The International Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed on January 27th of this year was a day to memorialize and pay tribute to those who lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis before and during WWII. While only few people remain who had direct experiences with the Holocaust, it's something that should be remembered by all as a significant part of our history.
Because many of us may not have been alive during the time of the Holocaust, we can look to literature, whether it be in textbook or novel form, to educate ourselves about the pain and suffering the Jews underwent in the hands of the Nazi regime.
My recommendations for superior novels concerning the Holocaust are as follows:
- Night by Elie Wiesel-(novel/memoir) Night is written by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who was born in Transylvania (later Hungary) and taken to the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Auschwitz during his teens. Wiesel survived the war and managed to write about his experiences many years after Buchenwald was liberated by the U.S. Army. Chosen to be a part of Oprah's Book Club in 2006, Night tells about the horrors of selection in the camps, being separated from his family, the violent killings of fellow Jews, death marches, the pains of sickness and starvation, and the brutal death of his father. Another large theme in Wiesel's novel is his loss of faith in both God and humanity, as well as the doubts in God from almost all of the Jews suffering within the camp. To learn more about Wiesel check out the link here.
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne- (fiction) Boyne's novel tells the story of childhood innocence met with the violence of the Holocaust. Bruno is the 8 year-old son of a Nazi SS officer living in Berlin at the start of the war. Bruno is unhappy when his father gets stationed to work at Auschwitz, or as Bruno understands it "Out-With." From his window, Bruno can see people far away on a "farm" wearing "striped pajamas." Little does Bruno know that these people are prisoners working in the camp. Bruno, a wannabe explorer, is told to never go past the property lines, but one day when he explores well beyond his boundaries he gets to the barbed wire fence of the camp and meets Shmuel, a young Jewish boy living within the camp. The two young boys develop an endearing friendship despite confusion about the situations they are in. Shmuel wonders when he can return to his comfortable life back home, where his father has gone to, and why he is in the camp. Bruno wonders why he is being taught that the Jew is his enemy, whether his father is a good man, and what exactly happens on the "farm." While the story is one told from the perspective of a small boy, it is certainly not a children's novel. However it is a novel about children growing together through confusing situations and one that everyone can benefit from reading.
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank-(memoir) Virtually anyone who has studied the Holocaust has heard of Anne Frank and her diary. Frank, a young teen living in Amsterdam in the 1940s began writing her diary as a personal journal two weeks before she and her family went into hiding in the annex above her father's business. Two years later they were found by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. Throughout her diary Anne discusses the emotional pitfalls of going through her teens as well as her feelings towards the war and living as a Jew in hiding. Unfortunately Anne passed away from infection in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen shortly before British liberation of the camp. The only member of Anne's family to survive the Holocaust was her father Otto who was able to have her diary published shortly after the war. Since then it has been translated into dozens of languages and read world wide.
- The Reader by Bernhard Schlink- (fiction) 15 year-old Michael meets 36 year-old Hanna by coincidence on his way home from school in 1958. Michael, having gotten sick on the street corner, is kindly cleaned up by Hanna and sent home. After Michael gets over his sickness he returns to thank Hanna, finds her dressing and is ashamed of the attraction he feels for her. Michael and Hanna begin a tumultuous love affair during which Hanna constantly ask Michael to read to her. Only months later Hanna completely disappears. Years later the reader catches up with Michael as he is a student in law school. Michael and his peers have the chance to sit in on a war crimes trial of several German guards. To Michael's surprise Hanna is one of the guards on trial. A gamut of emotion overcomes Michael as he tries to understand how he could have so deeply loved someone accused of such terrible crimes. Throughout the trial Michael discovers a secret about Hanna that could drastically change both of their lives. The Reader is different in that it isn't a typical Holocaust story. It is told solely from the perspective of Germans and Michael is an interesting character in that he asks tough questions about the Germans' role in the war.
In honor of those who lost their lives in the Holocaust, consider picking up one of these books today or check out this list here for personal account memoirs of the Holocaust.