33 books directly related to Holocaust survivors 📚

All 33 Holocaust survivor books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

The Complete Maus

By Art Spiegelman,

Book cover of The Complete Maus

Why this book?

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.


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

By Helen Epstein,

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

Why this book?

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.


We Were the Lucky Ones

By Georgia Hunter,

Book cover of We Were the Lucky Ones

Why this book?

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.


Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory

By Lawrence L. Langer,

Book cover of Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory

Why this book?

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.


Diary of Bergen-Belsen: 1944-1945

By Hanna Lavy-Hass,

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

Why this book?

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.


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

By Art Spiegelman,

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

Why this book?

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. 


The Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma

By Gita Arian Baack,

Book cover of The Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma

Why this book?

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 made myself an expert on my family’s stories, but it has only been recently that I allowed myself to reflect on my own story as an “inheritor.”  After many years of living and working in 6 countries, I have met other descendants of trauma, from Cambodia, Native-American, African-American, Vietnam, Armenia, China, and others, with whom I had an almost immediate and inexplicable affinity. This book helped me understand that bond.


The Search: The Birkenau Boys

By Gerhard Durlacher, Susan Massotty (translator),

Book cover of The Search: The Birkenau Boys

Why this book?

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. Some, in particular those who have moved to Israel, meet regularly with other survivors; others keep their harrowing past buried deep in their psyches. Equally diverse are survivors' personal outlooks--despite what they have gone through, some of the "Birkenau Boys" still call themselves optimists, while others possess the bitterness one would expect. Not surprisingly, Durlacher, who wrote two previous books on the Holocaust, enjoyed the company of the former much more than the latter.


Exodus: A Novel of Israel

By Leon Uris,

Book cover of Exodus: A Novel of Israel

Why this book?

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.


All But My Life: A Memoir

By Gerda Weissmann Klein,

Book cover of All But My Life: A Memoir

Why this book?

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.


Enemies: A Love Story

By Isaac Bashevis Singer,

Book cover of Enemies: A Love Story

Why this book?

Though it is set just after the war, the characters in this novel cannot escape from their memories of the Holocaust or guilt at having survived. Yet they are also stuck in a comic scenario—through a complex series of events, the Jewish protagonist Herman has wound up with three “wives,” his first wife from before the war who he mistakenly assumed dead, the Polish Catholic peasant who hid him from the Nazis and he married out of gratitude, and his mistress and fellow survivor he met upon relocating to New York. The novel is both hilarious and heart-breaking—a potent reminder of the impossibility of ever leaving behind the worst horrors of this war.   


Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language

By Eva Hoffman,

Book cover of Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language

Why this book?

This book is a classic memoir of migration. It follows a traditional, chronological structure, but stands out for its luminous prose and its trenchant, precisely articulated insights. Hoffman is an introspective writer, offering an intimate and rich rendering of the inner life of a young woman who is forced to leave her native Poland as a teenager and recreate herself on a new continent.

Much of the book deals with the intimate connection between language and self. What does it mean when your first experiences of love took place in one language, and you now have to learn to love in another? How do you reconcile the parts of yourself that quarrel with each other, often in different languages? How does an immigrant assimilate into a national identity that is itself fragmented and laden with the “blessings and terrors of multiplicity”?

Hoffman is both analytical and poetic, self-examining and attuned to the cultural forces around her. She writes of internal and external conflict, but by the end of the book, the reader has the feeling that they have spent a few hours in the company of an integrated mind that is as much at peace with itself, regardless of its divided nature, as a human mind can ever be.


Hope: A Tragedy

By Shalom Auslander,

Book cover of Hope: A Tragedy

Why this book?

There are two reasons I picked up this book. Firstly, that title. I’m a happy sucker for oxymorons. Secondly, and embarrassingly, more importantly, someone I really fancied recommended this book to me. And I have no regrets. 

Anyone with a more sensitive constitution is easily offended and can’t find humour in darker subject matters is kindly invited to stay away. This book hilariously tackles the moral quandary of how to deal with someone you -- and the world -- thought dead. Worse still when they are an awful roommate who you desperately want out of your house.


The Cloister: A Novel

By James Carroll,

Book cover of The Cloister: A Novel

Why this book?

The Cloister: A Novel by James Carroll (Anchor, 2019) is a gripping, magical novel that dramatizes the connections between the medieval and modern worlds. Father James Kavanaugh meets Rachel Vedette at the Cloisters, the famous museum and gallery in upper Manhattan dedicated to the art of the Middle Ages. He is a parish priest with doubts and worries; she is a Holocaust survivor; and their relationship brilliantly conjures up the forbidden love affair between the medieval philosopher and “rock star,” Peter Abelard, and Heloise, an immensely talented nun. James Carroll, a former priest, is also the author of Constantine’s Sword, a memorable non-fiction book about the history of the Church and the Jews. The Cloister paints convincing pictures of Abelard and Heloise and creatively blurs the line between modernity and religious tradition.    


The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor

By Eddie Jaku,

Book cover of The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor

Why this book?

