legacy of Rescue: A Daughter's Tribute

By Marta Fuchs,

Book cover of Legacy of Rescue: A Daughter's Tribute

What is my book about?

This intergenerational memoir tells the story of my father, Morton (Miksa) Fuchs, and his rescuer, Zoltán Kubinyi, the Hungarian Army Officer who defied Nazi orders and saved 140 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. The book includes photos, Holocaust testimony, meeting the rescuer’s family, my childhood memories and escape in the wake of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and reflections by the third generation in my family.

"You may think you have read everything you ever wanted to hear about this era; but you will find this book will stir you to tears, and inspire you with courage.” (John F. Duge, PhD, MD)

We Were the Lucky Ones

By Georgia Hunter,

Book cover of We Were the Lucky Ones

What I appreciate about Hunter's novel is that it takes a new approach to the subject of the Holocaust. With the outbreak of WWII, the Kurcs, a Polish-Jewish family, find themselves driven into another diaspora, with their family members cast to the four corners of the globe. Hunter touches on the plight of Poland during the early years of the war when the country was torn asunder by Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. The plot follows the various family members as they struggle to survive the Holocaust in Poland, in Stalin's Gulag, and as one member tries to flee to South America. A big, sprawling, family epic filled with tragedy and humanity, brutality and heroism.


Who am I?

I’m the author of seven published novels and a recently retired English professor. I was the founder and director of the Fairfield University MFA program. My latest novel is called Lebensborn and is set in Germany near the end of World War II. The novel concerns a little-known project hatched by Heinrich Himmler called Lebensborn (“the fount of life”). Concerned about Germany’s falling birth rate, Himmler began the program in 1935 hoping to encourage unwed mothers not to have abortions but to give birth to their babies at Nazi-run homes and then to give their babies up for adoption to “pure Aryan” officers. Lebensborn follows the story of Renate Dressler, a young German girl who falls in love with an SS officer. 


I wrote...

Beautiful Assassin

By Michael C. White,

Book cover of Beautiful Assassin

What is my book about?

World War II seems lost for the beleaguered Soviets as they struggle to hold back the rising German tide at Sevastopol. But a fearless female sniper inspires hope during her nation's darkest hour. Word of the extraordinary Soviet heroine, Tat'yana Levchenko, reaches American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who invites the beautiful assassin to tour the United States with her. For the Russians, Tat'yana's visit is an opportunity to gain support and valuable U.S. intelligence. But Tat'yana knows she is a pawn in a deadly game of treachery and deceit, forced to question the motivations of everyone around her . . . even the dashing and sympathetic American captain assigned as her translator. And then, as suddenly as she rose to international fame, Tat'yana vanishes without a trace. Her strange disappearance will remain a mystery for decades--until a determined journalist stumbles across Tat'yana's story . . . and uncovers the astonishing truth.

Holocaust Testimonies

By Lawrence L. Langer,

Book cover of Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory

Langer has written the finest analysis available on the workings of traumatic memory, one that contributes to our understanding of history as autobiography—a brilliant mapping of the tortured terrain of Holocaust remembrance.


Who am I?

Joshua M. Greene is the author of a dozen Holocaust biographies that have sold more than a half-million copies worldwide. He sits on the board of Yale University Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies and has spoken on issues of Holocaust memory for such outlets as NPR and Fox News. His editorials on Holocaust history have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune.


I wrote...

Unstoppable: Siggi B. Wilzig's Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend

By Joshua M. Greene,

Book cover of Unstoppable: Siggi B. Wilzig's Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend

What is my book about?

