Memoirs of former prisoners or soldiers of Nazi camps

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Memoirs of former prisoners or soldiers of Nazi camps

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okt 26, 2012, 3:35am

I visited last week Terezin concentration camp near Prague and I will visit Auschwitz this weekend, so I'm becoming really interested in this area though not a nice one.
I'm looking for biographies or autobiographies about the history of prisoners but also of nazi members. I simply can't understand how people behave with such cruelty with other human beings, so I would like to read more about this. But I want good books, not books for tourists.
I found one really interesting about the scape of three prisoners from Terezin but it's only in Czech: "Útěk z Malé pevnosti Terezín" (Escape from the Small Fortress Terezín).
Could you help me finding good books on this subject?
Thank you in advance!!

okt 26, 2012, 4:36am

Many books refer to it by its German name Theresienstadt. Hope that helps your search.

okt 26, 2012, 5:55am

I've searching a little bit and you're right, there are a lot of books using Theresienstadt in the name. Thank you!
Now I have to choose!! Any recommendations? :)
Do you know any book written by Nazis working in the camps?

okt 26, 2012, 6:03am

Sorry, not my area of expertise.

okt 26, 2012, 6:35am

Helga Schneider's Let Me Go is, in part, about her mother who was a Nazi and (if I remember correctly) worked at the camps.

Robert Jay Lifton's The Nazi Doctors has some biographical details of the doctors, though the book as a whole is devoted to bigger issues.

Yitzshak Arad's Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka : the Operation Reinhard death camps had interviews with death camp survivors.

okt 26, 2012, 6:48am

On a general level you might want to check out Hitler's Willing Executioners. It gave me nightmares and made me vow never to read anything else on the subject as long as I live.

okt 26, 2012, 6:52am

I wouldn't start with Hitler's Willing Executioners. It's gotten a lot of criticism from other historians of the period, and his conclusions are considered fairly controversial.

okt 26, 2012, 7:08am

#7 Thanks aulsmith. Didn't know that!

okt 26, 2012, 7:43am

Thank you Booksloth and aulsmith, I'll add it to my list but will wait to find something less controversial, though sounds interesting.

I suppose it is not easy to publish/find a book explaining or almost "justifying" in any way the things that were done.
And the most important nazis died short after the war or are hidden don't wanting to be in the spotlight, so difficult area.

okt 26, 2012, 10:59am

A fairly simple book about young prisoners who survived is Liberation: Teens in the Concentration Camps and the Teen Soldiers Who Liberated Them, giving some back story and follow-up, as well as the same treatment for Allied soldiers who reached the camps early after victory.

The family stories of top Nazi members is related in My Father's Keeper: Children of Nazi Leaders-An Intimate History of Damage and Denial

A sociological study of knowledge and complicity of the everyday German citizen was compiled in What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany

okt 27, 2012, 10:19pm

Beyond Human Endurance: The Ravensbruck Women Tell Their Stories is a good, if more uncommonly read, one. It did make me take a slight break from reading books about the Holocaust, as it involves some of the insane medical experiments.

Redigerat: okt 28, 2012, 6:50am

It's not a book (though I believe two those featured in it have written about this), and it's not about the camp you mentioned, but there was a documentary released earlier this year that you might like to see, called Hitler's Children. It features descendants of the most senior Nazi officers: Hermann Göring's grand niece, Heinrich Himmler's grand niece, Rudolf Höss' grandson, Amon Goeth's daughter, and Hans Frank's son, talking about what it's like living with this history attached to them. It was very touching; Höss' grandson is so emotional about it all, and the two who are children you can just feel the hate and anger and resentment they have towards the parents who gave them this legacy. The documentary essentially deals with your statement, "I simply can't understand how people behave with such cruelty with other human beings, so I would like to [know] more about this," these descendants are struggling with the same issue.

