Share Remembering the Holocaust 75 Years Later: 9 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Survivors and Their Families

Remembering the Holocaust 75 Years Later: 9 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Survivors and Their Families

Alice Martin is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Rutgers University, where she obsesses over nineteenth-century women writers, the history of the publishing industry, and writing practices. She’s also a regular contributor to Shelf Awareness and a freelance writer and editor. Her writing has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Appalachian Heritage, and Sixfold among other publications. You can find her talking about books, food, and basketball (in that order) on Twitter @AliceJeanMartin.

There are periods in history that redefine what is imaginable. On the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, and a few days before VE Day, we want to highlight nine memoirs that attempt to communicate the seemingly inexpressible: The Holocaust and the scars it left behind. These vivid, unforgettable, and candid accounts grapple with concepts of remembrance and loss, the will to survive in the face of devastation, and the extremes of our own humanity and inhumanity. As memoirs, they struggle to convey what cannot be simply captured by locating the heart of personal experience and combating the impersonal documentation of a depersonalized event.  


The Choice
by Edith Eva Eger

An award-winning, New York Times bestseller, THE CHOICE details the inspirational journey of Edith Eger’s survival and her life-long process of healing. At the age of sixteen, Edith was sent to Auschwitz where her parents were killed. Upon the camp’s liberation in 1945, a soldier pulled Edie from a pile of corpses. In the years the followed, Edie struggled with survivor’s guilt and only began to forgive herself after revisiting Auschwitz decades later. As Eger meditates on the psychology behind her journey, she shares the stories of other survivors she has since helped heal.  

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The Choice
Edith Eva Eger

A New York Times Bestseller

“I’ll be forever changed by Dr. Eger’s story…The Choice is a reminder of what courage looks like in the worst of times and that we all have the ability to pay attention to what we’ve lost, or to pay attention to what we still have.”—Oprah

“Dr. Eger’s life reveals our capacity to transcend even the greatest of horrors and to use that suffering for the benefit of others. She has found true freedom and forgiveness and shows us how we can as well.” —Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

“Dr. Edith Eva Eger is my kind of hero. She survived unspeakable horrors and brutality; but rather than let her painful past destroy her, she chose to transform it into a powerful gift—one she uses to help others heal.” —Jeannette Walls, New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Castle

Winner of the National Jewish Book Award and Christopher Award

At the age of sixteen, Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz. Hours after her parents were killed, Nazi officer Dr. Josef Mengele, forced Edie to dance for his amusement and her survival. Edie was pulled from a pile of corpses when the American troops liberated the camps in 1945.

Edie spent decades struggling with flashbacks and survivor’s guilt, determined to stay silent and hide from the past. Thirty-five years after the war ended, she returned to Auschwitz and was finally able to fully heal and forgive the one person she’d been unable to forgive—herself.

Edie weaves her remarkable personal journey with the moving stories of those she has helped heal. She explores how we can be imprisoned in our own minds and shows us how to find the key to freedom. The Choice is a life-changing book that will provide hope and comfort to generations of readers.

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My Train to Freedom
by Ivan A. Backer

In May 1939, ten-year-old Ivan Backer boarded one of the final Kindertransport trains out of Czechoslovakia, bound for the United Kingdom. From this dangerous escape, Ivan went on to spend his boarding school years in England and then journeyed to America in 1944. In the years that followed, Ivan became an award-winning humanitarian and Episcopal priest who continued to grapple with the question of why he was spared from the Holocaust. In MY TRAIN TO FREEDOM, Backer’s unforgettable tale is brought together with other historical contexts and harrowing first-person accounts from his family.  

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My Train to Freedom
Ivan A. Backer

The breathtaking memoir by a member of “Nicky’s family,” a group of 669 Czechoslovakian children who escaped the Holocaust through Sir Nicholas Winton’s Kindertransport project, My Train to Freedom relates the trials and achievements of award-winning humanitarian and former Episcopal priest, Ivan Backer.

As Backer recounts in his memoir, in May of 1939 as a ten-year-old Jewish boy, he fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia for the United Kingdom aboard one of the Kindertransport trains organized by Nicholas Winton, a young London stockbroker. The final train was canceled September 1 when Hitler invaded Poland. The 250 children scheduled for that train were left on the platform and later transported to concentration camps and presumably perished.

Detailed in this page-turning true story is Backer’s dangerous escape, his boyhood in England, his perilous 1944 voyage to America, and his mantra today. Now he is an eighty-six-year-old who remains an activist for peace and justice. He has been influenced by his Jewish heritage, his Christian boarding school education in England, and the always present question, “For what purpose was I spared the Holocaust?”

My Train to Freedom was thoroughly researched and shaped by Backer’s own memories. It includes interviews he conducted in 1980 in Czech with his mother and her sister, later translated into English; a collection of conversations he had with his older brother and cousin; insights gained from the Czech film, Nicky’s Family, about the Kindertransport; and concludes with never-before-published death march accounts by two family members.

