I will understand if seeing the words “Hitler” and “Holocaust” in this post’s title causes you to pull out your child’s worn copy of Goodnight Moon and read it, peacefully and blissfully. Don’t fail me now–I’m challenging you to broaden your reading habits (both fiction and nonfiction) in a most meaningful way.
I used to borrow library versions of famous Holocaust and Nazi-related literature. But for many years now, I’ve been purchasing books of this genre for my personal library. They reside in my home awkwardly, reminding me of our world’s sliding scale of historical human horror. Yes, I am Jewish, but you don’t have to “light the menorah” to appreciate well-researched or well-written books (or both, simultaneously).
My purpose here isn’t to knock you out with a dull list of scholarly, lecture-like tomes. Reading is the cheapest way to audit those post-college history classes you’ll never get around to attending. Why not overcome your fears or hesitations and slip into something less comfortable?
My suggestions will go beyond the obvious (Anne Frank: The Diary of Young Girl, Elie Wiesel’s Night, Schindler’s List, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, etc.). I promise these book recommendations will be worth your time, even if you don’t read them via the old-school format.
For my digital-only friends, I’m referring to books with pages printed on paper, and you turn the pages manually. (Me, I read while sitting next to a blazing fire in a cave as my Cro-Magnon BFF carves out some spending money from a huge rock formation…):
Eva Braun: Life with Hitler: Whenever I read a book with a Hitler-centric perspective, it usually treats Eva Braun, Hitler’s bride of little more than 48 hours, as a Third Reich afterthought.
Historian Heike B. Gortemaker does an excellent job of explaining this mysterious fraulein’s trajectory, starting in Munich, and ending in a bunker hidden underneath 1945 Berlin’s Reich Chancellery.
Eva segued from assistant to Hitler’s personal photographer (that would be Heinrich Hoffmann, who had a studio in Munich) to longtime mistress of the Fuhrer. What most people don’t know is that Eva’s relationship with Hitler lasted her entire adult life–she was only 17 years old when she met him.
(Yes, the print in the book’s softcover version is small–trust me, you won’t regret the eyestrain.)
The Women Who Knew Hitler: The Private Life of Adolf Hitler: Would you believe I scored a secondhand copy of this book for a few dollars at a used bookstore in Ocean City, Maryland?
I was not at all familiar with the book’s authors, Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting. But after flipping through the book’s photographs (many of which I’d never seen before), I knew I needed to own it. So I bought and read this book, even though the thought of these women considering their time spent with Hitler to be “like sitting next to the sun” was a repulsive one.
In addition to learning more about known entities such as Geli Raubal, Eva Braun, and Leni Riefenstahl, you’ll also discover Jenny Jugo, Unity Mitford, and Renate Muller. A compelling (yet almost nauseating) book to read…
Man’s Search for Meaning (By Viktor E. Frankl): This book leans heavily on the Holocaust side of my newly-formulated book club, which I hope you’ll join. I’m not sure if I’m remembering correctly, but I think I had to read this book for a psychology class in college.
Dr. Viktor E. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who experienced the horrors of the Nazi regime’s “Final Solution” as an inmate at a variety of concentration camps: Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering (a part of Dachau), and Turkheim (also affiliated with Dachau).
The results of Dr. Frankl’s wartime experiences during the Holocaust were his book, Man’s Search for Meaning (first translated into English in 1959), and his newly developed branch of psychotherapy called Logotherapy.
Believe me when I tell you that this book IS NOT an academic textbook. It’s a firsthand glimpse into the psychological, dehumanizing effects of life in a concentration camp, and it will hit you hard. The key premise of Dr. Frankl’s Logotherapy theory is “the belief that man’s primary motivational force is his search for meaning.”
In other words, if you can find meaning in your life, no matter how hellacious it is at any point, you can find the will to survive and thrive. This is powerful stuff–please consider reading Dr. Frankl’s book!
Hitler’s Niece (A Novel): This work of historical fiction by Ron Hansen accomplishes multiple goals. It educates you regarding Adolf Hitler’s rise to dictatorship power in pre-WWII Germany. The book also reveals just how much of a stranglehold Angelika Raubal (Hitler’s half-niece, known as Geli) had on his emotions.
And oh yes, it will cause you to speculate about the truth regarding Geli’s suspicious 1932 death (in Hitler’s Munich apartment).
By the end of this book, you will perhaps despise yourself for possibly allowing a humanistic version of Adolph Hitler to infiltrate your thoughts. I suspect you’ll also want to know more about the real Geli Raubal.
Most critics and book reviewers didn’t think well of Hansen’s novel, but that doesn’t mean you should bypass it…
Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: I found Trudi Kanter’s memoir at my local Target store, so sad and all alone, patiently waiting for me to pick it up and flip the pages.
Intrigued by the promise of a WWII/Holocaust “true love story,” I (permanently) adopted the book and brought it home. Despite all my previous Holocaust-literature reading, I’d never heard of this book until that fated late-night Target run.
According to the book’s introduction, Trudi Kanter was a successful Viennese businesswoman (with a Jewish father). She eventually escaped to England with her second husband, Walter Ehrlich, after the Nazis’ 1938 Anschluss of Austria. Trudi didn’t write her memoir until the early 1980s. By this point, she was approaching her 80th birthday.
In rapid order, the book was self-published in 1984 (by a small press), went out of print and then was entirely forgotten, until it was rediscovered by Ursula Doyle, an associate editor/director at Virago. Read all about it in the article Ms. Doyle wrote for Publishers Weekly.
Although she was a high-society milliner by profession, Trudi Kanter turned out to be a gifted writer. After escaping the Nazis with her beloved Walter, she lived in England until her death in 1992.
Are you already a member of my Hitler-Holocaust book club by default? If so, what was your most recent selection? What specific Hitler/Holocaust-related book left you speechless or in deep thought upon finishing it? If this genre doesn’t typically appear on your reading “wish list,” which of the books highlighted here possibly pique your curiosity?
As a bonus recommendation, I offer you Martin Amis’s (son of Kingsley Amis) latest book, The Zone of Interest. It’s a surreal Nazi love triangle set within the fictional boundaries of concentration camp Kat Zet. Yes, there will be a sequel to this post, so please don’t be shy about leaving your comment…
Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business-to-business (B2B) writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing or educational copy. Please call Lori Shapiro at 856-810-9764 or email By All Writes LLC at firstname.lastname@example.org for a no-obligation project quote today!