(edited to fix minor typo!)

okt 28, 2012, 7:13am

A quick look at Amazon UK (under 'concentration camp memoirs' reveals these - Hope there's something there that fits the bill

okt 31, 2012, 5:33am

Thank you to all of you! A lot of interesting books and references here!
I think I'll try to avoid the medical experiments. I saw a documentary about them a few years ago and I still have nightmares about it.
"Hitler's Children" sounds really interesting and just the kind of thing I'm looking for and also "My Father's Keeper: Children of Nazi Leaders-An Intimate History of Damage and Denial".
If you remember any other book/film/documentary please let me know.
Thank you!!

nov 9, 2012, 8:26am

Although Nazi Doctors does have some discussion of medical experiments, it's more about the ordinary doctors who had to decide who went to the gas chamber and who was healthy enough to work. I think the stuff about the experiments is in its own chapter, so you could skip it if you chose. The book is really about bigger issues than doctors. It talks about how you get people to accept a system that is contrary to their primary values.

nov 9, 2012, 9:35am

Veerleen - I don't know where you live but I see you are a member of a couple of UK-centric groups here. Just on the off-chance that you are 'one of us', you might be interested to know that a new three-part mini-series, 'The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler', begins on BBC2 next Monday (12th November) at 9pm. It sounds like just the kind of thing you're after. Even if you're not in a BBC area I've no doubt it will also be available on iPlayer.

nov 9, 2012, 10:34am

When I worked in a large library at a Jewish temple for 7 years, I read many Holocaust memoirs, but the one that is most vivid in my mind is Rena's promise: a story of sisters in Auschwitz. There are fewer surviving accounts of women who got through the Holocaust than of men, and this book, written with the help of a gifted writer, tells of 2 sisters. The exceptional quality of the writing and the riveting story this book tells sets it near the top of the Holocaust memoir genre in my mind.

nov 29, 2012, 7:53am

Thank you Indybooks, I'll check this one. Sounds really interesting

For the moment, I've bought "Hitler's Willing Executioners" and "Death dealer the memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz", but still digging. Maybe I'll buy also "Girls of Room 28" by Hannelore Brenner.

I found out about the history of Irena Sendler, something like a Polish Schindler, saving children from the Warsaw Ghetto.
In a webpage about her, they recommend a few other interesting books plus the Academy award winning documentary Into the Arms Of Strangers (I didn't know about the jews kids who were sent to England!):

I also saw the documentary Hitler's Children recommended by PolymathicMonkey: 4 hours about the brainwash the German children suffered. Helped a lot to understand how youngsters embrace Nazi ideology so happily.

Thank you Booksloth for the information. I'll look for that mini-series. In fact I'm from Spain but really into History, specially British (Studying now just for fun a degree in English culture, language and literature), so any suggestions are welcomed! ;)

nov 29, 2012, 9:56am

Four hours? Brainwashed children? Are you sure you were watching what I mentioned? This here: ?

nov 29, 2012, 1:10pm

I have not read

"Based on 70 hours of interviews with Franz Stangl, commandant of Treblinka (the largest of the extermination camps), this book bares the soul of a man who continually found ways to rationalize his role in Hitler's final soulution."

but I have read Sereny's bio on Albert Speer which is extremely good. Based on that alone I feel safe to recommend Into That darkness...

nov 30, 2012, 6:27am

#20 Adding my own recommendation for the writing of the late, great Gita Sereny. I didn't especially engage with The Speer biog (just not my kind of subject matter) but Cries Unheard her book about child-murderer Mary Bell, had me in tears. She was a fabulous writer.

Redigerat: nov 30, 2012, 10:18am

#19 It seems that there are two different documentaries with the same name! This is the one I saw:
Very interesting, so the confusion was not a bad one :)
But I'll definitely will look also for the one you mentioned. The trailer itself sent shivers down my spine.

nov 30, 2012, 3:10pm

Actually there's at least one other film with the name also, it's from the '40s and has to do with the Hitler Youth. Interestingly enough, each is rather different and the name fits rather well with them all, heh.

Redigerat: dec 1, 2012, 1:41am

Det här meddelandet har tagits bort av dess författare.

Redigerat: dec 1, 2012, 12:36pm

Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen and Volke Riess (editors), The Good Old Days: The Holocaust Through the Eyes of the Perpetrators and Bystanders is a book you can try. It examines the issue from a slightly different direction.

dec 7, 2012, 3:15pm

"I'm looking for biographies or autobiographies about the history of prisoners . . .

Surprised nobody has mentioned Night by Elie Wiesel.

dec 17, 2012, 1:05pm

> 12
I will be sure to look that up. The similar title issue reminds me of The Great Escape and that other one about the Luftstalag, by Paul Brickhill. The former has little to do with this topic (actual imprisonment). The latter is one of my all-time favorite books - and movies.

