The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

An Introduction to Holocaust Literature

Un-annoted listing

An Introduction to Holocaust Literature

(Required and recommended readings for "Holocaust and Hope" Participants)

Comprehensive textbooks on the Holocaust tend to be rather large and bulky, so it is recommended that you do some reading before departure and leave the books at home. The one exception to that rule is Atlas of the Holocaust by Martin Gilbert. This resource contains 316 maps that trace each phase of the Holocaust, beginning with the antisemitic violence of pre-war Germany to the expulsion of Jews from towns and villages, the establishment of ghettos, and the setting up of the death camps. The atlas includes sites of acts of resistance and revolts, areas of Jewish partisan activity, killings of children and non-Jews, and the flight of survivors. Explanatory text accompanies the maps, chronicling the details and explaining the sources. The "Holocaust and Hope" program requests that each participant purchase a copy of this book, and bring it along, as it will be referred to as sites and cities are visited and mentioned during the trip. Atlas of the Holocaust is currently published by William Morrow & Company, 1993 (ISBN: 0688123643 – an earlier edition was published by Pergamon Press in 1988). It should be available in most major bookstores. If you are unable to acquire the book, contact us and we will make arrangements to get a copy to you.

1. General Texts

The first comprehensive text on the Holocaust was written in the 1960’s by Raul Hilberg, titled The Destruction of the European Jews. Hilberg primarily used as his sources the documentary evidence left by the Nazis, and his book continues to be the most extensive examination of this source of evidence. The book can probably be found in your local library as either a thick paperback or a three-volume hardcover set. (A more recent book by Hilberg, Perpetrators Victims Bystanders : The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 may be easier to find, and provide a new perspective)

Subsequent works attempted to address the subject through an examination of more diverse sources. The War Against the Jews (1933-1945) by Lucy Dawidowicz was originally published in 1975, and reissued most recently in 1991. The first section of the book provides a brief background and history, while the second section examines the Holocaust from the point of view of the Jewish victims, describing from first-hand sources the experience of the Jews and the various ways different segments of the Jewish community reacted at the various stages of the Holocaust.

A History of the Holocaust by Yehuda Bauer provides a concise overview of the basic topics in Holocaust history: the development of antisemitism, the rise of Nazism, the evolution of Nazi anti-Jewish policy, a breakdown of how Jews in different parts of Europe were affected, resistance, rescue, and aftermath. Approaches to Auschwitz by Richard Rubenstein and John Roth, covers a different sent of issues, focusing more on the philosophical implications rather than on the historical. A valuable resource aimed specifically at studying the Holocaust in the context of its educational value is The Holocaust in History by Michael Marrus, which summarizes the literature available on each topic and the different issues and viewpoints that must be discussed.

Another book by Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust, can be better described as a chronicle of the Holocaust rather than a history book. Derived primarily from eyewitness sources, the book is structured chronologically rather than by topic, telling a very readable story from a multiplicity of personal perspectives, allowing the reader to put each event in the context of the whole.

Any one of these books can provide thorough background knowledge that would enhance the educational value of the trip. However, you might also choose to approach the trip from a specific vantage point, depending on your particular interests. One or two books from any one of the topics suggested below would provide you with a unique theoretical perspective that could be valuable not only to you as an individual, but to the group as well.

2. The Roots of Antisemitism

There has not been a definitive text written on the Christian and pre-Christian roots of antisemitism in quite some time. Rosemary Ruether's Faith and Fratricide is still the standard, as it is a very scholarly and readable account that contains chapters on pagan anti-Judaism, the New Testament, the Patristic period, and brief conclusions on the Middle Ages. Leon Poliakov's The History of Antisemitism, Vol. I is a very different book, but also very useful. While Ruether's focus is on presenting theories as to the roots of antisemitism, Poliakov's book focuses on the historical. It has chapters on pre-Christian and post-New Testament anti-Judaism, but focuses mainly on the middle ages and the Reformation (Ruether doesn't go as far as the Reformation). One shortcoming of both of these books is that they are out of print, and finding them would involve digging through a library. A more recent book that has been recommended to me on this subject is The Legacy of Hate by Robert S. Wistrich.

