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Auschwitz Liberation Day

Today marks the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Learn more from the BBC New's article Auschwitz Liberation Marked on Holocaust Memorial Day here.

In honor of the day and the memory of those who lost their lives simply due to their religion, ethnic background, sexual preference, or anything else marking them as "different" or "other," here are some of my favorite books related to the Holocaust/Shoah.

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. In the various editions and languages available, I think it's safe to say that Anne's diary is the most-read book about the Holocaust, in addition to being the first exposure to the subject for many people.

Anne's such an insightful, intelligent teenager. Not only can I completely identify with her, but the thought of her life ending too soon and senselessly is maddening.

[Aside: If you find yourself in Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House is moving in its simplicity.]

Night by Elie Wiesel is another book for early exposure to the Holocaust for many readers. My local public school system has eighth-graders read his book.

Originally published in 1958, Night is a quick, though difficult in an emotional sense, read as Wiesel describes his experience as a fourteen-year-old Hasidic Jew in the camps and the loss of everyone he loved.

My favorite from Elie Wiesel is actually The Fifth Son, the fictional tale of an American on a journey to understand his Holocaust-survivor parents and the mystery of the past.

Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi, originally published in 1947, recounts his ten months in Auschwitz. Read in conjuction with Levi's The Drowned and the Saved, published in 1987 and his last book, the reader gains a lot of insight into the Holocaust. From a later, more distant perspective, Drowned is more of a study on incomprehensible experiences and how people are affected.

From p. 60 of Drowned: . . . one is never in another's place. Each individual is so complex that there is no point in trying to foresee his behavior, all the more in extreme situations; nor is it possible to foresee one's own behavior.

Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is a Ph.D. thesis turned into a long, thought-provoking book. While most of us, I think, want to believe that we wouldn't ever be participants in something as horrifying as the Holocaust, Goldhagen explores exactly how many "regular" Germans were involved and what their motivations and beliefs entailed. Not comfortable to read.

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal describes the time when concentration camp prisoner Wiesenthal was taken to the deathbed of an SS officer who was seeking absolution. Although he responded with silence at the time, he always wondered whether he should have done something different. Part narrative, and part responses from various people to "what would you have done in Wiesenthal's position," this is another thought-provoking read.

Filip Muller's Eyewitness Auschwitz covers his three years as forced labor working in the gas chambers. Very graphic and filled with lots of detail about daily life.

If I had to pick only one book to read about the Holocaust, my likely choice is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Psychiatrist Frankl discusses logotherapy, the search for a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as the core that drives all people. He explores finding meaning from suffering, including his own time in the camps and the loss of his entire family.

How about you? Any favorite books related to the Holocaust to share?


Molly said…
I just finished a YA book on this subject, Surviving Hitler, by local author Andrea Warren. I thought it was VERY well done - and the photographs were truly haunting.

I have an opportunity to go to a writing conference with this author tomorrow. I am very much looking forward to it.
StephanieD said…
I would have to say the Diary of Anne Frank. I think I first read it when I was 12 or 13 and it just haunted me. She was a real person and wrote so well. After that I read a lot of young adult and middle grade books about the Holocaust, but Diary precipitated that.

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