This thread is also a reminder to me that The Complete Maus is on my mountainous TBR

dec 18, 2012, 6:23am

#27 The Complete Maus is a gem and will only take you a very short evening to read. Even if you don't enjoy the book there's still a lot of fun to be had by listening to your mind pronounce 'Ma-ow-z' every time you read the word.

Redigerat: dec 18, 2012, 6:09pm

"If this is a man" / Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi is a fairly well-known autobiographical account of such an experience.

Death is my trade is a novelized biography of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höß (the same who authored Death dealer mentionned above) by Robert Merle.

dec 19, 2012, 2:02pm

In re #28. Suum cuique. The house of public opinion is deeply divided about MAUS. I happen to be one who feels, while conceding Spiegelman's good intentions, that he manages to run afoul of his own cleverness, and in consequence manages to draw the light to himself, rather to the incomparable crime of Shoah. Shalom, -- Goddard. PS: In my experience as friend of several survivors of Shoah, not to mention the friend of hundreds of victims' families, and also -- less consequential -- as a sometime distributor of this book, that I would rather run barefoot through nettles than try to pass this off without serious warnings to potential readers

dec 19, 2012, 3:06pm

I admire Spiegelman as an artist, but Maus made me profoundly uncomfortable. The glibness, facileness and cuteness of the visual shorthand (Jews: mice; Nazis: cats; Poles: pigs) upset me from the get-go and continued to bother even as the story unfolded with poignancy and interest. I can't really go into all the reasons, I'm not sure I understand them all myself. Briefly, the mode of delivery of a message matters, especially when it involves visual elements. Why couldn't that story been told with characters with human faces? Even solely artistically, it comes across as one simple "joke" extended way beyond it's very slight point. If the intention was to satirise or grotesquely refer to Mickey Mouse or cartoons in general, the reason for it, in context, escapes me. (Is the satire directed against the American public, and similar, against people who are incapable of "taking on board" serious themes without infantile simplifications?) If the intention was to demonstrate graphically the dehumanisation imposed on the Jews, it was sabotaged by the necessity to represent the perpetrators with animal faces as well (obviously--you couldn't draw Jews with animal faces and leave the Nazis and the rest human!) If it was a bitter reference to antisemitic portrayals of Jews as "rats" and "vermin", the irony must have gone over the head of most of the readers. (For comparison's sake, imagine a black artist commenting on racism by using racist imagery in representing his black characters.)

I should add I may be odd or hypersensitive in my reactions to some things--I was also made profoundly uncomfortable by even the premise of Benigni's La vita è bella, so much so I could not and will not ever see it. I also disliked intensely Schindler's list--the Hollywoodisation of the Holocaust, with an epically insane baddie and a gloriously heroic goodie (both, let it be noted en passant, preternaturally good-looking men, as after all cannot be helped, in LA.)

It's not, necessarily, that I think certain themes may only be treated with solemnity and awed whispers, rather, that some ways of telling some stories undermine the best intentions in telling those stories.

These three examples I brought up are "undermined" in what they were meant to or ought to convey--in my opinion, which I know is a minority opinion. Most people seem to have been "appropriately" horrified or seem to think they've learned enough about those events from these movies and comics.

mar 22, 2013, 7:04pm

>26 rocketjk: Night by Elie Wiesel is the only one I can recommend.
Im afraid that I am unwilling to immerse myself in the utter misery and hopelessness of the death camps at this stage in my life. But would be interested to hear which ones you end up reading, for future reference.

Redigerat: nov 2, 2013, 9:33am


As always, thank you for all the recommendations.
These are the books I finally read about the subject until now:

- First one was Death Dealer BIO by Rudolph Höss. I really think this one is a must. It's amazing how coldly he speaks about everything that happenend, just talking about murders (and their details) the same way he could be speaking about harvest or keeping the account of a shop. Sometimes even he realizes suddenly he's speaking about people. In any other era he would have been an amazing minister for finance. He does his job without thinking what he's really asked to do.

- Later I went for Hitler's Willing Executioners by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. I have to admit this one was more boring to read and I didn't finished it. I should give it another try.

