A Mighty Girl's top picks of books about the Holocaust for children and teens in recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Week.
"Hatred eats the soul of the hater, not the hated." — Alice Herz Sommer, Holocaust survivor
Each year during Holocaust Remembrance Week, we take time to remember those who died — and those who survived — during the infamous Nazi regime. It is a difficult topic for any of us, but particularly difficult to discuss with children. How do you talk about something so beyond most children’s contemplation in a way that respects the experience of those who lived it?
Here at A Mighty Girl, we are marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day with two blog posts. This post will introduce you to books for all ages that talk about the Holocaust from a variety of perspectives. These books range from picture books to novels, memoirs to fiction, but all of them treat this challenging subject with care and dignity. Our follow-up post, Hope in a Hidden Room: A Mighty Girl Salutes Anne Frank, focuses on Anne Frank, whose diary chronicling the emotional life of a girl in the midst of the Holocaust puts a personal face on what can otherwise seem like distant history to a child growing up today.
What Was The Holocaust?
How do you explain the Holocaust — the deliberate attempt to dehumanize and exterminate a whole race of people on such a vast scale — to children, especially young children? It’s certainly not an easy task, but there are some books out there to help you tackle it.
When Elsa's grandmother Dounia has trouble sleeping after a nightmare, Elsa begs her to share why she is so sad. In response, Dounia shares a story even her own son has never heard about her childhood before World War II. The story begins with seemingly little hurts, like being ostracized by former friends and being forced to wear the yellow star. But when police break into her home, her parents hide her behind a secret panel to keep her from being arrested along with them. Thus began her hidden life, as friends and neighbors risked their lives to keep her safe from the concentration camps. This powerful graphic novel handles a difficult topic in an age appropriate way, without concealing the hard truths of history.
Mona Golabek's stunning book for older readers, The Children of Willesden Lane, is now available in an early chapter book format! Musical prodigy Lisa dreams of being a concert pianist, but with World War II looming, Vienna is no longer safe for Jewish families like hers. Her parents make the difficult decision to send her to London through the Kindertransport. In a home for refugee children, Lisa desperately misses her family, but her music provides her — and all of those around her — with comfort. Adapted for younger readers with shorter chapters, and including additional material about Holocaust history and the Kindertransport, this powerful book celebrates the power of music to uplift the human spirit. For a picture book version of the story, check out Hold On To Your Music: The Inspiring True Story of the Children of Willesden Lane for ages 5 to 8.
10-year-old Ruth Block knows tensions are rising in 1938 in Frankfurt, Germany. Jewish-owned stores are being shut down — including Ruth's father's stationery store — and people on the street shout mean things at Ruth and her family. One night in November, though, discrimination explodes into violence; Ruth's father is dragged into the square and arrested alongside hundreds of other Jewish men, and the mob vandalizes homes, businesses, and synagogues, littering the ground with broken glass that later gives the night its nickname: Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Filled with photos, maps, and more, this fictionalized story from the Girls Survive series brings the fascist Nazis rise to power to life through the eyes of a girl living it firsthand.
An old woman remembers a night she wishes she could take back: her ninth birthday. Lydia, her best friend, is Jewish, and for some time Helen has been confused: why are people talking in low voices, hiding in odd places, and using strange names? And why does Lydia wear a yellow star on her jacket? Lydia was planning to stay the night when word comes that the Nazis are arresting Jews; Lydia tells her friend she wants to be with her family, but all Helen can think about is her ruined birthday fun. The childish exclamation of “You’re not my friend anymore!” marks the last time Helen sees Lydia, and it's only later that she realizes what her friend was facing. All she can do now is hope that she will see Lydia again someday... This powerful book is age-appropriate, but still carries the emotional weight the subject deserves.
In 1941, Hedy's Hungarian Jewish family faces tough decisions: Hitler's armies are beginning to round up Jews across Europe, but the family's circumstances don't allow them all to travel together. At 16, Hedy must travel across Europe by train — alone — in hopes of reaching a port where she can board a ship to America. Along the way she dreams of happy reunions and fears that, instead, she'll find herself alone forever. This thoughtful picture book from the Encounter: Narrative Nonfiction Picture Books series includes a note at the end that follows Hedy's story after she arrives in America, capturing the aftermath and epilogue of her refugee experience.
Anna is growing up in Berlin, and thinks of herself as a German like everyone else she knows. Hitler’s face on posters around the city doesn’t mean anything to her — until one night her father disappears. Her mother explains that he had to leave, and soon, they will join him. Escaping Nazi Germany means a life as a refugee, leaving everything Anna knows behind, but at first it just seems like an adventure. Soon, though, Anna realizes the move is permanent, complete with new languages to learn, financial struggles, and a new realization: the most important thing of all is that their family is together. Kids will empathize with Anna's confusion as this book provides a gentle introduction to World War II and Holocaust history.
Sometimes it can be easy to forget that the people facing these trials were ordinary — including tweens, worrying about the same things that tweens do today. 12-year-old Stephie Steiner and her sister Nellie have been sent from Vienna to safety with a foster family in Sweden, and while Nellie adjust quickly, Stephie struggles. At the same time as she deals with world-shattering issues like disagreements with her foster mother and worries about her parents, she's also facing snide insults from the villagers and the enmity of the most popular girl in school. Kids reading this book will be struck by how similar Stephie's coming of age is to their own... and at the same time, how dramatically different.
