The Jews and the Second World War: A Reading List

I started reading about the fate of the Jews during the Second World War when I was eleven. No one I knew ever mentioned the subject, but I just became obsessed and have continued to read about it ever since.

One reading experience I particularly remember is “Fragments” by Benjamin Wilkomirski. Because I had already read so many memoirs by Jews about their experiences during the war, I immediately thought something was wrong. All the memoirs I had read before were characterized by very clear recall of details, but this memoir instead was vague and floating. While I thought it was a good book, something just didn’t ring true.  Offering him the benefit of the doubt, I reminded myself that Wilkomirski was only two years old during the Holocaust and that his memories might be floating in gauze like this because of his young age. I had never read a memoir by someone that young. But, as you probably know, it turned out he had invented the whole thing. Unfortunately, I was not surprised at all. Rather, I was only surprised that he had not called it a novel. And a very good and imaginative one, too.

Here is a list of ten books which are, for me, some of the most powerful and most meaningful books concerning (in most, but not all cases) the fate of the Jews during The Second World War:

Into That Darkness by Gitta Sereny
A portrait of Franz Stangel, commandant of Treblinka, based on extensive interviews by one of the outstanding journalists of our time.

Kaputt: A Novel by Curzio Malaparte
A stingingly irreverent, cruel, and brilliant look at the war in some of the places where Malaparte, a diplomat, spent those years: Russia, Poland, Finland, Romania.

The Skin: A Novel by Curzio Malaparte
The tragic and corrupt carnival of life in Naples from 1943 until the end of the war.

Life and Fate: A Novel by Vasily Grossman
An extraordinary and epic novel with a huge cast of Russian and German characters centered around the battle of Stalingrad. One of the
great novels of the twentieth century.

Posted on April 28, 2014

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