Skyhorse Publishing, along with our Arcade, Good Books, Sports Publishing, and Yucca imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. Our list includes biographies on well-known historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Nelson Mandela, and Alexander Graham Bell, as well as villains from history, such as Heinrich Himmler, John Wayne Gacy, and O. J. Simpson. We have also published survivor stories of World War II, memoirs about overcoming adversity, first-hand tales of adventure, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

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They Shall Not Have Me
by Jean Hélion

Before the war, Jean Hélion was a French painter who helped to shape the foundations of modern art. But like many in his generation, Hélion’s life and future were reshaped by the war in which he became a soldier. After Hélion’s platoon was captured by the German army, he was sent to a hard labor, prisoner-of-war camp. In his sensational, bestselling memoir, THEY SHALL NOT HAVE ME, he details not only the surrealism of life within the camp, but the unbelievable, explosive adventure of his escape from the Nazis.  

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They Shall Not Have Me
Jean Hélion

A daring story of imprisonment and escape under the Nazi regime and a moving and engrossing symbol of resilience and integrity.

The French painter Jean Hélion’s unique and deeply moving account of his experiences in Nazi prisoner of war camps prefigures the even darker stories that would emerge from the concentration camps. This serious adventure tale begins with Hélion’s infantry platoon fleeing from the German army and warplanes as they advanced through France in the early days of the war. The soldiers chant as they march and run, “They shall not have me!” but are quickly captured and sent to hard labor.

Writing in English in 1943, after his risky escape to freedom in the United States, Hélion vividly depicts the sights, sounds, and smells of the camps, and shrewdly sizes up both captors and captured. In the deep humanity, humor, and unsentimental intelligence of his observations, we can recognize the artist whose long career included friendships with the likes of Mondrian, Giacometti, and Balthus, and an important role in shaping modern art movements. Hélion’s picture of almost two years without his art is a self-portrait of the artist as a man.

Skyhorse Publishing, along with our Arcade, Good Books, Sports Publishing, and Yucca imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. Our list includes biographies on well-known historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Nelson Mandela, and Alexander Graham Bell, as well as villains from history, such as Heinrich Himmler, John Wayne Gacy, and O. J. Simpson. We have also published survivor stories of World War II, memoirs about overcoming adversity, first-hand tales of adventure, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

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Sala's Gift
by Ann Kirschner

In this tale of legacy, remembrance, and the bond between a mother and her daughter, Ann Kirschner lovingly shares the story her indomitable mother, Sala, kept a lifelong secret. Sala, who survived five years in seven different Nazi workcamps, moved to America after the war. There, she raised a family and never spoke a word of her horrific journey, but silently collected letters, diaries, and photographs that documented it. On the eve of heart surgery, she finally shared the materials that would later become this heartbreaking, intimate memoir with her daughter. 

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Sala's Gift
Ann Kirschner

"Ann Kirschner allows her mother's poignant story to emerge from these heartbreaking missives, filling in the gaps with a dignified, quietly eloquent connecting narrativean incredible journey through hell and back" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

For nearly fifty years, Sala Kirschner kept a secret: She had survived five years as a slave in seven different Nazi work camps. Living in America after the war, she kept hidden from her children any hint of her epic, inhuman odyssey. She held on to more than 350 letters, photographs, and a diary without ever mentioning them. Only in 1991, on the eve of heart surgery, did she suddenly present them to Ann, her daughter, and offer to answer any questions Ann wished to ask.

When Sala first reported to a camp in Geppersdorf, Germany, at the age of sixteen, she thought it would be for six weeks. Five years later, she was still at a labor camp and only she and two of her sisters remained alive of an extended family of fifty.

Sala's Gift is a heartbreaking, eye-opening story of survival and love amidst history's worst nightmare.

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Night
by Elie Wiesel

A foundational piece of Holocaust literature, NIGHT is the thoughtful and brutal memoir from Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. With unflinching precision, Wiesel recounts his time as a teenager in Nazi death camps, producing a portrait of the nightmarish horrors that became everyday life. Forming the bedrock beneath the narrative, however, are the philosophical and existential questions that haunt both personal experiences and historical remembrances of the Holocaust: How did this happen? What kind of humanity could have produced this suffering? And who did we have to be to survive it?  

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Night
Elie Wiesel

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Rena's Promise
by Rena Kornreich Gelissen & Heather Dune Macadam

A testament to the bonds between women, RENA’S PROMISE tells the story of two sisters’ lives together in the Nazi death camps. Rena Kornreich, after being sent to Auschwitz on the first Jewish transport, reconnects with her sister Danka and is determined to honor her promise to her mother to protect her sister. It is this promise and their bond that keeps Rena going through unimaginable inhumanity. While the memoir focuses on the bond of sisterhood, it also honors the sometimes fleeting but always life-saving connects that can form in an instant between strangers during unthinkable times.   

