Conversation Starters: The Holocaust

Recently, I've become pretty obsessed with the Holocaust and the history of anti-semitism. Not in the completely cold-hearted, slightly spock-like way that I'm often obsessed with crime dramas, but because I want to try to understand what made such a horrible thing happen. I want to pick up the scattered historical pieces, make sure that it never happens again - that the current genocides, in Darfur and Syria and Burma, don't just keep being ignored - and make this world a more equal place.

Mostly, I want to hear people's stories.

Hopefully, you'll want to hear people's stories too, because then we can start having conversations. The Holocaust might be near-buried in our past, but it needs to be dug up again, because similar genocides - and anti-semitism - are an all-too horrible part of the present. 

If you do, then these books are where you can start. Where I started, anyway.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

No-one can mention the Holocaust or WWII literature without Anne Frank's diary. And classics become classics for a reason: what makes that book so special to me isn't just the horrible things she went through, her raw and matter-of-fact descriptions of them, or even the amazing ways she bore everything.

It was the fact that, before all of that, she was just a normal thirteen year old girl.

We might not be able to imagine even half the horror of being cooped up in three rooms as one of eight people for years, sitting in complete silence for the whole day so no-one hears anything. But we've all lived a version of the joy that comes from forming a table tennis club with your best friends, or scrounging ice-cream sundaes from boys who flirt with you.

Reading how someone exactly like us bore the horrors of that period is a true testament to the human spirit, and the most important part of this book is the truth of it. Anne humanises the heartbreak: our brains struggle to even comprehend what six million deaths look like, but one? We can imagine that all too well.

Night by Elie Wiesel

This is another beautiful account from a survivor that absolutely sings with realism and the emotional numbness of trauma, but what makes it different to Young Girl - and gives it its unique poignancy - is that it was written by a survivor years after the event. It's almost chilling when you think of how much those horrible memories must have seared themselves onto a young boy's memory, and truly eye-opening to read about them through the lens of someone who's had years to reflect on what impact they had on his life.

This book is powerful, deep (layers like an onion), and masterfully open to interpretation. What I love is how many hidden meanings you can understand from just thinking about some of the words; I'm sure, were I to re-read it, that I would have an almost entirely different interpretation.

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

I don't want to tell you too much about this story, because the blurb itself tells you to go in with an open mind (and I would be an absolutely awful book blogger if I DISOBEYED a BLURB) but it's about a little boy called Bruno who doesn't understand what's going on.

But he isn't necessarily on the side you would expect. And World War Two is no place for any child.

Please, please read at least one of these books if you're the least bit interested in what happened. It's important that those stories get told to someone.

In the comments: Do you have any more books about the Holocaust to share? What other historical periods do I need to investigate? And why are YOU interested in the Holocaust?
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  1. My friend Val and I just hosted a whole event on WWII last month, so you're about to get hit with a huge amount of recommendations! Between Shades of Gray & Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein are all incredibly heartbreaking but different from the standard WWII book. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky—she actually died in Auschwitz before this book was completed, but it's really beautiful. Okay, so I'm stopping there before I mention every book I've ever read. I'm sorry, this is just a topic I'm really passionate about!

    Ely @ Tea & Titles

    1. Don't apologise for such an interesting passion! (Also you just gave me a bunch of awesome-sounding recommendations; I'm fairly sure I owe you the blood of my firstborn child. Or chocolate. I need to check.) Thank you so much for visiting, and your event sounds really cool. Is it something you're thinking of doing again?

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  2. Yeah, we're definitely thinking about hosting it again next year. I'm organising a little mini event around Anne Frank's birthday too (June 12th), if you're interested :)

    1. That's so great to hear! After flicking through all of the Entries of the Secret Annexe, I need to see more, and so I will await June 12th with bated breath. Are you looking for contributors?

    2. Absolutely. The more posts about this topic out there the better!

    3. I'd love to link up or something! Do you want to email me at to discuss?

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  4. I read the start of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but for some reason I put it down and never touched it again! I'll have to go back and read it again - I can't believe I forgot about it, because I remember being really interested in it, and loving Bruno! :/
    Geraldine @ Corralling Books

    1. Yes! Go read! Bruno is such a brilliantly innocent character.


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