- The third one was "Wytrzymalem wiec jestem" (But I survived) by Polish former prisoner Tadeusz Sobolewicz. This book happened to be around my parents house in a dreaful Spanish translation by it was great to read a Polish-non-jewish vision of the holocaust. Tadeusz was a political prisoner so his connections and experiences inside the concentration-camps were sometimes different from the Jewish experiences we're used to read. Political prisioners were the "powerful" prisoners inside the camp (if any prisoner can be refered as that) so sometimes they have more chances to receive help or find friends. Also Tadeusz was moved from one camp to another. This give his history a wider picture than usual BIOs of former prisoners

- Fourth I read Maus by Art Spiegelman. As somebody said in another post, I found it disturbing and I didn't really like it.

- Fifth I read Triumph of Hope by Ruth Elias, BIO of a former Terezin and Austchwitz concentration camps prisoner. Here you can find more info about how was to live in the Terezin Ghetto and more about Menguele's experiments. She and her baby were in the hands of the terrifying doctor for a few weeks. Also it's interesting to read about the after-liberation years. It's amazing to discover how little understanding former prisioners found after the war even from other Jewish, and how difficult was the resettlement in Israel.

I also followed an online Coursera course on The Holocaust subject. Here I leave you the list of recommended books they gave the students. Incredible interesting course if you want to know more about all that happended and why.

- Appelfeld, Aaron. Badenheim 1939, B. G. Rudolph Lectures in Judaic Studies, Syracuse U Press
- Arieti, Silvano. The Parnas
- Bauer, Yehuda. A History of the Holocaust
- Borowski, Tadeusz. This Way for the Gas, Ladies & Gentlemen
- Browning, Christopher. Ordinary Men
- Fink, Ida. A Scrap of Time
- Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz
- Kertész, Imre. Fateless
- Schwarz-Bart, André. The Last of the Just
- Tec, Nehama. Dry Tears
- Wiesel, Elie. Night

Also, a list of recommended films:
- Image Before My Eyes
- Everything Is Illuminated
- Shoah (excerpts)
- Night & Fog
- Europa, Europa
- Partisans of Vilna
- Divided We Fall
- The Wannsee Conference
- The Pianist
- Shop On Main Street

I have to say that by the time I was reading the fourth book and finishing the course, I was having bad dreams almost every night so I've decided to stop for the moment. In fact, I think I've catch a glimpse of almost all sides of the conflict so maybe it's time to let the subject go and find a merrier subject. Anyway I've learnt a lot about this incomprehensible time so close to our own lives which was what I was looking for from the very beginning.

nov 2, 2013, 9:43am

Thanks very much for letting us know where you went with this. Hope you find a cheerier topic soon!

nov 8, 2013, 3:56am

Veerleen, thanks for sharing your list. This is an area of history I am very interested in as well (when I am up to it.)

A book I didn't see in the thread (perhaps I missed it) is The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Corrie and her family were Christians living in Holland that helped hide Jewish people and helped them escape. They were eventually captured and put into a concentration camp.

Also not a book, but a historical fiction movie about this time period that I love is Swing Kids. Apparently the German teenagers used swing music as a way to rebel, because swing was not only American, but often the artists were Jewish or African American. It is the story of four teenage friends (boys) and their journey from naivete to understanding what was going and how they each reacted to it. Very fascinating!

Redigerat: nov 8, 2013, 5:17am

I just noticed no one had yet mentioned Ordinary men by Christopher R. Browning

It deals with a specific unit of the 'einsatzgruppen', Reserve Police Battalion 101. Many interview and reports from this unit manned by 'older' (than usual) men. Before the Gas Chambers and explains one reason why Himmler developed the Gas Chambers. Unusually the book follows some of the (uncharged) men. I recommend it for a harrowing insight.


ETA. Oops #33, you did mention this book, but your touchstone pointed to the wrong book and thus I didn't see it in the list on the RHS :-(

nov 20, 2013, 2:58pm

One that has been on my list for some time is Dying We Live, which records the final statements of Germans who were put to death for resisting the Nazi regime.

mar 10, 2014, 2:36pm

I bought The Holocaust in Books and Films when I found it at a thrift store this weekend, and I thought of this thread. The first edition was published in 1978, and it appears to be something periodically updated with collaboration between the International Center for Holocaust Studies and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. Looks to have been used as a classroom text. It covers a lot of ground.

