I’ve mentioned a few times that I took a Holocaust literature class this semester and was really excited about my (fairly long) book list that came long with it. Now that the class is finished I thought I’d just re-cap all the books I read really quick for anyone who’s interested in learning more about it but isn’t sure where to start! All in all, the class was incredibly educational but to be honest I often started my days off more depressed than anything. I don’t regret taking the course at all though, I’ve always wanted to learn more about what happened during the Holocaust and I feel much more knowledgeable about the subject as well as the literature involved in it now.
1. Night by Elie Wiesel. If you haven’t read this book, you just have to. It won a Nobel Peace Prize for a reason, people. Truly amazing story and a very interesting background too. Wiesel wrote the book originally in his native language, Yiddish, where it was basically a huge book hating on the Germans. Over time and translation, it became the slim paperback that you now purchase in stores. Very sad, but very powerful.
Possibly the most haunting author image in a book I’ve ever seen. [Wiesel]
2. Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi. I learned a LOT from Primo’s autobiography. He was actually an Italian who survived the war and actually walked from Poland all the way back home afterwards (he writes about it in his second book to the one I read). This one is a very straightforward narration of his time in Auschwitz and his liberation, although also very powerful in its own way.
3. This Way For The Gas, Ladies & Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski. This book was… Interesting. I have to admit there were some parts that I read completely captivated (the two first chapters/stories among the best) and at other points I was really confused. Borowski writes about a guy called Tadek and *his* imprisonment in Auschwitz, although it’s assumed that he IS Tadek and just uses that name for his writing. His story is incredibly sad and moving- he was imprisoned because his girlfriend at the time (a rebel) was caught and put in Auschwitz and he couldn’t bear to be apart from her, so he purposely got caught and also imprisoned. They kept contact throughout their time in the camp & after the liberation they found each other again and got married. Unfortunately Borowski went a little crazy after the war and soon after the birth of his first child he committed suicide by inhaling gas from a stove. UGH. So depressing, I know. But definitely worth a read, if you’re interested in the Holocaust.
4. The Black Seasons by Michal Glowinski. You can’t find this book in any bookstore because it’s independently published, but I don’t particularly recommend this one unless you’re taking a course on the Holocaust. Although pretty interested by the time I got to it, I had a lot of trouble finishing the story. Glowinski was only 7-9 years old during the war and writes only from his memory as a 50 year old scholar. Interesting point of view, although not really an informative text. He is a phenomenal writer though.
5. MAUS by Art Spiegelman. This two-part graphic novel is, in one word, AMAZING. 100% must read for anyone. I breezed through both of them in two days, I was completely captivated by the story, the characters, the imagery… Basically everything. I highly recommend reading them both as they’re quite small books and a relatively fast read for anyone. Not only are they packed with information, but Spiegelman does an amazing job of portraying his life and his father’s. He writes about his mother and father’s imprisonment at Auschwitz through images, and he associates all of the difference races with a different animal. I love the way his illustrations complement the story he chose to write, and to anyone who’s confused about exactly what happened in the 1940’s to the Jewish race, this is the perfect set of two books to learn from.
Spiegelman’s author picture in the jacket of his graphic novels!
Along with these 6 books, I also read a full 200 page course kit that was filled with excerpts from various other books written by survivors. One in particular that I’m interested in hunting down is by a female survivor called Charlotte Delbo. Her writing completely fascinated and haunted me, and I’d love to see what her book is like.
So, to re-cap if you skipped to this paragraph: you need to read Night, Survival in Auschwitz, This Way For The Gas & Complete MAUS. All amazing books about this time period and I genuinely feel like I learned a LOT because of them. I’m going to take a small break from all this super depressing reading to get back to some of the stuff that’s been sitting on my bookshelf, but I definitely plan on picking up a few more titles in the New Year.
If you’re interested in other (less real and gruesome) stories about the Holocaust, here are some of my fiction recommends:
1. Sarah’s Key by Tatianna De Rosnay
2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
3. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
4. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
What books do you recommend on the subject? Which ones have you read and liked or disliked?