As the Nazi regime rose — and people began to suspect its aims — one program, the Kindertransport, brought 10,000 children into the United Kingdom for safety. Lisa Jura was a 14-year-old musical prodigy whose parents were offered the chance to send one of their three children; they chose her. In a home for refugee children she yearned for her family, but her music offered hope to both her and many around her in the midst of the war. This young readers adaptation of the biography for teens and adults, The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival, captures both the pain caused by the war and the power of music to lift everyone up.
With anti-Semitism on the rise in her home country of Poland, Esther's father fled to Cuba in hopes of finding a new place to live for the family — and 11-year-old Esther is the first to join him. To console her sister (and herself), Esther promises to write letters about everything that happens until they meet again. Her new Cuban community is welcoming (although she discovers that Nazism has spread even there), and Esther is discovering that she has unexpected talents — ones which may help the family reunite even faster... before it's too late. Based on award-winning author Ruth Behar's family history, this historical fiction novel explores timely issues, as well as the timeless power of humanity to thrive despite any challenge.
In late 1930s Italy, 6-year-old Lia's life changes forever when prime minister Mussolini joins forces with Hitler. First, there are laws that bar Jewish children from attending regular school, so Lia starts attending a Judaic school. Then, her father isn't allowed to keep his job, and has to work under the table to help the family survive. Lia doesn't understand why someone would make these laws, and she especially doesn't understand why her parents send her and her sisters away to a convent. But as the war goes on — and Lia starts growing up — she begins to understand what's happening around her... even as she appreciates the moments of joy and laughter that still appear in the most difficult times. Newly translated from Italian and adapted for young readers, this powerful story includes black and white illustrations, a family photo album, and an author's note that reminds readers why they must always stand up for justice.
Jutta Salzberg was a typical 12-year-old girl — but in 1938 Germany, it was harder and harder for a Jewish girl like her to live a normal life. As Jutta's family realized that they needed to leave before things got worse, her friends and relatives wrote in her poesiealbum, or autograph book, and Jutta kept a diary. Now her daughter, Debbie Levy — author of I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark — weaves these writings with her own free verse to tell the story of the Salzberg family's last year in Germany. Levy captures both simple pleasures and terrifying moments — like Jutta's father threatening to jump out a window if an official doesn't grant the family visas — and includes a sober afterword about the friends and family who didn't escape.
German Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon was born in Berlin, and during her childhood and young adulthood she witnessed the rise of the Nazi party and the increasing anti-Semitism of the Third Reich. By 1941, she was in hiding in the south of France — and working on a series of autobiographical paintings. Over two years, she created 769 works capturing her life and experiences; the collection, named Life? or Theater?, is often considered a painted parallel to Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and an early graphic novel. Then, in October of 1943, just after entrusting her paintings to a friend, she was captured and deported to Auschwitz; she and her unborn child were gassed to death upon arrival. This powerful biography, complete with color photographs of Salomon's work, is a gripping and poignant look at the life of an artist, ended too soon.
Acts of Bravery: Rescue and Escape
When faced with horrors they know are wrong, not all people turn a blind eye. Even under threat of arrest or death, brave, compassionate people would not stand by and watch others be sent to camps. And, of course, many courageous people facing death hid and even escaped, and were often able to help others do the same.
Monique’s small French village has been occupied by Nazis for some time when she wakes up to see another little girl at the foot of her bed. Sevrine is Jewish, and Monique’s mother has been concealing her and her family in a hidden room in the basement. When a neighbor discovers them, though, both families will have to flee. Based on the real experiences of author Patricia Polacco’s great-aunt, this poignant story shows the power of friendship and quiet heroism, and the courage shown by people who stood up for others in desperate need.
During World War II, the Danish Resistance successfully smuggled over 7,000 people — nearly Denmark's entire Jewish population — across the sea to safety in Sweden. This powerful picture book captures the suspense and heroism of this incredibly brave act through the story of two children. Anett's family lives in a small Danish fishing village, and they're concealing Carl and his mother, the last pair they need to get aboard a fishing boat and to safety. But with the occupying soldiers getting suspicious and a cloudy sky that will prevent Carl from seeing which way is safe from patrols, it takes Anett's clever idea of a chain of whispers to ferry them safely to the harbor.
In Poland's Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, a young nurse and social worker went about her daily work, caring for the sick — and smuggling Jewish children out to safety. Irena Sendler knew what she was risking, but she couldn't bear to watch children suffer and do nothing. And after every child was safe — over 2,500 children in total — she meticulously recorded their name in hopes that, someday, they could be reunited with their families. This emotional picture book captures Sendler's remarkable heroism in the face of unthinkable consequences.
Today Anne Frank is famous for her optimistic diary, written while she hid from the horrors of the Holocaust. We have that diary thanks to the efforts of another, often unsung woman, Miep Gies. Miep and her husband were integral in protection the Frank family as they lived in the Secret Annex, and when the Nazis arrested the fugitives, she knew that they would be back to pilfer their belongings as well. She couldn't bear the thought of Anne's precious diary being stolen or destroyed, so she hid it, hoping to return it to Anne or her family in time. Sadly, only Anne's father, Otto, survived the concentration camps, but when Miep gave him Anne's writing, it was the first step towards her words being read around the world. This powerful account celebrates everyday heroism and the power of the written word.
