Since undertaking the huge task of writing a Holocaust memoir, (see my book The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir)I thought I should at least acquaint myself with some of the better written books on the subject. In my search I found some amazing stories, and most of them nonfiction. A few fictional accounts were astounding as well, and to be fair, I will include them in a separate blog.
If you are interested in reading about the Holocaust here are my recommendations:
- Witness Voices from the Holocaust, Edited by Joshua M. Greene and Shiva Kumar
Synopsis: first person accounts of twenty-seven witnesses, including camp survivors, American military personnel, a member of the Hitler Youth, a Jesuit priest, and resistance fighters.
Synopsis: this is the first person account of Elie Wiesel’s time in Auschwitz, the loss of his family and the difficult life choices he made in order to survive.
- Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi
Synopsis: This is Primo Levi’s account of what happened to him in Auschwitz, a German death camp.
- Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl
Synopsis: Viktor Frankl’s description of life in Nazi death camps, plus the psychological aspects of surviving such horrendous treatment. Dr. Frankl explores how we cope with suffering and how to move forward with renewed purpose. Dr. Frankl argues that it is the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful to be our primary drive in life, not the pursuit of pleasure as Freud claimed. One of the best books on the subject of the Holocaust, and Joseph Kempler’s favorite author.
- Holocaust Testimonies the Ruins of Memory, Lawrence L. Langer
Synopsis: an analysis of the unique ways in which oral testimony of survivors contributes to our understanding of the Holocaust. This book also sheds light on the forms and functions of memory as victims relive devasting experiences of pain, humiliation, and loss.
This was an important book for me because of the way I wrote Joe’s story, using oral testimony through personal interviews.
- Schindler’s List A Novel, Thomas Keneally
Note: typically a novel is considered fiction, they are one and the same, however, this book is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist, and how he came to save nearly 1,200 Jews from the gas chambers. The author uses actual testimony of the Schindler Jews to weave his story together. It really reads like nonfiction. Also, this is an area in Poland and the concentration camp of Płaszów that my father-in-law Joseph Kempler, came from. He absolutely loves this book and the movie Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg.
Synopsis: Schindler’s List is the true story of how Oskar Schindler saved more Jews from the gas chambers than anyone else. It begins in the heyday of the German military’s victories over eastern European countries. Money could be made during this time and Oskar Schindler took advantage of his times. As the war progresses Schindler becomes more aware of the atrocities the Nazis are perpetrating on innocent Jews. At great sacrifice to himself he begins to save as many Jews from the concentration camps as he can. I highly recommend this book.
- The Nazi Officer’s Wife, Edith Hahn Beer
Synopsis: this is a well-written account of how one Jewish woman survived World War II under Nazi regime. After her time in a labor camp, Edith is released, but when she returns home she realizes she will always be a hunted woman. With the aid of a Christian woman, Edith goes underground. She meets Werner Vetter, a member of the Nazi Party, and falls in love. Werner marries her and hides her identity from the Gestapo. This is an interesting account of survival at all costs.
- In My Hands, Irene Gut Opdyke
Synopsis: this is an interesting tale of a non-Jew who helps feed Jews in a ghetto, transport work camp prisoners to a forest enclave, and hide a dozen Jews in the home of the Nazi major for whom she was housekeeper. Irene Opdyke’s personal value system superseded the pandemic view of racial superiority that was displayed by so many around her.
- Leap Into Darkness, Leo Bretholz, Michael Olesker
Synopsis: Leo Bretholz escaped the Holocaust by staying on the run and remaining one step ahead of the Nazis who hunted him. This is his true story of how he remained seven years on the run in wartime Europe.
- Unbroken Will The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man, Bernhard Rammerstofer
Synopsis: this is the true story of Nazi concentration camp survivor Leopold Engleitner, who is now 107 years old. This is my personal favorite life story. Leopold was an ordinary farmhand who grew up in Upper Austria ( the same area as Adolf Hitler). He was imprisoned in the concentration camps because he refused to back down from his personal convictions. He refused to “Heil Hitler!” and to join Hitler’s army. Leopold devoted his life to peace and didn’t buckle in the face of death. For this he was imprisoned numerous times. He could easily have gained his freedom by signing a piece of paper renouncing his religious beliefs as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but he was steadfast in his refusal. Engleitner is now the oldest known male concentration camp survivor in the world, a model of tolerance and peace. His story should not be missed.
- The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir as told to April Voytko Kempler by Joseph Kempler (not yet released!)
Synopsis: Josef Kempler is fourteen years old when he enters his first forced labor camp. He manages, through cunning, to survive five more concentration camps throughout Poland and Austria. Some of these are death camps from which very few survivors have lived to tell the tale. Along the way, Josef experiences spiritual shipwreck. Raised Jewish he begins to develop a hatred for his heavenly father and ignores his existence. Some spiritual flame still flickers within him as he is introduced to a mysterious group of Aryan Christians who are imprisoned alongside him in one of the concentration camps. Many years after the war Josef, the former God-hater, converts to a Christian faith. The Altered I chronicles what would lead to such a life altering decision.
Available as a preorder from LeRue Press Publishers.
Read sample chapters: Altered I Sample-April Kempler.