mar 11, 2014, 4:17pm

I can recommend A Garden of Eden in Hell: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer who recently died at the age of 110, the oldest known Holocaust survivor. She was in Terezin/Theriesenstadt. I read this and a number of other works on the Holocaust after visiting Auschwitz a month ago.

mar 11, 2014, 4:57pm

Note for Americans, A Garden of Eden in Hell seems to be titled Alice's Piano here.

mar 11, 2014, 7:06pm

Having just visited Terezin last summer, I may have to read that one.

jun 22, 2014, 4:12pm

In case someone else chances on this thread there are two harrowing but outstanding books from Auschwitz jailers and prisoners that I'd recommend: KL Auschwitz Seen by the SS and Amidst a Nightmare of Crime.

jul 8, 2014, 9:27am

For a general overview, I actually recommend The Nuremberg Trials, which will give you a big picture look at the Nazi machine and the creation of concentration camps. I also highly recommend Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account. And among my absolute favorite books of all time: Hunting Eichmann. The last one is less about concentration camps, but it's a true story and a suspense-filled look at the Moussad and their efforts to track down a Nazi war criminal.

jul 13, 2014, 6:47pm

>43 slug9000: Thanks for those--I'll be keeping an eye out for a copy of the doctor's account. Coincidentally I've just read another excellent book, albeit one that's difficult at times to stomach, dealing with both camp doctors and Nuremberg trials: Doctors of Infamy. It's a book of excerpts from testimony in Nuremberg mostly from but sometimes about those doctors.

jul 18, 2014, 10:16am

bluepiano, I will be on the lookout for Doctors of Infamy. This one just came up as a suggested read on Amazon: "A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps." It's not coming up as a touchstone, weirdly enough. And this one also came up: Operation Paperclip. I am very curious about that one. I read a lot of WWII and Holocaust books, but I have to break it up so I don't read too many in a row...otherwise, it's too depressing.

If you are interested, I just read Escape from Camp 14, which is about a North Korean defector who escaped from a North Korean labor camp. It's a sad read and also a really disturbing reminder that people are hell bent on NOT learning from the past.

sep 5, 2014, 4:18am

Hi there!
I'm still coming back to this subject now and then so here are my latest discoveries:

I read Nehama Tec. Dry Tears: The AutoBIO of a Polish Jewish kid in hiding. It's very interesting to know more about the relationship of a Jewish family trying to survive and the people who helped them. Usually we think about people who helped Jews as angels, all good and love, but this book shows how a lot of them did it just for money. They struggled constantly between keeping hiding Jews exposing themselves to death penalty or reporting them and be as safe as possible.

I have a pair more waiting to be read:

Victor Klemperer. I shall bear witness. The diaries 1933-1941: About a Jew married to a German woman. Church didn't allow inter-racial marriages to be dissolved so Jews married to Germans found themselves in a complex position. Klemperer had to be witness of war and death inside his own house not being allowed to go out. There is a second part of this book covering years 1941 to 1945.

And one that I'm specially eager to read is:

Bo Lidegaard. Countrymen: The Untold Story of How Denmark's Jews Escaped the Nazis: It's amazing how little is known about Danish Jews and how almost all of them survived thanks to two nations, Denmark and Sweden, that stand against Nazis rules. An almost positive account of this part of History is always welcomed.

To easy for everyone searching books about the Holocaust, there is a list here in Goodreads I haven't noticed until today. Here you have the link. I will be adding all books mentioned in this thread!:

okt 12, 2014, 11:18am

Oliver Lustig has a few works on the subject, written from the viewpoint of a survivor. I believe some of his works have been translated to English, but admittedly I have not searched which ones (read one of his books in Hungarian translation a while ago).

okt 12, 2016, 5:28am

Interesting thread, I am currently investigating Dutch autobiographical recounts of Nazi camp experiences, I could mention several that have been translated into English (I won't bother you with the Dutch list which is up to 100 and counting). If anyone has suggestions... I can use them! (not for general literature, just autobiographical books)
Dutch diaries in translation:
- Renata Laqueur, Diary of Bergen-Belsen
- Abel Herzberg, Two Streams
- David Koker, At the Edge of the Abyss
- Klaartje de Zwarte-Walvisch
- Nico Rost, Goethe in Dachau
- Philip Mechanicus, A Prisoner Waiting for Auschwitz
- Miriam Bolle-Levie, Let Me Tell You What a Day Here Is Like