In Poland's Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, a young nurse and social worker went about her daily work, caring for the sick — and smuggling Jewish children out to safety. Irena Sendler knew what she was risking, but she couldn't bear to watch children suffer and do nothing. And after every child was safe — over 2,500 children in total — she meticulously recorded their name in hopes that, someday, they could be reunited with their families. This illustrated biography from the Encounter: Narrative Nonfiction series tells Sendler's inspiring story in an accessible and evocative way, perfect for young readers.
Nine-year-old Anna is struggling to survive the horrible conditions of the Warsaw Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland, but the frail girl is at real risk of starving to death. Then she meets a woman who calls herself Jolanta — the resistance spy Irena Sendler who has been smuggling children out of the ghetto — and she wants to get Anna out next. To do that, Anna must pretend to be Roman Catholic orphan Anna Karwolska, and not only struggle with pretending to be someone else, but also remembering who she really is. This emotionally powerful work of historical fiction was based on interviews with Sendler and the real-life experiences of the thousands of children she saved.
It's May, 1939, and 12-year-old Ruthie Arons is one of over 900 Jewish refugees who have boarded the M.S. St. Louis, a luxury liner that's supposed to take them from Nazi Germany to safety in Cuba. Ruthie misses her grandmother and her dog, both of whom had to stay behind, and she's worried about her father, who is sick. Then the ship isn't allowed to dock in Havana... and worse, Ruthie and her friend Wolfie discover a Nazi on board. Will Ruthie be able to defy the odds and keep up her hope for a new life? Based on the true, tragic story of the M.S. St. Louis, which was eventually forced to return to Europe, where at least a third of its passengers died, this is a powerful novel in free verse told through the eyes of one young Jewish girl.
Even people who have no memory of the Holocaust benefited from the sacrifices of those who around them. In 1944, as an infant, Erika was thrown from a cattle car bound for a concentration camp: “On her way to death, my mother threw me to life.” A German woman risked her own life to raise Erika, who eventually married and had her own children. Vander Zee tells this true story, which she heard from a woman she met in a German village, with elegance and poignancy; it is a story of love, hope, and goodness.
It’s Denmark in 1943, and word is leaking out that the Nazis intend to detain the Danish Jews before shipping them to concentration camps. 10-year-old Annemarie doesn’t know why anyone would want to hurt her neighbors, including her best friend, Ellen Rosen, who Annemarie’s family conceals as one of their own. With the efforts of the Danish Resistance — and the entire community — Annemarie looks on as the Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, is seen to safety on Sweden’s shores. This beautiful story of the heroism of ordinary people is sure to be thought-provoking. Younger readers can learn about this inspiring moment of resistance and defiance in The Whispering Town for ages 6 to 9.
12-year-old Dina's Ukrainian Jewish family is facing hardships they had never anticipated in the midst of World War II. New anti-Semitic policies are costing them more and more freedoms, and when her father dies, the family has to adjust to her mother going back to work while still wrestling with their grief. Dina objects to the family's new housekeeper, Nina, who is Christian rather than Jewish, but Nina's compassion becomes critical when the Nazis invade: when even family turns them away, Nina registers the children as her own to keep them safe. Inspired by the true story of Nina Pukas, named one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, this powerful middle grade novel celebrates the courage of rescuers through the eyes of a child.
Zhanna and her sister Frina are both piano prodigies, with their sights set on attending one of the world's top conservatories... until the Germans invade Ukraine. Suddenly, Jewish families like theirs are forced from their homes, driven on a death march through the countryside. Her father begs her: "I don't care what you do. Just live." So with help from a guard who turns a blind eye, Zhanna and her sister flee with nothing but one another and their sheet music. Concealing themselves as Anna and Marina Morozova, they find an orphanage that can issue them "replacement papers" — and soon find themselves performing for the very Nazi soldiers who destroyed their family. This novel in verse, told by award-winning author Susan Hood and Zhanna's son, Greg Dawson, includes original letters and photographs in its powerful story of sisterhood, music, and survival.
In 1942, young Rachel Cohen is staying at the Sèvres Children's Home outside Paris, enjoying a newfound passion for photography and trying not to worry too much about the war. But when the Nazis invade, the Jewish girl must reinvent herself as the Catholic Catherine Colin and hide with the help of the French resistance. Still, she takes as many photographs as she can; as one of her teachers tells her, "We’ll need these testimonies." This spellbinding graphic novel, based on the real-life story of author Julia Billet's mother's war experience, captures the fear and trauma of World War II, but also hope, generosity, and sacrifice, as everyday heroes step forward to help people like Catherine survive.
When the Nazis invaded Poland, Jewish people did not simply capitulate: resistance groups rapidly appeared, many of them led by Jewish women and young girls. These "ghetto girls" served as fighters, spies, and saboteurs; they converted youth groups into resistance cells and built underground bunkers and supply lines in the Jewish ghettos. At the center of this powerful young reader's adaptation of The Light of Days is 18-year-old Renia Kukielka, who worked as a resistance courier and weapons smuggler; other women joined the cause as fighters, spies, and saboteurs. Even in the face of the seemingly unstoppable Nazi regime, the destruction of their communities, and the death of their families, these courageous women refused to give up and fought back to the end. This gripping, meticulously-researched book tells the incredible story of these heroic Jewish women whose contributions have been largely overlooked, until now.