Unstoppable is the story of an American hero--a man who survived the hell of Auschwitz to become one of the most successful, mesmerizing, and outrageous personalities in postwar America. Siggi Wilzig was a force of nature: a Holocaust survivor who arrived in New York penniless and without formal education at just twenty-one years old yet went on to build a $4 billion oil-and-banking empire. This is the ultimate immigrant story, an epic rags-to-riches adventure that follows Siggi from starvation on death marches to dinner at the White House--a story that starts in Auschwitz and ends with one of the most lucrative bank sales in Wall Street history. A survivor's saga in a category of its own, Unstoppable does not dwell on tragedy, but instead celebrates Siggi's ingenuity, hope, resolve, and message: no matter how cruel or unjust the world may be, humans can overcome the past to achieve a bright future.

Diary of Bergen-Belsen

By Hanna Lavy-Hass,

Book cover of Diary of Bergen-Belsen: 1944-1945

The world knows about Anne Frank through her diary. Yet Anne Frank knew nothing about the Holocaust apart from reports on radio and glimpses of roundups through the window of her attic hideaway. She never lived long enough to write a second volume, which would have included her experiences in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen (where she died of typhus). In her diary, Hanna Levy-Hass provides us with a more realistic, first-hand account of the Holocaust as experienced by a young woman inside Hitler’s camps.


Who am I?

Joshua M. Greene is the author of a dozen Holocaust biographies that have sold more than a half-million copies worldwide. He sits on the board of Yale University Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies and has spoken on issues of Holocaust memory for such outlets as NPR and Fox News. His editorials on Holocaust history have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune.


I wrote...

Unstoppable: Siggi B. Wilzig's Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend

By Joshua M. Greene,

Book cover of Unstoppable: Siggi B. Wilzig's Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend

What is my book about?

Unstoppable is the story of an American hero--a man who survived the hell of Auschwitz to become one of the most successful, mesmerizing, and outrageous personalities in postwar America. Siggi Wilzig was a force of nature: a Holocaust survivor who arrived in New York penniless and without formal education at just twenty-one years old yet went on to build a $4 billion oil-and-banking empire. This is the ultimate immigrant story, an epic rags-to-riches adventure that follows Siggi from starvation on death marches to dinner at the White House--a story that starts in Auschwitz and ends with one of the most lucrative bank sales in Wall Street history. A survivor's saga in a category of its own, Unstoppable does not dwell on tragedy, but instead celebrates Siggi's ingenuity, hope, resolve, and message: no matter how cruel or unjust the world may be, humans can overcome the past to achieve a bright future.

Maus I

By Art Spiegelman,

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

Variations of the Holocaust story have been told countless times, but Spiegelman’s tale about how his father survived the Nazi terror is as fresh and important as any. I especially love how he captures his father's Polish-English accent. With the mangling of syntax is born a new kind of poetry. This is widely—and justifiably—regarded as one of the greatest graphic novels ever written. 


Who am I?

I’ve worked as a tugboat hand in Singapore and Peace Corps Volunteer in Polynesia. I’ve served on the editorial staffs of five newspapers, from a small-town daily in New Mexico to The New York Times. I’m also the author of contemporary novels for young adults. Like the writers of these five great graphic novels, I choose themes that are important to me. Foremost are hope, healing, family, and friendship. These are themes I’d like my own children to embrace. Life can be hard, so as a writer I choose to send out that “ripple of hope” on the chance it may be heard or felt, and so make a difference.


I wrote...

Adios, Nirvana

By Conrad Wesselhoeft,

Book cover of Adios, Nirvana

What is my book about?

Adios, Nirvana is about Jonathan, a talented teenage poet and guitar player coping with the recent death of his much-loved and -lauded twin brother, Telly. Now a walking zombie on the verge of failing his junior year of high school, Jonathan gets a chance to redeem himself by helping a blind WWII Navy veteran write a memoir about his own loss and salvation. 

