January 27 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and is designated by the United Nations General Assembly as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
This is a time to remember the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and the millions of other victims of Nazi persecution.
As we continue to witness alarming acts of antisemitism both here locally and around the world, it is important to recognize the critical lessons of Holocaust history as we commemorate the victims and honor the survivors.
Mistress of Life and Death: The Dark Journey of Maria Mandl, Head Overseer of the Women’s Camp at Auschwitz- Birkenau (2023), by Susan J. Eischeid.
By the time of her execution at thirty-six, Maria Mandl had achieved the highest rank possible for a woman in the Third Reich. As Head Overseer of the women’s camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, she was personally responsible for the murders of thousands, and for the torture and suffering of countless more.
In this riveting biography, Susan J. Eischeid explores how Maria Mandl, regarded locally as “a nice girl from a good family,” came to embody the very worst of humanity. Born in 1912 in the scenic Austrian village of Münzkirchen, Maria enjoyed a happy childhood with loving parents—who later watched in anguish as their grown daughter rose through the Nazi system.
Mandl’s life mirrors the period in which she lived: turbulent, violent, and suffused with paradoxes. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, she founded the notable women’s orchestra and “adopted” several children from the transports—only to lead them to the gas chambers when her interest waned. After the war, Maria was arrested for crimes against humanity. Following a public trial attended by the international press, she was hanged in 1948.
For two decades, Eischeid has excavated the details of Mandl’s life story, drawing on archival testimonies, speaking to dozens of witnesses, and spending time with Mandl’s community of friends and neighbors who shared their memories as well as those handed down in their families. The result is a chilling and complex exploration of how easily an ordinary citizen chose the path of evil in a climate of hate and fear.
The Last Secret of the Secret Annex: The Untold Story of Anne Frank, Her Silent Protector, and a Family Betrayal (2023), by Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl and Jeroen De Bruyn.
Anne Frank’s life has been studied by many scholars, but the story of Bep Voskuijl has remained untold, until now. As the youngest of the five Dutch people who hid the Frank family, Bep was Anne’s closest confidante during the 761 excruciating days she spent hidden in the Secret Annex. Bep, who was just twenty-three when the Franks went into hiding, risked her life to protect them, plunging into Amsterdam’s black market to source food and medicine for people who officially didn’t exist under the noses of German soldiers and Dutch spies. In those cramped quarters, Bep and Anne’s friendship bloomed through deep conversations, shared meals, and a youthful understanding.
Told by her own son, The Last Secret of the Secret Annex intertwines the story of Bep and her sister Nelly with Anne’s iconic narrative. Nelly’s name may have been scrubbed from Anne’s published diary, but Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl and Jeroen De Bruyn expose details about her collaboration with the Nazis, a deeply held family secret. After the war, Bep tried to bury her memories just as the Secret Annex was becoming world famous as a symbol of resistance to the Nazi horrors. She never got over losing Anne nor could Bep put to rest the horrifying suspicion that those in the Annex had been betrayed by her own flesh and blood.
This is a story about those caught in between the Jewish victims and Nazi persecutors, and the moral ambiguities and hard choices faced by ordinary families like the Voskuijls, in which collaborators and resisters often lived under the same roof.
Beautifully written and unsettlingly suspenseful, The Last Secret of the Secret Annex will show us the Secret Annex as we’ve never seen it before. And it provides a powerful understanding of how historical trauma is inherited from one generation to the next and how sometimes keeping a secret hurts far more than revealing a shameful truth.
Two Roads Home: Hitler, Stalin, and the Miraculous Survival of My Family (2023), by Daniel Finkelstein.
In Two Roads Home beloved British journalist Daniel Finkelstein tells the extraordinary story of the years before his mother met his father—years of war and trials they barely survived.
Daniel Finkelstein’s grandfather was a German Jewish intellectual leader who tolled an early warning of the impending Holocaust and became an archivist of Nazi crimes. He relocated his family to safety in Amsterdam, where they knew Anne Frank. But in those years safety was an illusion: Anne Frank famously went into hiding and Daniel’s mother, Mirjam, also still a child, was sent to Bergen-Belsen with her mother and sisters.