Anna may be young, but she can see the increasing danger facing her Jewish family in 1936 Krakow, Poland: prejudice, and even violence, is becoming more and more common. But her father insists that he can't leave: he holds a prestigious position as clarinetist in the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra. Then Anna learns that Bronislaw Huberman, a famous violinist, is creating a new orchestra of Jewish musicians in Palestine. Can her letter convince Huberman to let her father audition — and will they get out in time? Against the real-life background of Huberman's work saving 700 Jewish performers and their families, Anna's story shows both the desperation of her family's situation and the enduring hope and goodness that still exists in the world.
In Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto, Tilar J. Mazzeo told Irena Sendler's incredible story of smuggling children out of the Jewish ghetto to foster families in order to keep them safe; this edition makes that story accessible to younger readers. Tweens and teens will be fascinated to read about the many ways Sendler helped children escape — from hiding them under her overcoat to slipping them through secret passages — and about her incredible determination not to reveal their names and locations, even under torture and risk of losing her life.
When the Nazis push the occupying Soviet soldiers out of Krystia's Ukrainian village in 1941, the villagers rejoice; surely the Germans are here to help. They certainly don't think there are any implications to their friends' and neighbors' mix of Polish, Jewish, and Ukrainian backgrounds. But as the Nazis' intentions become horrifyingly clear — first when the Poles and Ukrainians are deemed fit only for work, and then with a mass shooting of 101 Jewish men — Krystia faces a terrible choice: will she protect her friends and neighbors however she can, even at risk of losing everything? Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, author of Making Bombs for Hitler and Stolen Girl, based this immediate and gripping story on the real experiences of a World War II survivor. There is also a companion novel about Krystia's sister, Maria, Trapped in Hitler's Web.
The choice to aid others in the face of great personal danger makes for a difficult coming of age. 11-year-old Mari lives in a safe, protected world until Hitler's armies invade Norway. Mari and her elkhound Odin are used to roaming freely; suddenly, not only is that a risk, but Mari starts seeing all the ways people around her are defying the Nazi regime: a hidden radio at her grandmother's, family and friends working for the resistance, neighbors operating a black market. With Odin by her side, Mari feels like she still knows what's right... but when Odin becomes the soldiers' target, she's faced with the realization that "right" and "legal" are no longer the same thing.
Behind the award-winning film Schindler's List were real people — including 11-year-old Rena Finder. She was 11 years old when her family was forced into Krakow's Jewish ghetto, and she was put to work as slave labor. Fortunately, Rena and her mother started working on Oskar Schindler's factory, where he treated them well and helped keep them fed and healthy. And when she and her mother were sent to Auschwitz, Schindler created a plan to help them escape. Rena's gripping story of Holocaust survival and the compassion of those who helped at great personal risk is a must-read title for young readers learning more about World War II history.
During World War II, women around the world stood up to protect those they could, doing everything from transmitting radio messages from occupied France, to hiding Jewish families or smuggling them out of dangerous territory, to conducting sabotage missions throughout Europe. Kathryn J. Atwood tells some of their stories in this book, showing how these women, from many nations and backgrounds, each took tremendous risks to fight the battles that they were not permitted to fight on the front. A companion book, Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater, tells the stories of women's contributions in China, Japan, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines.
Liesel is a foster child living outside Munich in the midst of World War II Germany; she ekes out survival by stealing what she can. But one day she steals a book, and after her foster father reads it to her, her mind is opened to a vast, new world — one that helps her manage the fear and grief she’s living with every day. Soon she is determined to learn to read herself... and to share her stolen words with her neighbors, her friends, and the Jewish refugee hiding in the family’s basement. Young adult readers will imagine what it was like to live in a world where reading certain books during a bombing raid was a secret worth dying for, and, as Liesel does, will recognize books for what they truly are: treasure. Fans of the book can also check out the live action movie adaptation for ages 13 and up.
In 1942 Nazi-occupied Poland, Jewish teenager Chaya Lindner is determined to fight the evil destroying her life... even in the face of overwhelming odds. She escapes the Kraków Ghetto where her family is imprisoned and joins the Jewish resistance as a courier. She learns about a planned uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto to fight Nazis' efforts to transport the remaining survivors of the ghetto to death camps. Like her fellow resisters, Chaya knows that there is no possibility that they will 'win' this fight, but they hope to save as many lives as possible, and to live — or die — on their own terms. This powerful historical fiction novel by the author of A Night Divided about the largest single revolt by Jews during WWII explores the Holocaust from the rarely-discussed perspective of Jewish resistance fighters through the story of one heroic young woman.
Stefania “Fusia” Podgórska achieved her dream of leaving the family farm by working for the Jewish Diamant family in their grocery story in Przemsyl, Poland. The Catholic Fusia finds friendship with the family, and even first love: a secret betrothal with Izio Diamant. But when the German army invades, the Diamants are forced into a ghetto and Fusia is left without work and responsible for her 6-year-old sister Helena. And then, she hears a knock on the door: Izio's brother, Max, has jumped from a train taking Jews to the death camps. Fusia and Helena end up hiding Max and twelve other Jews — even while two Nazi offers requisition living space in their house. But can they keep their deadly secret? Best-selling author Sharon Cameron based this book on Fusia's true story, and includes an author's note detailing Fusia, Helena, and Max's lives after the war.