3. Antisemitism, the Holocaust, and Canada

For an overview on Antisemitism in Canada, the best source is the aptly titled Antisemitism in Canada, edited by Alan Davies. It has chapters by various scholars, outlining the sources by which antisemitic ideology arrived and flourished in Canada, some of the main players in Canada's history, Canadian Nazism and neo-Nazism, and discussions of some recent cases and figures such as Ernst Zundel and James Keegstra. It also provides a regional breakdown, describing the differences in the sources and expressions of antisemitism between Quebec, Central Canada, and the West. For more detail on Canada's reaction to the Holocaust, particularly to the issue of Jewish refugees from Nazi oppression, the award-winning None Is Too Many by historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper tells a very moving story. "The Jews of Europe were not so much trapped in a whirlwind of systematic mass murder as they were abandoned to it," the preface reads. It not only tells the story of Canada's indifference to refugees from the Holocaust, but also suggests some of the reasons behind it. Using Canada, Abella and Troper describe the indifference of the world.

4. Holocaust Denial

In Denying the Holocaust: the Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, Deborah Lipstadt approaches the historiography of Holocaust denial, demonstrating the flaws in the methodology of the deniers, their attempts to pass their work off as legitimate "revisionist history", and how the ideology of antisemitism cannot be separated from their theories. Another informative resource is Hitler's Apologists, published by the Anti-Defamation League. It focuses more on the individual players in the world of Holocaust denial, rather than the theories, and adds useful information towards understanding the motives of those who would twist logic and facts to distort history. (Although not a book about Holocaust denial, someone with some background knowledge on the topic would probably recognize elements of present-day deniers in Jean Paul Sartre's description of the antisemite in Anti-Semite and Jew)

5. Modern Antisemitism / The Roots of Nazi Ideology

The books of George Mosse provide the best study of Nazi ideology. Towards the Final Solution traces the roots of race theory throughout Europe and how it led to its climax of genocide in Nazism. Educators interested in anti-racist education in general should certainly read this book in order to understand the nature of the beast in more depth. The history of Nazi ideology in isolation is examined more closely in The Crisis of German Ideology. In Nazi Culture, Mosse uses documents written by the Nazis to examine how the ideology and mythology was fused with Nazi politics and society.

One of the best sources for an examination of the ideology of Hitler as an individual (as opposed to that of Nazism as a movement) would be Hitler and Stalin by Alan Bullock. Through his study of Hitler, which goes right to the point and is full of documentation, Bullock examines the origins and character of the Third Reich. His material on Hitler is largely updated from his earlier work Hitler: a Study in Tyranny.

6. Philosophy / Psychology

For fans of existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre's Antisemite and Jew is a must. Written in 1946 from a non-Jewish point of view, it successfully examines the motivations from which antisemitism arises. Concrete examples in Sartre's work are rare, and when they're provided they generally refer to contemporary France. This is not a deficiency, however, as one's own imagination can conjure up such examples - both in history and in the present day (from Adolf Hitler to Ernst Zundel) - to whom the theory applies strikingly well, making this small volume applicable to people and events fifty years after its first publication. Sartre creates a prototype that can help us to understand the mind of the antisemite both before, during, and after the rise of Hitler. Hannah Arendt also takes an existentialist perspective in Eichmann in Jerusalem, but comes to some radically different conclusions. The prototype Arendt shows us in Eichmann is very different from Sartre's hypothetical antisemite, which leads to her controversial thesis on "the banality of evil". Unlike Sartre, her theory directly involves issues of the Holocaust, focusing on one of its most notorious perpetrators at his trial in Israel. In my opinion, Sartre and Arendt taken together provide a good set of theoretical tools for understanding the psychological basis of antisemitism. (For further reading, Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism elaborates on her general theories about the rise of Nazism.)

