The Holocaust

Faculty Picks: 5 Great Books on the Holocaust - Selected by Choice Reviewer Glenn Sharfman

No five books could adequately represent the Holocaust no matter how detailed the books. The selection below will give undergraduate readers an understanding of different aspects of the Holocaust—but not all. Evans’s trilogy will provide an excellent background. Bergen’s book is the best single volume on the Holocaust. Browning provides a fascinating and well-read look into the mindset of the rank and file who did most of the killing. Nomberg-Przytyk’s memoir of Auschwitz is meant to represent the thousands of survivor memoirs, and Gross not only covers the details of the horror, but investigates what happened to the main perpetrators. In total, these books are excellent introductions into the Shoah.

Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land, by Sara Nomberg-Przytyk. North Carolina, 1985.
Nomberg-Przytyk’s memoir is about her experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz. Her memoir narrates not only the extreme physical difficulties of Auschwitz prisoners, but also brings up the moral dilemmas that some prisoners faced. It is well written and provocative.

Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, by Jan Gross. Princeton, 2001.
Gross’s book looks at one small example in 1941 of a town in Poland where Polish Catholics murdered Polish Jews. This was not an isolated occurrence, and part of the mastery of the book comes in what occurs after the war in terms of apportioning guilt. Some Poles take offence at Gross’s analysis, but the author uses his sources very well to detail not just the killing, but also the aftermath.

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, by Christopher Browning. HarperCollins, 1992.
Browning’s classic book for many Holocaust classes is readable and, by looking at one reserve battalion, discusses the motives that many of the Nazis exhibited. While most leading Nazis were rabidly antisemtic, others were able to kill because of different ways they would rationalize the murder.

The Third Reich at War, by Richard J. Evans. Penguin, 2009.
Evans is a leading scholar of modern Germany and this is the third volume in his trilogy on Nazi Germany. Both of the previous volumes, The Coming of the Third Reich and The Third Reich in Power, are also excellent, and together offer as cogent a history of Nazi Germany as is available. Evans writes clearly and is comprehensive in charting the course of the Nazis. In order to understand what the victims endured, it is essential to become acquainted with the motivations of the perpetrators.

War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust, by Doris L. Bergen. 3rd ed. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
Unlike many other treatments of the Holocaust, this study discusses not only the persecution of the Jews, but also other segments of society victimized by the Nazis: Gypsies, homosexuals, Poles, Soviet POWs, the handicapped, and other groups deemed undesirable. With clear and eloquent prose, Bergen explores the two interconnected goals that drove the Nazi program of conquest and genocide―purification of the so-called Aryan race and expansion of its living space―and discusses how these goals affected the course of World War II.

About the author:

Dr. Glenn Sharfman (gsharfman@oglethorpe.edu) is Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of History at Oglethorpe University.