The Inheritors

By Gita Arian Baack,

Book cover of The Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma

This is an excellent book that speaks to those who have inherited trauma from their ancestors. While Baack uses ample research and narratives about the victims of the Holocaust, the book is relevant for other descendants of long or short-lasting, acknowledged or non-acknowledged traumas, including: victims of genocides, ethnic cleansings, refugee camp residents, racism, wars, and other forms of victimization or natural disasters - and - their witnesses. Based on interviews with many descendants of trauma, the author focuses on giving the ‘inheritors’ a platform to describe, not only, their parents’ histories, but mostly their own. The book is instructional, as she also includes questions for individual or group reflection. The author’s emphasis on the non-pathological perspective is both productive and a relief, including chapters on resilience, post-traumatic grown, epigenetics, and more.

I am passionate about the book because I am a child of Holocaust survivors. Over many years, I…


Who am I?

Born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after World War 2, Ettie immigrated with her parents to the USA. She grew up and was educated in New York City and Pennsylvania and immigrated to Israel after completing graduate school. After retiring from a career in international schools in 6 countries, she currently resides in Arizona with her husband. She is a Board member for the Phoenix Holocaust Association and devotes much time to giving presentations to youth and adults worldwide.


I wrote...

A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama's Survival from Lithuania to America

By Ettie Zilber,

Book cover of A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama's Survival from Lithuania to America

What is my book about?

With the Nazi occupation of Kovno (Lithuania), her life changed forever. Zlata Santocki Sidrer was Jewish, but she survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Gone was her normal life and her teenage dream of becoming a doctor. Instead, she witnessed untold deprivations, massacres, imprisonment, hunger, and slave labor before being transported to the Stutthof Concentration Camp. Her story of the death march is a testament to her fighting spirit and the limits of human endurance. Yet the challenges did not end with liberation.

Lovingly compiled from recorded interviews and researched by her eldest daughter, Ettie, this is an account of a remarkably resilient woman who raised herself out of the ashes after unimaginable hardship and sorrow. She found love and happiness where none could be expected — a secret marriage in the ghetto and life-saving friendships. She describes escapes, dangerous border crossings, and reunifications.

The Search

By Gerhard Durlacher, Susan Massotty (translator),

Book cover of The Search: The Birkenau Boys

A child survivor of the Holocaust, Durlacher long believed that he was the only person still alive from a group of 89 boys assigned to the Birkenau extermination camp in 1944. After he learned that he was wrong, he set himself the task of confronting his past by locating some of the others. As in many other Holocaust memoirs, the prose here is spare, and the lack of detail can be a little confusing. For example, the reader is thrown into the author's search without a description of the process that led him to take his journey. But some psychological truisms emerge in this gray travelogue that, while not fresh, are worth ruminating over. What the author, a professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam who died in 1996, finds is that even though the survivors shared a common experience, how they have coped with their wartime suffering differs.…


Who am I?

Simon Hammelburg is a Dutch author, journalist, and songwriter. During the seventies, he started his career as a news broadcaster with AVRO Broadcasting (Radio & TV) in Holland. He worked as an anchor as well as a travelling journalist. In the eighties, he became the United States Bureau Chief for Dutch and Belgian radio and television, as well as several newspapers and weeklies. He specialized in the psychological aftermath of the Shoah (Holocaust).


I wrote...

Broken on the Inside: The War Never Ended

By Simon Hammelburg,

Book cover of Broken on the Inside: The War Never Ended

What is my book about?

WWII did not end in 1945 when the few remaining survivors of the Holocaust were released from the concentration camps or came out of their hiding places. Often they were no longer welcome in the houses they were forced to leave behind. ‘Who invited you?’ Stripped from their belongings and dignity, they were forced to move on. Their children suffered too, as there was always fear, anxiety, and sadness about the countless relatives that were killed during this unrivaled genocide. Outsiders do not always realize this or that they themselves were victimized as well. Simon Hammelburg has collected the memoires of over 1200 survivors and their offspring. He presents the results of almost 25 years of psychological research in this unique, outstanding novel written in a sober journalistic style with a mixture of loving compassion, respect, and humorous dialogues. He introduces the reader to a world of sorrow, concern, and ultimate loneliness. An outstanding masterwork in which Hammelburg recounts the unspeakable.

