Today, January 27th, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. There’s a wealth of information available about the horrors of the Holocaust, but this reading list of six powerful books is a good place to start.
The Exiles Return
by Elisabeth de Waal
Set in the ashes of post-second world war Vienna, The Exiles Return is a powerful, subtle novel of exiles returning home fifteen years after fleeing Hitler’s deadly reign. With immaculate precision and sensitivity, de Waal, an exile herself, captures a city rebuilding and relearning its identity, and the people who have to do the same. de Waal has written a masterpiece of European literature, an artifact revealing a moment in our history, clear as a snapshot, but timeless as well.
The Hare with Amber Eyes
by Edmund de Waal
When Edmund de Waal inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke, he wanted to know who had touched and held them, and how the collection had managed to survive. And so begins this extraordinarily moving memoir and detective story as de Waal discovers both the story of the netsuke and of his family, the Ephrussis, over five generations. A nineteenth-century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna, the Ephrussis were as rich and respected as the Rothchilds. Yet by the end of the World War II, when the netsuke were hidden from the Nazis in Vienna, this collection of very small carvings was all that remained of their vast empire.
by Wladyslaw Szpilman
On September 23, 1939, Wladyslaw Szpilman played Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor live on the radio as shells exploded outside—so loudly that he couldn’t hear his piano. It was the last live music broadcast from Warsaw: That day, a German bomb hit the station, and Polish Radio went off the air.
Though he lost his entire family, Szpilman survived in hiding. In the end, his life was saved by a German officer who heard him play the same Chopin Nocturne on a piano found among the rubble. Written immediately after the war and suppressed for decades, The Pianist is a stunning testament to human endurance and the redemptive power of fellow feeling.
by Elie Wiesel
Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. This new translation by Marion Wiesel, Elie’s wife and frequent translator, presents this seminal memoir in the language and spirit truest to the author’s original intent. And in a substantive new preface, Elie reflects on the enduring importance of Night and his lifelong, passionate dedication to ensuring that the world never forgets man’s capacity for inhumanity to man.
by Melissa Muller
Praised as “remarkable,” “meticulous,” and “long overdue,” Anne Frank: The Biography, originally published in 1998, still stands as the definitive account of the girl who has become “the human face of the Holocaust.” For this nuanced portrait of her famous subject, biographer Melissa Müller drew on exclusive interviews with family and friends as well as on previously unavailable correspondence, even, in the process, discovering five missing diary pages. Full of revelations, Müller’s richly textured narrative returned Anne Frank to history, portraying the flesh-and-blood girl unsentimentalized and so all the more affecting.
Now, fifteen years after the book first appeared, much new information has come to light: letters sent by Otto Frank to relatives in America as he sought to emigrate with his family, the identity of other suspects involved in the betrayal of the Franks, and important details about the family’s arrest and subsequent fate. Revised and updated with more than thirty percent new material, this is an indispensable volume for all those who seek a deeper understanding of Anne Frank and the brutal times in which she lived and died.
The Emperor of Lies
by Steve Sem-Sandberg
In February 1940, the Nazis established what would become the second-largest Jewish ghetto in the Polish city of Lódz. Its chosen leader: Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, a sixty-three-year-old Jewish businessman and orphanage director. From one of Scandinavia’s most critically acclaimed and bestselling authors, The Emperor of Lies chronicles the tale of Rumkowski’s monarchical rule over a quarter million Jews. Driven by a titanic ambition, he sought to transform the ghetto into a productive industrial complex and strove to make it —and himself — indispensable to the Nazi regime. Drawing on the chronicles of life in the Lódz Ghetto, Steve Sem-Sandberg captures the full panorama of human resilience and asks the most difficult questions: Was Rumkowski a ruthless opportunist, an accessory to the Nazi regime driven by a lust for power? Or was he a pragmatic strategist who managed to save Jewish lives through his collaboration policies?