Photo: Ron Porter
Since the horrific atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews more than 70 years ago, countless books have explored the darkness of the Holocaust.
Although there is no shortage of works that tell valuable stories, each of the books below recount unique perspectives, Holocaust stories you have never read before, that go beyond the required reading list.
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Haven, by Ruth Gruber
In 1943, President Roosevelt accepted just under a thousand Jewish refugees for entry into the country. The only thing standing between them and a safe haven in New York was a dangerous journey across the Atlantic. A young journalist named Ruth Gruber was given the order to escort the refugees to safety. Under daily threat of Nazi ambush, she gave them English lessons, held their children, and listened to their stories. This is her account of that incredible journey across the sea. Read an excerpt from the book here.
Escape from Sobibor, by Richard Rashke
In October of 1943, something miraculous happened—at the Nazi death camp at Sobibor, 600 prisoners staged the largest successful prisoner revolt of WWII. After fighting with SS guards, overcoming the barbed wire fences, and traversing a field of live mines, 300 prisoners survived. This account of the camp at Sobibor and the remarkable revolt is based on interviews with 18 of the survivors.
Death Had Two Sons, by Yael Dayan
When Haim and his two sons, Daniel and Shmuel are sent to a concentration camp during the war, Haim must make a painful decision which will haunt the family forever. Forced to choose which son will live, Haim condemns Daniel to die. But it is Daniel who survives the camp, and decades later must reconnect with his father who is dying from lung cancer. Strangers to each other, Daniel struggles with the internal conflicts from his past that prevent him visiting with his father.
The Last Jews in Berlin, by Leonard Gross
By the end of World War II, there were approximately one thousand Jews left in Berlin. During the height of the war, many of the Jews chose to hide in plain sight of the Gestapo, underground Berlin. Gross details the real-life stories of a dozen Jewish men and women who spent 27 months in hiding. Among the survivors interviewed were a jewel-trader, a teenager, and a clothing designer, who used their resourcefulness, bravery, and luck to survive when countless others were unable.
Survival in the Shadows, by Barbara Lovenheim
In the last—and deadliest—years of the Holocaust, two Jewish families survived against all odds in the Nazi capital of Berlin. Hiding in a small factory less than two miles from Hitler’s bunker, the survival of the Arndt and Lewinsky families depended on the kindness from German strangers. A touching portrayal of the bravery of the seven Jews and their allies, they went on to be rescued in April 1945, with four of the survivors eventually marrying in a double wedding ceremony.
From Holocaust to Harvard, by John Stoessinger
When Hitler’s forces annexed Austria, the Stoessinger family fled—first to Prague, and then to the other side of world. John Stoessinger was age 10 when his family relocated to Shanghai; after the war, he moved to America where he became a highly successful foreign relations expert. He shares his account of the terrible years of the holocaust, and his own journey afterwards.
Jack and Rochelle, by Lawrence Sutin, Jack Sutin, and Rochelle Sutin
Jack and Rochelle first met at a youth dance in Poland, sharing one unremarkable dance. Years later, after both separately escaped Nazi invasion of Eastern Poland, they reunited to become Jewish partisans who fought back against the Nazis. Their relationship eventually blossomed into an enduring love which sustained them through the horrors of the Holocaust. Their amazing survivor story is told through extensive interviews with their son, Lawrence.
Other People’s Houses, by Lore Segal
This semi-autobiographical novel chronicles the seven years Segal spent in England after fleeing from her native Austria on the Kindertransport, a train carrying hundreds of Jewish children to safety from Hitler’s looming threat. Living with a number of different families over the years, Lore is tasked with writing to potential sponsors in the hopes of bringing her parents to England. As the world gets closer to war, Lore finds herself fighting for the survival of her family.
Clifford’s Blues, by John A. Williams
This novel tells the story of a gay, black man swept into the horrors of the holocaust, bringing to light the largely forgotten experiences of those sent to concentration camps for “sexual deviance.” Clifford makes his name as a jazz pianist in Harlem before moving to the sexually liberated city of Berlin. But as the Nazi party rises to power, the liberal society disappears. Clifford is arrested for homosexuality and transported to the Dachau concentration camp, where he must fight every day for his survival in the face of terrible circumstances.
Auschwitz Belongs to Us All, by Marta Ascoli
Half-Jewish Marta Ascoli was forced into the Nazi concentration camps at age 17. She survived San Sabba—the only Nazi camp in Italy—then Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Bergen-Belsen. After witnessing and surviving so much horror, she decided to commit suicide by forcing a guard to shoot her as she attempted an escape. For some reason, the officer held fire. She tells her story in this incredible memoir.
Fragments of Isabella, by Isabella Leitner
In 1944, Isabella was living in the ghetto in Kisvárda, Hungary with her family. That May, the ghetto was emptied and all of the inhabitants were rounded up and transported to Auschwitz. This powerful memoir was written 30 years after the end of the war, and describes the horror of the camps—and the indomitable spirits of Isabella and her sisters as they waged a daily battle for survival.
The Last Jew in Treblinka, by Chil Rajchman
Chil arrived at the extermination camp at Treblinka in 1942. There, he—like so many others—saw unimaginable horrors. He was forced to work as a barber and a dentist at the camp—though in this setting, a “barber” shaved the head of the prisoners, and a “dentist” was the person who removed gold fillings from corpses. After nearly a year, Chil managed to escape from Treblinka. This is the only eyewitness account of the horrifying Polish extermination camp.
An Underground Life, by Gad Beck
As a gay, half-Jewish man, Gad Beck was doubly targeted under the Nazi regime. But—aided by his Christian relatives and a great deal of luck—he managed to stay in Berlin throughout the holocaust, and remained an active member of the Jewish Resistance movement throughout the war. His memoir is a fascinating, surprising glimpse into the lives of the Jews who managed to avoid the initial deportations and went underground, and of a young man coming of age in a violent, volatile world.
Rena’s Promise, by Rena Kornreich Gelissen
The first all-Jewish transport to Auschwitz, which consisted entirely of women and girls, took place in 1942. Onboard was 17-year-old Rena Gelissen. At Auschwitz, she was reunited with her sister. In the face of great horror, the women in the camp made desperate, fleeting human connections with one another that were vital in their efforts to survive. Gelissen’s memoir offers one of the rare accounts of women in the concentration camps.
Alma Rosé, by Richard Newman and Karen Kirtley
A highly successful violinist, Alma Rosé had founded her own women’s orchestra and traveled throughout Europe to perform before turning 30. Though she was able to escape the Nazis initially, in 1943 she was captured and taken to Auschwitz, where she was placed in control of the camp’s Women’s Orchestra. This biography is a story of a fascinating woman, who used the little power she was given to try to save the lives of the young terrified musicians who became her charges.