Here are 15 good books about the Holocaust plus three others that help explain how the Holocaust came about and proceeded without meaningful opposition for so long. They include both fiction and nonfiction. Within each of the two categories below I’ve listed the books in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names.
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
This post was updated on January 21, 2021.
Good books about the Holocaust
Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz by Omer Bartov—The Holocaust under the microscope of history
By tracing the history of antisemitism in a single Polish-Ukrainian town from the sixteenth century to the present, and detailing day by day how the Holocaust unfolded there, he brings to light the many nuances lost in historical portraits painted with a broader brush.
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa—A deeply affecting novel of the Holocaust
In this moving tale of the Holocaust loosely based on historical fact, the “German girl” is Hannah Rosenthal, the blonde, blue-eyed, 11-year-old daughter of a wealthy and prominent Jewish family in Berlin who is “more German” than her non-Jewish neighbors.
The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught in Between by Michael Dobbs—Did FDR betray the Jews of Europe?
A persuasive argument that President Franklin Roosevelt did all he could to help save German Jewish refugees—that in fact the US admitted more of them than any other country with the sole exception of the territory of Palestine.
The List by Martin Fletcher—A suspenseful tale of Holocaust survivors in post-war London
This story of one young refugee Jewish family in London in 1945 brings home the chilling reality of the Holocaust more powerfully than any recitation of the numbers of Hitler’s victims could ever possibly do.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl—From the ashes of the Holocaust, a gift of lessons for living
In the course of more than three years in a succession of four Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz, a young Viennese psychiatrist reaches the conclusion that “Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.”
The Secrets of the Notebook: A Woman’s Quest to Uncover Her Royal Family Secret by Eve Haas—One woman’s obsessive quest to learn how her grandmother died in the Holocaust
Eve Jaretzki was 16 years old when she learned she was the great-great-granddaughter of Prince August of Prussia, the fabulously wealthy Warrior Prince who had defeated Napoleon. It was 1940. Six years earlier, her parents had fled from Nazi Germany and relocated the family to Hampstead, near London. They were Jewish. So, how could Eve and her father be direct descendants of Prussian royalty, a family notorious for its anti-Semitism?
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer—A brilliant novel explores life in Nazi Europe
This haunting historical novel is centered around the experiences of the Czech-Jewish Landauer family, their servants, and friends from 1938, when the Nazis seized power in Prague, through the end of World War II in 1945.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris—Holocaust memories: A deeply moving love story set at Auschwitz
A fictional treatment of the true story of a young Slovak Jew who survived three years in Auschwitz and saved a number of lives of his fellow prisoners, including the woman he later married.
From Kraków to Berkeley: Coming Out of Hiding by Anna Rabkin—“Survival is sweet revenge:” The odyssey of a Holocaust survivor
A daughter of a Polish-Jewish family born in 1935 reflects on her life as a child hiding out from the Nazis and the seven decades that followed in an eventful life spanning three continents.
The Last Jew of Treblinka by Chil Rajchman—A moving death camp survivor’s memoir
Here’s an extraordinary inside account of the notorious Treblinka death camp at its peak in 1942-43, written by a young man who was one of the hundreds who revolted and fled. (The camp was shut down as a result.)
The Girl from Krakow by Alex Rosenberg—World War II from a Polish perspective
A novelist examines the impact of the Second World War from the perspective of a young woman and a young man, both of them Jews born in Poland in the aftermath of World War I. The story spans the last years of the 1930s until the early postwar years as the Russians and their Western Allies divided up the spoils of the Continent.
Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory by Elizabeth Rosner—The Holocaust, mass trauma, inherited PTSD, and genetics
A novelist and poet set out to understand the impact of her parents’ experiences in World War II on her own life and found herself exploring the controversial phenomenon of epigenetics, “the study of environmentally induced changes passed down from one generation to the next.”
The Book of Aron by Jim Shepherd—A brilliant novel of the Warsaw Ghetto
In 1942, in the months leading up to the doomed Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the thirteen-year-old son of a poor Jewish couple from a Polish shtetl is forced to take extreme measures to survive as the Nazis progressively shrink the borders of the Ghetto and starve its residents.
1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History by Jay Winik—The sad story of FDR’s complicity with the Holocaust
A historian reveals how “the State Department was now using the machinery of government to prevent, rather than facilitate, the rescue of the Jews” from the Holocaust.
Good books that help explain how the Holocaust happened
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris—The Dreyfus Affair, reenacted in a suspenseful spy novel
Robert Harris’ gripping fictional treatment of the Dreyfus Affair helps illustrate just how deeply antisemitism was entrenched in Europe long before Adolf Hitler came to power. This tragic episode spanned more than a dozen years around the turn of the 20th Century, and it took place in France, not Germany. In fact, antisemitism was widespread throughout the Continent and had flared up in violent ways for well over a thousand years before World War II.
The Accomplice by Joseph Kanon—Hunting Nazis in Argentina
On May 11, 1960, SS–Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann was captured by the Mossad in Argentina. Eichmann had been one of the principal planners behind the Nazis’s “Final Solution.” Later, in Israel, he was found guilty of war crimes in a widely publicized trial and executed by hanging in 1962. Meanwhile, other notorious Nazi war criminals, including Josef Mengele and Klaus Barbie, were the subjects of intensive searches elsewhere in South America. And thriller author Joseph Kanon writes about a similar effort, hunting for Nazis in Argentina, in a brilliant new novel, The Accomplice.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson—Why the U.S. failed to speak out against the rise of Hitler’s Germany
Few Americans grasp the extent to which our countrymen collaborated with the Nazi regime in the 1930s—and not just Charles Lindbergh, Father Coughlin, and the America First movement they championed. Erik Larson’s bestselling book relates how the US Ambassador to Berlin in the 1930s was thwarted and ultimately recalled because of his efforts to speak out against Hitler’s increasingly violent suppression of German Jews. Many of his superiors in the US State Department were virulent antisemites, and FDR failed to rein them in.
Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History by Steven J. Zipperstein—In a prelude to the Holocaust, the Kishinev pogrom shocked the world
Before the Holocaust, Jews died by the thousands in the pogroms in the Russian Empire in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Although it was a small-scale event by comparison with other massacres that took place both before and afterwards, the Kishinev Pogrom of 1903 was by far the best known because it received a great deal of press attention. For decades leading up to the Holocaust, and for decades afterward in Israel, Kishinev remained a symbol of the pervasiveness of antisemitism in Europe.
For additional reading
You might also be interested in:
- 25 worthy books about Jewish topics;
- 5 top nonfiction books about World War II (plus many runners-up);
- 20 top nonfiction books about history plus more than 80 other good ones; and
- Top 20 popular books for understanding American history.
And you can always find all the latest books I’ve read and reviewed, as well as my most popular posts, on the Home Page.