Two books approach different aspects of the Holocaust from a psychological perspective. The Altruistic Personality, by Samuel and Pearl Oliner, addresses the question of what made the Righteous Gentiles – non-Jews who selflessly risked their lives to protect Jews during the Holocaust – behave differently than the rest of the population. In Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl explores the psychology of the victim, through an exploration of his own personal experiences in Auschwitz which caused him to develop his own unique approach to psychoanalysis known as logotherapy, identifying meaning as a primary human need, necessary to survival.

7. The Holocaust and Theology

Although an important topic, there has yet to be printed a single concise and comprehensive text on the subject. There are some excellent articles in Approaches to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and its Legacy by Richard Rubenstein and John Roth. See also The Holocaust, Religious and Philosophical Implications by John Roth and Michael Bernenbaum, and Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era? edited by Eva Fleishner (look for Greenberg's Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity and the Holocaust in the latter for a reasonable overview). In order to examine the topic in more depth, one could look towards the writings of Emil Fackenheim for Jewish Holocaust theology (God's Presence in History, The Jewish Return into History, To Mend the World, or towards Christian theologians such as Paul van Buren (Discerning the Way, A Christian Theology of the People Israel, Christ in Context) and Alice Eckardt (Elder and Younger Brothers, Long Night's Journey into Day, Jews and Christians, For Righteousness' Sake). Ruether's Faith and Fratricide also provides a great deal of theological interpretation on the issue of Antisemitism in general. In preparation for the trip, it is probably best for participants interested in this topic to examine some of the literature in both Jewish and Christian theology, rather than focusing on one or the other, in order to get an idea of the diversity of thought on the subject.

8. Resistance (Jewish and non-Jewish)

The standard text on Jewish resistance is They Fought Back, edited and translated by Yuri Suhl, which offers a series of essays on and stories about the Jewish resistance, written to refute the widespread belief that European Jews went passively to their extermination. Their Brothers' Keepers by Philip Friedman tells the stories of Christian heroes and heroines who helped Jews to escape Nazi terror. Alternatively, When Light Pierced the Darkness by Nechama Tec discusses the issues that are brought up by the rescue of Jews by Christians, more than the stories themselves. The Altruistic Personality, referred to above, by Oliner and Oliner is also relevant to this topic, as it deals specifically with the psychological issues of resistance, exploring the question of why some individuals were willing to risk themselves to save Jews where most were not.

9. First-hand experiences / Eye-witness Testimonies

Over the past decades, a number of excellent first-hand accounts have been published by Holocaust survivors. Night by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel has become a literary classic as well as a moving account of the author's personal experiences. It is very readable, and at the same time powerful. Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz is most interesting for the large cast of characters presented in it, each with his own unique way of reacting to or dealing with his situation. I have not yet read The Drowned and the Saved, also by Primo Levi, but I'm told that it is brilliant. Viktor Frankl also speaks of his personal experiences in Man’s Search for Meaning.

There are also works of fiction by these authors and others that relate to the theme of the Holocaust, such as Leon Uris' Mila 18 (the group may visit the actual site of #18 Mila Street in Warsaw). Then, of course, there's Stephen Speilberg’s Schindler's List (and the book, Schindler's List, by Thomas Keneally) While I would be cautious about making this movie the focus of discussion on the Holocaust, it is important that you see it if you have not already done so, as many of your students will have seen it. In fact, it will be useful to rent the film within two weeks of departure so it is fresh in your mind and can provide some points of departure for discussion. You will see most of the locations in which the events in the film actually happened.


I am sure that there are many important topics and many excellent books that I have missed. Each individual brings a unique background and unique personal interests to the Holocaust and Hope Study Tour, and diversity of opinions and viewpoints is something we wish to encourage. As you will be expected to share your views, impressions and reactions during the debriefing sessions throughout the trip, hopefully that diversity will encourage discussion, which will make the trip a broadening experience for all involved.


Prepared by Steven Mock

Holocaust and Hope Co-ordinator

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