17 Devastating Must-Read Books About the Holocaust
While many of the survivors of the Holocaust have since passed on, their stories live on in literature. There have been numerous fiction and non-fiction books written about the Holocaust, so we wanted to highlight some of our favorites.
As Jewish women and mothers, it is important for us to make sure that history is never repeated. Some of the books below are memoirs, others are meticulously researched works of non-fiction, but the majority of the books are fictional.
What are the differences between fiction and non-fiction books about the Holocaust?
We wanted to point out which books are fiction and which aren’t so that readers understand that fiction changes facts, embellishes, skips over events, or fudges timelines BUT it also has an amazing ability to evoke strong emotions when done correctly.
In an ideal world, you would read a little of everything. A memoir to get one person’s story, a fictional story based on a family’s life, and a non-fiction story about the broader scope of the era. But we know that isn’t for everyone.
We have carefully curated the list of books about the holocaust below in the hopes that whatever book you choose, you will have an emotional connection to the 6 million people that died at the hands of Hitler and the Nazi party.
As we say in Judaism, may their memories be a blessing.
*Post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through links result in a small commission to us at no cost to you.
Night by Elie Weisel
I have a personal story about this book. My husband’s grandmother grew up in the same town as Elie Weisel. She knew both him and his wife. This was the first thing that she told me when I met her (My husband’s name is also Elie but this is purely coincidental).
This is a must-read non-fiction book about the Holocaust written by the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. It is a short but very powerful book that will emotionally wreck you. For more amazing Oprah’s Book Club Picks, you can see the full list.
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
This is the quintessential book about the Holocaust written by Anne Frank, a Jewish girl in hiding during WWII. Although she did not live to see freedom, her father survived as did the diary that she kept during her years of hiding.
This is a powerful book that captures the neverending capacity for hope in the human spirit. After all, Anne said it best when she said “in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart”. This is the only book on this list of WWII books for kids that is non-fiction
All But My Life by Gerta Weissman Klein
I had the honor of meeting Gerta Weissmann Klein when she came to speak at my middle school about her experience during the Holocaust. I still have the autographed copy of this book in my library and I will cherish it always.
This non-fiction tale was moving and wonderful. Gerta was just 6 years-old when she first started experiencing the hatred and persecution of the Nazis. Her story of survival will be one you won’t ever forget.
Non-Fiction Resistance Books about the Holocaust
The Light of Days by Judy Batalion
This harrowing non-fiction book tells the stories of the Jewish female resistance members during WW2. These women have not been given nearly enough attention for their bravery, fearlessness, and sacrifice.
As Battalion explores the different experiences each female operative goes through during the war, I had tears streaming down my face. The sheer gall of these women was inspiring to me, especially in light of the danger they were in if caught out.
I picked this up during International Holocaust day and I couldn’t put it down. A must-read for those looking for WWII books and courage in the face of hatred.
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
There is no surprise that this non-fiction story was made into a movie. The story is just so compelling. When the Nazis invade Poland, the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo have their animal collection ransacked. They decide to hide fleeing Jewish people in the now empty animal homes.
I loved this book and I am so glad that I listened to this one. Suzanne Toren reads it beautifully. Her wonderful accents and pronunciation of the words I surely would have butchered with my attempts added to the book.
Love Non-Fiction? We do too! That’s why we created the Ultimate List of Non-Fiction Books.
Historical Fiction Books About the Holocaust
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Based on the true story of New York socialite, Caroline Ferriday, this fictionalized account of the war is told from three perspectives.
The novel alternates between Caroline in New York, Kasia, a polish prisoner, at Ravensbruck and Herta, the only female doctor at that same camp.
Herta’s perspective, she was a real doctor at Ravensbruck, was particularly fascinating to read. Hearing her thoughts left a deep impact since authors rarely write from the perspective of the Nazi party members. This is one of the best books about the holocaust I have ever read.
Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson
This powerful novel tells the story of a well-known Jewish Philanthropist accused of being a nazi war criminal. Solomon, the accuser, convinces Catherine to be his lawyer and represent him in the case.