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Rena's Promise
Rena Kornreich Gelissen & Heather Dune Macadam

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Four Perfect Pebbles
by Lila Perl & Marion Blumenthal Lazan

In FOUR PERFECT PEBBLES, Marion Blumenthal and her family – her mother, father, and brother, Albert – embark on a terrifying, unbelievable odyssey through Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. Trapped in Nazi Germany during Marion’s childhood, the family survives on scraps only to make it to Holland, which was soon occupied by the Nazis. For six and a half years the Blumenthals lived in hiding and prison camps, surviving through love and sheer force of will. This moving memoir traces the story of one family’s survival against all odds. 

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Four Perfect Pebbles
Lila Perl & Marion Blumenthal Lazan

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When Time Stopped
by Ariana Neumann

Part detective story and part multi-generational saga, WHEN TIME STOPPED is Ariana Neumann’s memoir about her father’s incredible survival in 1940s Berlin. Hans Neumann, whose Jewish family members were beginning to perish in the Holocaust, decided that his best chance at survival was hiding in plain sight in Berlin. Years later, once the war ended and Hans had relocated to Venezuela, he did not share his story with his children but left his daughter clues after his death that would lead her to uncover an inconceivable story of horror and bravery. 

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When Time Stopped
Ariana Neumann

In this remarkably moving memoir Ariana Neumann dives into the secrets of her father’s past: years spent hiding in plain sight in war-torn Berlin, the annihilation of dozens of family members in the Holocaust, and the courageous choice to build anew.

In 1941, the first Neumann family member was taken by the Nazis, arrested in German-occupied Czechoslovakia for bathing in a stretch of river forbidden to Jews. He was transported to Auschwitz. Eighteen days later his prisoner number was entered into the morgue book.

Of thirty-four Neumann family members, twenty-five were murdered by the Nazis. One of the survivors was Hans Neumann, who, to escape the German death net, traveled to Berlin and hid in plain sight under the Gestapo’s eyes. What Hans experienced was so unspeakable that, when he built an industrial empire in Venezuela, he couldn’t bring himself to talk about it. All his daughter Ariana knew was that something terrible had happened.

When Hans died, he left Ariana a small box filled with letters, diary entries, and other memorabilia. Ten years later Ariana finally summoned the courage to have the letters translated, and she began reading. What she discovered launched her on a worldwide search that would deliver indelible portraits of a family loving, finding meaning, and trying to survive amid the worst that can be imagined.

When Time Stopped is an unputdownable detective story and an epic family memoir, spanning nearly ninety years and crossing oceans. Neumann brings each relative to vivid life. In uncovering her father’s story after all these years, she discovers nuance and depth to her own history and liberates poignant and thought-provoking truths about the threads of humanity that connect us all.

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The Escape Artist
by Helen Fremont

Helen’s family has mastered the art of secret-keeping. Coping with memories of the Holocaust, her parents have managed to compartmentalize every aspect of their lives, emotions, and memories, and have taught their children the art of self-concealment as well. Years later, after discovering she’d been disinherited from her mother’s will, Helen begins an exploration into the complex layers of her family’s knotted dynamic in search of self-revelation and, ultimately, an escape from the escapism that kept them all hidden. Caustic, funny, and astute, THE ESCAPE ARTIST is a unique exploration of the Holocaust’s scar tissue.  

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The Escape Artist
Helen Fremont

A luminous family memoir from the author of the critically acclaimed Boston Globe bestseller, After Long Silence, lauded as “mesmerizing” (The Washington Post Book World), “extraordinary” (The Philadelphia Inquirer), and “a triumphant work of art” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

In the tradition of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home or George Hodgman’s Bettyville, Fremont writes with wit and candor about growing up in a household held together by a powerful glue: secrets. Her parents, profoundly affected by their memories of the Holocaust, pass on, to both Helen and her older sister, a penchant for keeping their lives neatly, even obsessively compartmentalized, and a zealous determination to protect themselves from what they see as danger from the outside world.

She delves deeply into the family dynamic that produced such a startling devotion to secret keeping, beginning with the painful and unexpected discovery that she has been disinherited in her mother’s will. In scenes that are frank, moving, and often surprisingly funny, Fremont writes about growing up in such an intemperate household, with parents who pretended to be Catholics but were really Jews—survivors of Nazi-occupied Poland. She shares tales of family therapy sessions, disordered eating, her sister’s frequently unhinged meltdowns, and her own romantic misadventures as she tries to sort out her sexual identity.

In a family devoted to hiding the truth, Fremont learns the truth is the one thing that can set you free. Scorching, witty, and ultimately redemptive, The Escape Artist is a powerful contribution to the memoir shelf.

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