Finkelstein’s father, Ludwik, grew up in a prosperous Jewish family in Poland where his father, Dolu was a patriotic hero of the Great War. But when Stalin took control, Dolu, was deported to Siberia and Ludwik and his mother were sentenced to forced labor in Kazakhstan, starved and housed in a stable in freezing conditions.
Two Roads Home is a page-turning account of the narrow escapes, forged passports, ingenuity, bravery, and luck that allowed Mirjam and Ludwik to survive the war and find each other. Using their personal testimony, letters sent to Siberia, a diary written in Belsen, and years of historical research, Daniel Finkelstein tells what happened to two families, one the victim of the Nazis, the other of the Soviets. A tale of deliverance and triumph over evil, Two Roads Home will profoundly touch all who read it.
My Friend Anne Frank: The Inspiring and Heartbreaking True Story of Best Friends Torn Apart and Reunited Against All Odds (2023), by Hannah Pick-Goslar.
In 1933, Hannah Pick-Goslar and her family fled Nazi Germany to live in Amsterdam, where she struck up a close friendship with her next-door neighbor, an outspoken and fun-loving young girl named Anne Frank. For several years, the inseparable pair enjoyed a carefree childhood of games, sleepovers, and treats with the other children in their neighborhood of Rivierenbuurt. But in 1942, Hannah and Anne’s lives abruptly changed forever. As the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam progressed, Anne and the Frank family seemingly vanished, leaving behind unmade beds and dishes in the sink—but no trace of Anne’s precious diary. Torn from her dear friend without warning, Hannah spent the next two years tormented by questions about Anne’s fate, wondering if she had, by some miracle, managed to escape danger.
In this long‑awaited memoir, Hannah shares the story of her childhood during the Holocaust, from the introduction of anti-Jewish laws in Amsterdam to the gradual disappearance of classmates and, eventually, the Frank family, to Hannah and her family’s imprisonment in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. As Hannah chronicles the experiences of her own life during and after the war, she provides a searing look at what countless children endured at the hands of the Nazi regime, as well as an intimate, never‑before‑seen portrait of the most recognizable victim of the Holocaust. Culminating in an astonishing fateful reunion, My Friend Anne Frank is the profoundly moving story of childhood and friendship during one of the darkest periods in the world’s history.
A Castle in Brooklyn: A Novel (2023), by Shirley Russak Wachtel.
1944, Poland. Jacob Stein and Zalman Mendelson meet as boys under terrifying circumstances. They survive by miraculously escaping, but their shared past haunts and shapes their lives forever.
Years later, Zalman plows a future on a Minnesota farm. In Brooklyn, Jacob has a new life with his wife, Esther. When Zalman travels to New York City to reconnect, Jacob’s hopes for the future are becoming a reality. With Zalman’s help, they build a house for Jacob’s family and for Zalman, who decides to stay. Modest and light filled, inviting and warm with acceptance―for all of them, it’s a castle to call home.
Then an unforeseeable tragedy―and the grief, betrayals, and revelations in its wake―threatens to destroy what was once an unbreakable bond, and Esther finds herself at a crossroads. A Castle in Brooklyn is a moving and heartfelt immigration story about finding love and building a home and family while being haunted by a traumatic past.
Young Adult / Teen Fiction
The Librarian of Auschwitz: The Graphic Novel (2023), by Antonio Iturbe, Loreto Aroca, and Lilit Žekulin Thwaites.
The Librarian of Auschwitz is ideal for readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Choice, this graphic novel is the story of the smallest library in the world – and the most dangerous. Based on a true story, it is an extraordinary novel of courage and hope by Antonio Iturbe and Loreto Aroca.
‘It wasn’t an extensive library. In fact, it consisted of eight books and some of them were in poor condition. But they were books. In this incredibly dark place, they were a reminder of less sombre times, when words rang out more loudly than machine guns . . .’
Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the ‘living books’ – prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be ‘borrowed’ to educate the children in the camp.
But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children’s block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the transgressor . . .
Based on the incredible and moving true story of Dita Kraus, holocaust survivor and secret librarian for the children’s block in Auschwitz.