I am recommending this memoir for its beauty and kindness, which is even more extraordinary when considering this is Eddie Jaku’s story of being a Holocaust survivor. He tells the reader that "life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It’s up to you." These are powerful words from a man whose life was changed forever when he was beaten, arrested, and taken to a concentration camp. For the next seven years, he witnessed the worst of mankind, the horrors of the death camps, first in Buchenwald and then in Auschwitz, and then the infamous Nazi death march. He lost many friends and family. But Eddie survived with his spirit intact, determined to live his best possible life and be happy. A truly surprising and inspirational book.  


The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale

By Art Spiegelman,

Book cover of The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale

Why this book?

To learn about the Holocaust, I read personal remembrances, eyewitness accounts, and detailed descriptions of ghettos, camps, and transports, but this graphic novel based on Spiegelman’s father captured me like none of the others. Its words tell its terrible story masterfully and its drawings fill in what words can’t say, both as his father lived it and as his son learns about it. Banning it from U.S. schools would be completely wrongheaded. It should be required reading.


A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz: A Memoir

By Göran Rosenberg,

Book cover of A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz: A Memoir

Why this book?

I have read many moving memoirs by survivors and members of the second generation like myself. This one by the Swedish journalist son of a Polish survivor is like no other. I could hardly breathe while reading it, or after I finished it. Gripping, poetic, and calmly devastating, the author recreates his father’s Holocaust journey through family documents and historical research, trying to imagine what exactly his father experienced. And then the devastating aftermath, as his father attempts to rebuild his shattered life. “Luck, chance, and freak are the stones with which every road from Auschwitz are paved,” the author tells us.


Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust

By Livia E. Bitton Jackson,

Book cover of Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust

Why this book?

Elli tells the true story of a teenage Holocaust survivor – when I first read the book I was still a teenager myself; I could sympathise with Elli’s everyday fears and anxieties over boys she liked or troubles with her family, even as her world descended into the most unimaginable of horrors. It’s one of the most moving books I’ve ever read, and her story stayed with me for a very long time after I finished reading.


When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father's War and What Remains

By Ariana Neumann,

Book cover of When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father's War and What Remains

Why this book?

This is an extraordinary memoir. Arianna’s father, Hans, came from a family with 34 family members living in Czechoslovakia before WWII; by 1945, 25 would have been murdered by the Nazis. He experienced unspeakable horrors, but he did not speak of them to his family. Having grown up in Venezuela, Arianna knew nothing of his past—not even, in fact, that Hans’ family was Jewish. Upon his death, Hans left her a box crammed with letters, diary entries, and memorabilia, including an identification card that had his picture but bore a different name. Investigating the various threads of his life, this book tells the story of her search for her father and his family, while uncovering the devastating details of life and death in Nazi Germany.


Sophie's Choice

By William Styron,

Book cover of Sophie's Choice

Why this book?

A whammy of a book and a knockout for the conscience of the soul. Not only does it explore the deep, darker recesses of the heart that are often filled with regret and self-loathing, but it examines humanity, humanity in all its raw coarseness, inelegance, frailties, shortcomings, and tragedies.


Parallel Journeys

By Eleanor H. Ayer,

Book cover of Parallel Journeys

Why this book?

This is a book written for adolescents that everybody should read. Alfons Heck (a former member of the Hitler Youth) and Helen Waterford (a Holocaust survivor) recount their stories to Ayer. It is Heck, though, who provides crucial insight into how totalitarian leaders gain control of whole generations and use them to achieve their wicked aims – a form of mass child abuse.


By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz

By Max Eisen,

Book cover of By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz

Why this book?

Eisen was a fifteen-year-old boy in 1944 when the Nazis sent him and his family to Auschwitz-Berkenau to become slave labour. He tells the story after seventy years, recalling the back-breaking work and his survival through luck or chance and the kindness of some good people. This is a “must-read” for anyone who thinks that this atrocity didn’t or couldn’t happen in our modern world, and an inspiration to those of us who sometimes feel our own struggles are insurmountable. This book touched me personally because my own children’s grandfather was sent to the same concentration camp.


Meshugah

By Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nili Wachtel (translator),

Book cover of Meshugah

Why this book?

All of the Singer Brothers are excellent tales of village life and struggles. Isaac Bashevis Singer could spin a yarn with no seams showing, drawing readers in to personal and social straits. Scum, Meshugah, Shosha, and the rest capture the strife and insanity of the times. Isaac Singer often called his brother I.J. a better writer. Better shmetter; I.J. wrote beautiful tales of folksy subjects, easing as well to the verge. The Brothers Carnovsky will linger for years.


Karolina's Twins

By Ronald H. Balson,

Book cover of Karolina's Twins

Why this book?

My mother gave me this book to read when I first started writing my novel (in order to write, you have to read all the time), and it profoundly affected me and gave me so much inspiration for my book. It had so many similar stories in it that my own family had gone through during the war, so it was the perfect story for me to sink my teeth into, to find a voice for my characters. This book is so so good, for anyone who loves historical fiction.


Memory Perceived: Recalling the Holocaust

By Robert N. Kraft,

Book cover of Memory Perceived: Recalling the Holocaust

Why this book?