Author Sarah Silberstein Swartz knows there were many dedicated, courageous, and self-sacrificing women heroes during the Holocaust — so why do we know so few of their names? In this book, she profiles nine ordinary women and extraordinary heroes, from Rabbi Regina Jones, the first female rabbi — ordained just as Nazi persecution started accelerating, and killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp; Rachel Eiga Auerbach, who used her journalist skills to record the lives of Polish Jews under Nazi occupation; and sisters Regina Zlotnik Silberstein and Ruth Zlotnik Altman — the author's mother and aunt — who were active in the Warsaw resistance, Swartz tells their stories with admiration, ensuring their names will never be forgotten.
In 1942 Warsaw, Mira's Jewish family is struggling through dire circumstances. Her father is dead, and her brother has joined the Jewish Police, leaving Mira, her mother, and her sister to survive alone in the Ghetto. So far, Mira has managed to smuggle in enough food to keep them alive, but when she learns the Ghetto is going to be "liquidated," she's not sure what to do. Then she discovers that a group of young people are planning an uprising against the Germans — and joins the resistance. They will stand against the Nazis as long as they can... twenty-eight days. This fictionalized telling of the real Warsaw Ghetto uprising is a brutal but empowering reminder that, no matter what the end result, there is hope for resistance.
When World War II began, 17-year-old Irene Gut was a Polish nursing student, a typical teenager preparing for a future career. Then she was separated from her family, assaulted by Russian soldiers, and forced to serve German officers. But she was determined to help who she could, smuggling food into the ghetto and hiding several Jewish friends at the villa where she worked. And when she was discovered, she even agreed to become mistress to a German major in exchange for protection for Jewish friends. This memoir by a real-life Holocaust rescuer, full of hard choices, is a powerful read for any teen.
Any place could become a hiding spot for desperate fugitives during the war — even the hidden passages beneath our feet. In 1943, Krystyna Chiger was among a group of Polish Jews in Lvov who escaped arrest and exile by hiding in the city’s sewer system. Chiger, the last surviving member of the group, has shared her story and the story of Leopold Socha, the Polish Catholic and former thief who risked his life to provide food, medicine, and supplies, in this stunning memoir of desperation, survival, and hope.
This memoir shows the struggles of those Jewish people who tried to conceal themselves amidst other families. Edith van Hessen was an ordinary high school student when Hitler invaded Holland in 1939. In the same month that Anne Frank went into hiding, Edith concealed herself in a Protestant family, concealing her identity behind their name. For her memoir, she mines her teenaged diaries and wartime letters, as well as her adult memories, to create an emotional depiction of the experience of living through the Holocaust, even as one-third of concealed Dutch Jews — including most of her family — were killed. Despite it all, though, Edith's life is a testament to the power of the love and courage of ordinary people.
It's 1943 Amsterdam, and Hanneke is mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines as the Nazis invaded — and she's also operating as a courier delivering black market goods, her small act of rebellion. But on one delivery, a desperate neighbor asks for help finding a person: a Jewish teenager she was hiding in a secret room who has vanished without a trace. Hanneke's work until now has been mostly safe, but she can't ignore Mrs. Janssen's pleas. Her efforts to find the missing teen will open her eyes to the true horrors that the Nazi regime means and compel her to take desperate action. Thought-provoking and gripping, this novel asks questions about love, guilt, and moral responsibility that will keep teens talking.
Living Through The Holocaust
It would do disservice to the topic to avoid discussing the reality of life in the concentration camps and ghettos. The confiscation of personal property and police violence in Jewish ghettos; to the “processing” of the camps — including number tattoos, stripping, and shaving — the forced labor; the deprivation of food and medical care; and at last the Final Solution: these books refuse to shy away from the experiences of those who lived and died in this horrible time. Due to the subject matter, these books are mainly for tweens and teens.
Ela Stein was 11 when she was sent to Terezin with her fellow Czech Jews; when the camp was liberated in 1945, she was 15. In the years in between, despite it all, she grew up, forging lifelong friendships with girls in the barracks, and even playing the pivotal role of the cat in a children's opera the adults helped them perform. Meanwhile, the specter of death — or the next closest thing, a spot on the transport trucks to the death camps — always loomed. This touching book beautifully captures the alternating joys and fears Ela experienced while in captivity in Terezin, creating a portrait of a unique coming of age.
"I was my family's ears." In 1940s Czechoslovakia, Renee had to be the one to alert her family if she heard Nazi soldiers approaching the door: her 8-year-old sister Herta and both of their parents were deaf. But they couldn't hide forever, and when her parents were taken away, Renee took Herta on the run, hoping to find someplace safe. Instead they were captured and sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. As they faced disease, starvation, and the deaths of dozens of people around them — and with Herta only able to communicate through sign language — they had to draw strength from one another in order to survive. Renee Hartman tells this compelling tale of sisterhood and survival in oral history format, capturing the power of love and stories to see you through dark times.
This book recounts the remarkable true story of Hana "Hanička" Bradová, a 13-year-old girl who was killed at Auschwitz, and Fumiko Ishioka, who as director of Tokyo's Holocaust Education Resource Center worked to discover and share Hana's story with Japanese children and the world. The story begins when a suitcase labeled "Hana Brady" arrives at the resource center. The children who saw the suitcase were full of questions about what happened to its owner. Ishioka embarks on a quest with her students to find the answers and uncovers Hana's story in the process.
Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor tells the shocking true story of her life in the lab of notorious Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death. When 10-year-old Eva and her twin sister Miriam arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp, they were selected for Mengele's lab, where he performed sadistic quasi-medical experiments on dozens of pairs of twins. No matter what happened, Eva knew she had to fight for her survival: if she died, her sister would be killed too. Kor also explores her recovery from the trauma and her remarkable — and freeing — decision to forgive the Nazis. This powerful and compelling memoir shines a light on the worst and best of humanity.