The novel moves back and forth from past to present as Solomon recounts his story. This is a powerful novel that will leave you wondering until the end and is one of my favorite books about WWII. And while this book is fiction, it is similar to many true stories.
The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff
Noa has been cast out after becoming pregnant by a Nazi Soldier. She is forced to give up her baby as well and now finds herself living at a railway station and cleaning to earn her stay. When she finds a boxcar filled with Jewish infants being transported to a concentration camp, Noa grabs a baby and runs.
She finds safety with a German circus and must learn to become a trapeze artist to remain hidden in plain sight. This is a powerful story about love and friendship.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Sarah is 10 years old in 1942 when she is arrested by the French police. Before the Vel’ D’hiv roundup, she tries to protect her brother by locking him in a cupboard and taking the key with her.
She thinks that she will be back in a few hours. 60 years later, a journalist named Julia Jarmond is asked to write about this black day in history. She finds a connection to Sarah. This is an astonishingly heartbreaking tale.
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Kirsten and I seem to be in the minority with our feelings about this book which is why it is on our list. It is an amazing story about one family’s survival during the Holocaust.
While we did not love the writing and the way the story was laid out, we cannot deny that this family has an amazing story.
For more Historical Fiction books about WWII, check out this post.
Fiction Books Set in Auschwitz
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonia Itrube
It’s hard not to mention this story in a round-up of books about librarians, even if the librarian in this story is a unique case. This is based on the story of Dita Kraus who was a 14-year-old girl when she went to Auschwitz. She worked as the “librarian” in the children’s block.
The book gives an in-depth look at the day-to-day survival of people in the camp. The book is difficult to read but is ultimately a book about bravery and real-life heroes.
Maus: A Survival’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
A very interesting take on the Holocaust, this graphic novel set depicts the Nazis and the Jews as Cats and Mice respectively. It’s slightly easier to see the horrific acts of the holocaust visually when you aren’t looking at people, but I promise you, you will still be disturbed.
It’s one thing to read and imagine something and another to see it depicted. Art Spiegelman handles the subject matter with care, but it is still incredibly sad.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
This amazing story of love and survival in the worst time in recent history is beautiful and inspiring. It is based on the story written after three years of interviews with the man who was the tattooist of Auschwitz.
There has been some controversy surrounding this work of fiction because of it’s historical inaccuracies, most prominently pointed out in this article.
While we debated putting this book on the list, we ultimately decided that the emotional response this book evokes in the reader is worth experiencing IF the reader goes in knowing that it isn’t totally accurate. Our hope is that readers will read both the book and the article and/or a memoir to get a clearer idea of what happened during this horrific time period.
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman
Although it is a book about the Holocaust, it is different than any other book I had read on the subject. Tom, a farmer in Australia meets Hannah and is instantly drawn to her.
The two make an unlikely pair but, are able to find something in the other that helps to heal them. Hannah is a survivor or Auschwitz and has lost everything. The story moves between the past and the present seamlessly to tell this love story.
Click for more Historical Fiction Books!
YA and Middle Grade Fiction Books about the Holocaust
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
This historical fiction book for teens was such an unexpected beauty for me. Books about the Holocaust are most often inherently extremely heavy. I love the way this book is a fairy tale retelling of Briar Rose (AKA Sleeping Beauty) that turns it into a story about the Holocaust.
It does not trivialize the atrocities of that time but rather, it makes the subject more approachable to a younger audience. Beautifully written and well done. This is one of the books for a 13-year-old that adults will love and a must-read from WWII books for kids!
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is a book that is narrated by Death. He tells the story of Liesel, a young girl in Nazi Germany in 1939. Liesel is living with her foster parents and learning to read from stolen books.
She also shares these books with the Jewish man who is hiding in her basement. This book is brilliant, powerful, poignant, and unforgettable. While technically a YA historical fiction book, this book is fiction at its finest and is a must-read from our list of WWII books for kids.