Kraft has drawn on 200 hours of testimony by Holocaust survivors to demonstrate how memory responds to atrocity. His juxtaposition of accounts allows one individual to be presented in relation to others, showing personal tragedies as well as the collective atrocity from the insights of multi-voice narratives.


No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War

By Anita Lobel,

Book cover of No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War

Why this book?

Five years old when the Nazis invaded her homeland of Poland, Anita Lobel spent the war years in hiding. Her memoir is intimate and suspenseful and even occasionally funny.  Here’s a glimpse… through the eyes of a real child…of what survival means, and of those who helped her achieve it.


The Choice: Embrace the Possible

By Edith Eva Eger,

Book cover of The Choice: Embrace the Possible

Why this book?

The details were different, but the outcome was the same. Dr. Eger is a Jewish Holocaust survivor; I am a woman raised in a Christian family in Virginia. She danced for Josef Mengele on the night he sent her mother to the gas chamber; I spent my youth tiptoeing around a mother whose nerves were shot before her thirtieth birthday. Dr. Eger’s mother was murdered; my mother, despite her intelligence, beauty, and talents, chose to end her life before her fiftieth birthday. Despite the differences in our stories, Dr. Eger and I have one very important thing in common. Despite the fact that we were both victimized, we did not want to remain in a victim consciousness, and we chose not to do so. 

The Choice chronicles a sadly familiar story. She and her family were among the hundreds of thousands of European Jews imprisoned, tortured, raped, and killed in concentration camps. In Dr. Eger’s case, it was Auschwitz. Her family perished; she survived. Dr. Eger’s courage and willingness to share her truth reduced the bite of mine. Her triumph made my triumph possible. If she could reach a place of thriveness, then so could I. Like Dr. Eger, I too believe that after all the blame and punishments have been meted out, for others as well as for ourselves, the only viable choice we have left is forgiveness. 


A Wolf in the Attic: The Legacy of a Hidden Child of the Holocaust

By Sophia Richman,

Book cover of A Wolf in the Attic: The Legacy of a Hidden Child of the Holocaust

Why this book?

A Wolf in the Attic by Sophia Richman is a book written by a psychotherapist who was hidden in an attic in Poland as a Jewish child during the second world war. She describes this experience (she was told to never utter a sound) as well as its impact on her relationship with her parents and her life after the war in Paris and then in New York City. She maintained her reluctance to speak in public until very late in life and this book is a kind of coming out for what is now known as a “hidden child” or “child survivor.” I found it fascinating to read how a psychologist analyzes her own childhood and the life choices she makes as an adult.


Survivors: Children's Lives After the Holocaust

By Rebecca Clifford,

Book cover of Survivors: Children's Lives After the Holocaust

Why this book?

I first had the privilege of reading Survivors when we were searching for a new professor of transnational history in my department at Durham University; Rebecca is now a treasured colleague, and her ability to tell these child survivors’ stories is second to none! Her writing is humane, passionate, and exquisite. I would recommend this book to anyone who truly wants to understand the impact of the Holocaust on those who survived it as children.


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

Why this book?

A beautifully written and compelling true story about the author’s heroine, her mother. The memoir shares with the reader the unspeakable horrors and tragic times that her mother lived through and witnessed – and of course, the impact of those events on the author, herself. The book is a testament to persistence, hope, and strength.


The Whale Surfaces: Prequel to Escaping The Whale

By Ruth Rotkowitz,

Book cover of The Whale Surfaces: Prequel to Escaping The Whale

Why this book?

After reading Escaping The Whale, I was eager to meet Marcia Gold as a young girl. Here again, Ruth Rotkowitz does not disappoint. The desires and dreams of Holocaust survivors for their children to have an innocent and happy childhood are not always possible. Marcia, a young girl in the 1960's experiences the impact of her parent's history and the complications they bring to the anxiety of adolescence and the emotional problems that will be part of her life in the future.


Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

By Ruth Rotkowitz,

Book cover of Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

Why this book?

I chose this book because it was the first book I read that dealt with the issue of the second generation in a way that was immediately intimate and personal. Set in the eighties, Marcia Gold struggles with the connection and disconnection of people around her toward the events. The challenge of her job as a guidance counselor in helping young girls make decisions, her peer's attitude toward her role, including her boyfriend Jason, all add to her lingering anger, resentment, unexplained dreams, and nightmares. At the end of the story, Marcia decides to rid herself of her demons, the scarring of her parent's history as Holocaust survivors, and move on to redefining herself. Escaping The Whale is honest and genuine.


Max and Helen: A Remarkable True Love Story

By Simon Wiesenthal,

Book cover of Max and Helen: A Remarkable True Love Story

Why this book?

This novel is the story of an Eastern European Jewish man (Max), who is imprisoned by the Nazis during WW2 and by the Soviets immediately after. His story is amazing and is being told to famed Nazi hunter and the author of this book, Simon Wiesenthal, in the 1960's. Wiesenthal's involvement surrounds the Nazi camp commander who persecuted Max and his fiancée. The Nazi, Werner Schulze, resurfaces as a German plant manager twenty years after the war and Wiesenthal must decide whether or not he has sufficient evidence to prosecute him.