At first, Lida believes that she and her family are safe from the Nazis since they aren't Jewish. However, the Ukrainian girl can't escape the horrors of World War II. Lida is rounded up with other youth and sent to a brutal labor camp where she and other children will be forced to make German bombs until they drop. There, Lida comes up with a daring plan: sabotage the bombs. Her friends are eager to join her secret resistance, but if their deception is discovered, they'll surely be executed. Nevertheless, the chance to do their own, small part to end the war is too important to waste. Based on the real-life experience of countless Ukrainian and other Central and Eastern European children who were among the estimated 3 to 5 million Ostarbeiters (or "Eastern workers") used as slave labor in Nazi work camps, this historical fiction novel is not too graphic for younger readers, but still captures both the horrors of the camps and the courage of people like Lida who found ways to fight back against Nazi oppression.
Anita Lobel is a Caldecott-winning children’s illustrator, but few would guess her past from her drawings. Between age 5 and 10, Lobel and her family ran from the Nazis, only to be caught, marched from camp to camp, and forced to endure dehumanizing conditions. Lobel tells her story from the first person, in the voice of the child she was, and does not shrink from the terrors and horrors she experienced. Yet the final words of her epilogue capture the tremendous spirit that she and other survivors possess: “My life has been good. I want more.”
Marion Blumenthal was a young child when Hitler rose to power, and her family found themselves trapped in Nazi Germany. They eventually managed to escape to Holland, only for the German army to invade — and found themselves sent to Bergen-Belsen, a prison camp back inside Germany's borders. There, Marion convinced herself that, if she could find four pebbles of the same size and shape, it would be a sign: she and her family would survive, reunite, and find safety after the war. The twentieth anniversary edition of this powerful Holocaust memoir includes new material by the author and aditional photographs, as well as a reading group guide.
Jennifer Roy shares the experiences of her aunt, Syvia Perlmutter — one of only twelve children to survive the Lodz ghetto — in this harrowing story in free verse. Five chronological episodes tell a lightly fictionalized version of Perlmutter’s story, and are surrounded by historical notes about the period. Inspired by a series of taped phone interviews more than 50 years after the fact, this vividly descriptive book is haunting, both because of the subject matter and because of Roy’s admission that, until the moment her aunt picked up the phone, these were aspects of her family’s history that no one talked about.
This classic historical fantasy novel about life in the camps helps today's kids imagine themselves in the same situation. Hannah thinks Seder with her relatives is boring, and her grandfather and great-aunt, with their camp tattoos and grim stories, are upsetting. Why should she have to remember these terrible things that have nothing to do with her? But when Hannah is transported to 1940s Poland, stepping into the identity of Chaya, a girl her age, and experiences being shipped to a concentration camp first-hand, she learns more than she expected about compassion, identity, and memory.
In Auschwitz, making a birthday card was an act of defiance punishable by death — and yet, in 1944, a girl named Zlatka dared to do so for her friend Fania. After stealing and bartering for paper and scissors and carefully folding an origami heart, Zlatka and the other girls at the work tables filled the paper with wishes for happiness, love, and freedom. This novel in verse, which is based on the real story of Zlatka and Fania and one of the few art objects created within the walls of Auschwitz (now on display in the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre), aptly captures the vibrant culture and history of European Jewish communities that even the oppression of the concentration camps could not destroy.
When 14-year-old Ella is detained on her way home school and sent to a concentration camp, she discovers an opportunity for survival: the camp runs a sewing workshop where prisoners make high-fashion dresses for the wives of the Nazi elite. There, the work is less dangerous, and Ella can conceal the realities of the camp from herself... until she meets Rose. Rose is a political prisoner, and she has no illusions about the camp — or the Nazi Final Solution. As Rose opens Ella's eyes, and the last days of the war bring chaos to the camp, friendship may be the one thing that endures through it all. This poignant novel explores a little-known piece of Holocaust history through one girl's gripping story.
Life as a teenager in the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp was harrowing, physically grueling — and yet, somehow, still held potential for hope. Livia Bitton-Jackson, who was born Elli L. Friedmann in Czechoslovakia, was 13 when she, her mother, and her brother were taken to the camp. In a gripping first-person narrative, she talks about the roundups, selections, forced labor, shootings, and more. Yet, always, there is a sense of hope, and the victims in Bitton-Jackson’s tale never lose their humanity. This testament to the power of hope celebrates how love can carry people through the most horrifying circumstances imaginable.
When 14-year-old Dita is sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, she is selected for the propaganda 'family camp,' a front to convince the Red Cross that the camp is just for internment, not murder. After one of the prisoners sets up a secret school, he entrusts Dita with the job of block librarian, caring for eight precious books that have been smuggled past the guards. Her secret role as Librarian of Auschwitz gives Dita a sense of purpose — and the courage and hope she needs to survive one of the darkest chapters of human history. Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this book captures the incredible power of the human spirit to overcome hatred and violence.
Gucia Gomolinska was a smart, determined, and independent child who expected a life full of promise — but when the Nazis invaded Poland and established the first Jewish ghetto of the war in her hometown of Piotrków Trybunalski, she began to realize just what is at stake. Gucia's blond hair, fair skin, and fluent Polish provided a chance for escape: she reinvented herself as Danuta Barbara Tanska, a Polish Christian. This book, which is based on interviews with Tanska and her daughter, poignantly explores the choices that faced Tanska and other Jews like her, who had to abandon their family and friends to their fates in order to survive.