Exodus

By Leon Uris,

Book cover of Exodus: A Novel of Israel

Leon Uris is an accomplished researcher and expert in the history of the Holocaust and the Jewish people. Woven into a fictional story, this book explains clearly how the people of Israel came to inhabit the land of their forefathers after World War II. Anyone wanting a better understanding of the Middle East should read this story of present-day Israel’s birth.


Who am I?

I love to read. A life-changing event in 1997, started my journey into writing and eventually into my conversion to Judaism. Many years later, I’ve come to realize that there are grains of truth in every faith tradition and I search for those truths in my own life. Currently, I have four books in print, writing under the pen names of Brenda Ray (The Hebrew Midwives Trilogy) and B. K. Ricotta (Two of a Kind and A Love So Sweet). Two other novels (Book 1 and 2 of the Econfina Creek Series) are in the works.


I wrote...

The Midwife's Heart: Hebrew Midwives Trilogy Book 2

By Brenda Ray,

Book cover of The Midwife's Heart: Hebrew Midwives Trilogy Book 2

What is my book about?

As Abraham's descendants prepare to cross into the Promised Land, led by Moses, Hannah, a disillusioned midwife will be tested in more ways than she can imagine. She wants love, a home, and children but she gave up on that dream years ago. One heartbreak and humiliation was enough.

Ze-ev is God’s warrior, protecting his people. Busy doing what must be done, finding a wife is not his priority. Besides, since his childhood sweetheart married another, he lost interest in seeking a wife.When he meets Hannah, they are both tested in ways they never imagined. Will either of them let down their guard long enough to trust again?

All But My Life

By Gerda Weissmann Klein,

Book cover of All But My Life: A Memoir

Gerda Weissmann was only age fifteen when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. Born in Bielsko Poland to a middle-class Jewish family, the book follows her family’s loss and tragedy through the Holocaust. The author survived multiple concentration camps and a death march against impossible odds. Liberated on her twenty-first birthday, she weighed only sixty-eight pounds. This inspiring book includes moments of human decency and normalcy.

Of the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust, three million were from Poland. Klein captures the essence of what it meant to survive a genocide with only her life. Klein is a highly recognized voice for human rights and Holocaust remembrance, and the beneficiary of many awards and honorary degrees. Gerda Weissmann Klein is a name to be remembered.


Who am I?

I am an author, lifelong history geek, and relentlessly curious about finding unknown stories. In 2002 I met Henry Zguda, an eighty-five-year-old Polish Catholic who survived three years in Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II. He lived a mile from my house. Intrigued, I soon offered to write his incredible story. I am not Polish and knew little of Poland or Polish history when I began. This led to over ten years of research on Poland, World War II, and the Holocaust. My friendship with Henry changed the direction of my life and gave me keen insight into the plight of Poles, both Jewish and Christian, during World War II. Thousands of memoirs and books exist on the Holocaust. I believe the inspiring stories of Poles and other victims of Hitler and Stalin deserve equally widespread recognition.


I wrote...

Henry: A Polish Swimmer's True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America

By Katrina Shawver,

Book cover of Henry: A Polish Swimmer's True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America

What is my book about?

Poland, 1942. Henry Zguda was at home in the water. But one night in May, the SS arrested the celebrated competitive swimmer in Kraków for the sole crime of being Polish. Two weeks later, he was far from the life he’d known, interred as political prisoner #39551 at Auschwitz.

Told through a series of heartfelt conversations with the author, Henry recounts his gut-wrenching story of miraculous survival and of refusing to succumb, even amidst the most brutal of horrors. Interwoven with carefully constructed historical research and evidence, this powerful account of a Christian persecuted by Nazis is a gripping tale of love, loss, and loyalty that sheds light on some of the lesser-known evils of the Holocaust. He witnessed and lived through the absolute worst of humanity, yet preferred to look ahead rather than behind.

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