Ear­li­er this week, Gwen Edel­man wrote about build­ing a walled ghet­to in the mid­dle of a city and a recent vis­it to War­saw. Her most recent nov­el, The Train to War­saw (Grove Press), is now avail­able. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I start­ed read­ing about the fate of the Jews dur­ing the Sec­ond World War when I was eleven. No one I knew ever men­tioned the sub­ject, but I just became obsessed and have con­tin­ued to read about it ever since. 

One read­ing expe­ri­ence I par­tic­u­lar­ly remem­ber is Frag­ments” by Ben­jamin Wilkomirs­ki. Because I had already read so many mem­oirs by Jews about their expe­ri­ences dur­ing the war, I imme­di­ate­ly thought some­thing was wrong. All the mem­oirs I had read before were char­ac­ter­ized by very clear recall of details, but this mem­oir instead was vague and float­ing. While I thought it was a good book, some­thing just did­n’t ring true. Offer­ing him the ben­e­fit of the doubt, I remind­ed myself that Wilkomirs­ki was only two years old dur­ing the Holo­caust and that his mem­o­ries might be float­ing in gauze like this because of his young age. I had nev­er read a mem­oir by some­one that young. But, as you prob­a­bly know, it turned out he had invent­ed the whole thing. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I was not sur­prised at all. Rather, I was only sur­prised that he had not called it a nov­el. And a very good and imag­i­na­tive one, too.

Here is a list of ten books which are, for me, some of the most pow­er­ful and most mean­ing­ful books con­cern­ing (in most, but not all cas­es) the fate of the Jews dur­ing the Sec­ond World War:

Into That Dark­ness by Git­ta Sereny
A por­trait of Franz Stan­gel, com­man­dant of Tre­blin­ka, based on exten­sive inter­views by one of the out­stand­ing jour­nal­ists of our time.

Kaputt: A Nov­el by Curzio Malaparte
A sting­ing­ly irrev­er­ent, cru­el, and bril­liant look at the war in some of the places where Mala­parte, a diplo­mat, spent those years: Rus­sia, Poland, Fin­land, Romania.

The Skin: A Nov­el by Curzio Malaparte
The trag­ic and cor­rupt car­ni­val of life in Naples from 1943 until the end of the war.

Life and Fate: A Nov­el by Vasi­ly Grossman
An extra­or­di­nary and epic nov­el with a huge cast of Russ­ian and Ger­man char­ac­ters cen­tered around the bat­tle of Stal­in­grad. One of the
great nov­els of the twen­ti­eth century.

The Gen­er­al of the Dead Army: A Nov­el by Ismail Kadare
A bril­liant nov­el by one of the great­est con­tem­po­rary writ­ers. Set in Alba­nia 20 years after the war, the sto­ry fol­lows an Ital­ian gen­er­al and an Ital­ian priest to Alba­nia where they are to retrieve and repa­tri­ate the bones of Ital­ian sol­diers who died dur­ing the Ital­ian occu­pa­tion of Albania.

Mr. Samm­ler’s Plan­et: A Nov­el by Saul Bel­low
Far-rang­ing med­i­ta­tions by a Holo­caust sur­vivor now liv­ing in New York.

His­to­ry: A Nov­el by Elsa Morante
One after­noon in 1941 in Rome, an Ital­ian woman is raped by a Ger­man sol­dier and gives birth to a boy. The sto­ry of this strange boy and his old­er broth­er in wartime Rome, and the wom­an’s deter­mi­na­tion that her two boys sur­vive is the dra­ma of ordi­nary peo­ple caught up in a hor­rif­ic war with which they they had noth­ing to do.

The Peri­od­ic Table by Pri­mo Levi
In which Levi, him­self a chemist, dis­cov­ers that a Ger­man chemist with whom he has been cor­re­spond­ing and with whom he has placed an order, had been the chief of a lab­o­ra­to­ry in Auschwitz where Levi him­self had been a prisoner.

The Holo­caust King­dom by Alexan­der Donat 
One of the best non-fic­tion accounts of day-to-day exis­tence dur­ing the Holo­caust. Donat and his wife and child were in the War­saw Ghet­to. He and his wife were lat­er deport­ed to nine dif­fer­ent death camps.

Words To Out­live Us: Eye­wit­ness Accounts from the War­saw Ghet­to edit­ed by Michal Grynberg
A col­lec­tive mem­oir by many voic­es of expe­ri­ences of the War­saw Ghet­to. Extreme­ly pow­er­ful and imme­di­ate accounts.

Gwen Edelman’s first nov­el, War Sto­ry, was trans­lat­ed into eight lan­guages, won the Prix du Pre­mier Roman Etranger in France, and was a Koret Jew­ish Book Award final­ist. Her most recent nov­el, The Train to War­saw(Grove Press), is now available. 

Relat­ed Content:

Gwen Edel­man’s first nov­el, War Sto­ry, was trans­lat­ed into eight lan­guages, won the Prix du Pre­mier Roman Etranger in France, and was Koret Jew­ish Book Award final­ist. She lived for many years in Paris and now lives in New York.While work­ing on The Train to War­saw, Gwen walked the entire for­mer War­saw Ghet­to: north to south, east to west.