Esfir Manevich's story starts in a Polish town in 1936. In just a few short years, she goes from facing anti-Semitism at school to the bombing of her hometown, occupation by first the Russians and then the Germans, confinement in the ghetto, and then in 1942 — shortly before her thirteenth birthday — being forced onto cattle cars to be shipped out for "processing" at the mass killing fields of Bronna Góra. This work of historical fiction, inspired by three paragraphs of testimony from the sole survivor of Bronna Góra, is an unflinching look at how communities moved from prejudice to violence so quickly — and a reminder of the individual people who represent the statistics we quote about Holocaust casualties.
For Jewish twins Chaim and Gittel, the world feels like it's falling apart. Their incredibly close connection, which even includes a secret language, can't protect them from the dangers of the Nazi regime — or treachery from people they thought they could trust. At a forced labor camp, they face the terror of the ovens and the horror of medical experimentation by a twisted Nazi doctor. Only through Chaim's poetry and clinging to one another can they hope to survive. Jane Yolen returns to the Holocaust almost thirty years after The Devil's Arithmetic and Briar Rose to produce this haunting novel of evil and love.
When 14-year-old Dita and her family are taken from the Terezin ghetto in Prague to the Auschwitz concentration camp, her life becomes even more terrifying. The humiliation and danger from the Nazis seem inescapable, and it's hard for her to imagine that there is any hope at all. Then Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita for help: prisoners have managed to sneak eight books past the guards, and he needs someone to keep these precious volumes safe. It's a task that could put her in even more danger, but it also gives her a lifeline to cling to in the darkest of times. Based on the real-life story of Dita Kraus, whose story was originally told in a best-selling novel, this graphic novel adaptation is a testament to the power of books to help us survive.
When Rose Justice, an American ATA pilot and amateur poet, is captured by the Nazis, she expects to be treated as a prisoner of war. Instead, she is sent to the notorious Ravensbruck women's concentration camp, where she witnesses the true horrors of the Nazi's camps. There, she meets a group of young Polish women nicknamed the "rabbits": experimental subjects for Nazi medical officials' brutal tests. Rose's poetry will help give her strength to survive, but once she is free, can it give her the words to describe to the outside world the unthinkable depravity of what was done to the rabbits? This heartrending sequel to Elizabeth Wein's acclaimed novel Code Name Verity introduces young adult readers to a little-known aspect of Holocaust history, and depicts how no one left the camps without scars.
It's important to also remember the hope that sustained many camp residents, as well as to show that not all Germans — or even all Nazis — had no compassion for those they detained. When Riva’s widowed mother is arrested shortly after the invasion of Poland, she struggles to keep herself and her two brothers together as a family. When she is transported to Auschwitz, then other labor camps, she swears that she will survive to find her family. And when she becomes seriously ill, a camp doctor convinces the commandante to allow her to be treated in a civilian hospital — a kindness that saves her life.
12-year-old Anna Krawitz and her sister Lina are struggling to survive in the Warsaw Ghetto; ever since the Nazis invaded and they were imprisoned, the medical knowledge that fascinated Anna has been needed to keep friends and neighbors alive through starvation and illness. When Anna finds herself taking care of an orphaned baby, she musters the courage to do the one thing she's confident can save both her and the child: she escapes and goes into hiding, joining a Catholic family and changing their identities. Lina, however, stays behind, helping the resistance as a forger and eventually getting sent to the infamous Treblinka Camp. Both sisters will face hardship, fear, and the potential for death at every turn... but their determination to find one another again will help them endure. This poignant story of sisterhood is full of courage and hope.
Of course, an experience like the Holocaust does not end in the moment of liberation. The aftermath of separated families, seized property and traumatized people still resonates today. Still, some tales about the time after the Holocaust was over help to remind us all that, as long as there is life to be lived, good can be found in the world again.
The aftermath of these events is still a part of family histories around the world. This little girl's Hanukkah celebrations are made more meaningful by the story of her grandmother and her great-aunt Rose. In the midst of their struggle for survival in Buchenwald, they manage to steal one precious potato. Rather than eat it, though, the two women hollow it out and make a Hanukkah candle, celebrating the Festival of Light — and the dream of hope — in a place desperately lacking both. Today, in the midst of plenty, Grandma makes another potato candle and reminds her granddaughter of the power of love and hope to overcome the darkest of times.
Yaffa grew up in Eishyshok, Poland, a bustling town where her Grandma Alte ran a beloved photo studio. Every day, people would pose for Grandma Alte, celebrating special moments: weddings, bar mitzvahs, new babies, and more! Many of those photos were sent around the world before the Jewish New Year, as part of a tradition for wishing good health and happiness. When Nazi soldiers invaded the town, nearly 3,500 Jewish people, including Yaffa's friend, family, and neighbors, were wiped off the Earth. Yaffa survived, and in the aftermath, she had a mission: she would recover thousands of these photographs to build the Tower of Life, a stunning exhibit remembering the people she knew and loved. Today, the Tower of Life is a permanent exhibit at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. This poignant picture book is a tribute to the woman who dedicated her life to preserving these precious memories.
Ruth survived the Holocaust as a hidden child, concealing herself behind a couch or in a trunk with a tiny hole for air, and now she and her parents are free... but the war still haunts her. As displaced peoples in a war-ravaged Europe, they struggle to survive until the paperwork comes allowing them to emigrate to America. When it finally arrives, Ruth starts a new life in Brooklyn, but she speaks little English and struggles with nightmares and flashbacks. And yet she continues to hope that America can become a home. This powerful novel about the aftermath of war and atrocity is a timely read, reminding young readers that the impact of these events — past and present — lingers with people long after the violence is over.
When 8th grader Shirli is cast in Fiddler on the Roof right after 9/11, she decides to look in her grandfather's attic for props and inspiration. She's surprised to find an old violin in the corner, even though Zayde seems to hate music — and when she shows it to him, she's shocked by his anger and pain. Still, she keeps trying to connect with Zayde, slowly unlocking family history: joining his family's klezmer band, being sent to Auschwitz, and then being forced to play music while fellow prisoners, including his family, were sent to the gas chambers. This novel, perfect for fans of The Devil's Arithmetic and Hana's Suitcase, is a powerful reminder of how close this history actually is — and how it still impacts our present.
This graphic novel treatment of a fictional Holocaust aftermath story captures the uncertainty that so many survivors of the Holocaust faced. Esther tells her grandson Daniel about how she escaped from the Nazis by hiding in the countryside — and how her parents were not able to follow her. She knows that they both died in the camps, but with Daniel by her side, Esther decides to learn the stories of the last months of her parents’ lives. While this graphic novel does address the experiences of those who lived and died in the concentration camps, it also captures a common experience of survivors after the war: a desperate desire to learn the fate of those they loved.
Lily Renee Wilhelm was 14 years old when the Nazis marched into Austria, and her life was changed forever. Terrified of what Nazi rule means, Lily Renee’s parents send her to England alone, to wait until they can join her. Lily struggles to learn a new language and takes what work she can find until she receives words from her parents, who have made their way to America, and overcomes unexpected obstacles in order to join them. After responding to a newspaper ad, Lily finds an unexpected career as a comic illustrator — and becomes a pioneer for women in the comic industry. Detailed endnotes provide additional context to Wilheim's story both during and after the war.
When three girls at a Kansas high school stumbled across a reference to a woman who had rescued thousands of Jewish children named Irena Sendler, their teacher encouraged them to find out more. What they discovered was an inspiring story of heroism that was nearly lost forever. They wrote a play called "Life in a Jar," which was first performed in their hometown... and then in New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, and finally Poland, where it made Sendler a national hero once again. This book is the story of both Sendler's remarkable rescue efforts and of the girls who brought her story back into the light.
14-year-old Gerta Richter was a talented singer with a promising future — until June 1944, when Nazi soldiers burst into her home and she found out that her Papa had spent years concealing their Jewish heritage. She survived to liberation, but her father didn't... and without her music, and unsure of her place in the world, Gerta's not sure she'll find a way to move on. In a displaced persons camp, though, she meets Lev, a fellow teen survivor. As she grows closer to Lev, Gerta begins to accept her new Jewish identity, and even sees the possibility of music entering her life again. This powerful novel, with haunting spot images and larger illustrations that capture the deep emotion of the text, explores the challenges that faced survivors of the Holocaust, who had to try to rebuild lives that could never be the same.
Rebecca has always been enchanted by her grandmother Gemma's violent version of Sleeping Beauty featuring black boots, shining eagles, and a deadly mist, in which no one but the heroine lives happily ever after. But she's shocked when Gemma makes a proclamation on her deathbed: "I am Briar Rose." Her determination to fulfill her promise to "find the castle, find the prince, and find the spell-maker" — and her need to tease out Gemma's truth from Gemma's fiction — leads Rebecca on a heartrending journey to Poland and into history: into the heart of the concentration camps and the imagination of a woman who used stories to manage the horrors she had seen. Jane Yolen expertly uses fantasy to show how the stories we create can both protect and sustain us.
18-year-old Zofia is struggling to heal her body and rebuild her mind after liberation from Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945. Three years ago, everyone in her family except her brother, Abek, as sent to the gas ovens; now, she can't remember the last time she saw Abek, but she knows she promised to find him. At a displaced persons camp, she meets others like her, trying to find a life after the horrors of the Holocaust, and even starts to feel like she could love someone again. But Zofia's trauma makes her memory unreliable, and she begins to wonder what exactly she will discover if she can put the pieces together. This stunning historical mystery by award-winning author Monica Hesse explores how the Holocaust affected survivors — and the incredible ability of humanity to overcome evil.
"I believe in the sun / even when it is not shining....” — Anonymous poem written on the wall of a cellar in the Cologne concentration camp
Historical periods like the Holocaust shine a harsh light on the best and the worst of humanity. The easy course is to decide that these topics are too complicated, too frightening, too uncomfortable to share with children. But those who lived and died in that horrible time — those who ran, those who hid, those who protected others — deserve more from us than that. They deserve to know that we will remember.
- To view more books about the Holocaust for young readers, visit our World War II & Holocaust section.
- To read more about Irena Sendler, one of the Holocaust rescuers featured above, visit our Irena Sendler collection.
- For more Anne Frank-related book, visit our Anne Frank collection.
- For an excellent film about German anti-Nazi resistance leader Sophie Scholl, visit Sophie Scholl - The Final Days.
- For more books about religious intolerance of all types, visit our Religious Discrimination book section.