We are confident that these touching stories will resonate with grades 8 and up. Most involve the perspective of children and teenagers. See individual books for their Lexile level ratings. Desk copies can be ordered from Ingram Academic.
Adolfo Kaminsky, A Forger’s Life by Sarah Kaminsky 9780997003475 (October 2016) would be an excellent candidate for any history class studying the Holocaust. A teacher in a Sacramento 8th grade class used the book with good success for her Holocaust section, and the book has already been included in the New York Times Scholastic booklet that goes out to 1 million young readers across the United States. As a Jewish teenager, Adolfo used his skills in chemistry to forge documents in secret labs after being recruited by the French Resistance. The efforts of his Section would help save the lives of 14,000 men, women and children in France, allowing them to hide undetected by police. Adolfo Kaminsky went on to have a 30 year career as a “humanitarian forger,” helping just causes around the world. A 16-minute Emmy award-winning documentary produced by the New York Times is available online as well as a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper.
Lexile: 1020, Word Count: 60K
The Ghetto Swinger: A Berlin Jazz-Legend Remembers by Coco Schumann 9780998777061 (paperback April 2018) would be an excellent resource for a Holocaust section or a compliment to a class on world music history. As a teenager, musical prodigy Coco Schumann played jazz and swing music in underground clubs in Berlin against the edicts of the Nazi regime (who called jazz “degenerate music”). They played even when bombs were falling in Berlin, and even in front of Nazi commanders who snuck into the club to have fun. Coco was “ratted out” and sent to Terezín (Theresienstadt) and Auschwitz. He avoided death with his skills, playing jazz in concentration camp bands and making music for the solace of other prisoners. At the end of the book he speaks about why he knew he must tell his story after talking to young Germans who were convinced that Auschwitz was a lie. This book is used in schools throughout Germany.
Lexile: 1050, Word Count: 54K
Hitler, Stalin and I by Heda Margolius Kovály and Helena Třeštíková 9780997818475 (February 2018) is the oral history of a writer/translator who speaks in an interview about her experience as a young woman (early twenties) in Łódź Ghetto and Auschwitz and how she escaped from a death march. It’s short and conversational, which makes it accessible, and contains over 50 images. Heda also speaks about how she participated in the Prague Uprising (the final battle against the Nazis), and then about her husband Rudolf and his execution after a Stalinist show trial in 1952. The book’s publication in 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Prague Spring as well as Czechoslovakia being invaded by Warsaw Pact forces. With film stills of the invasion that are rarely seen, the book would help introduce other materials; for example, CIA clandestine footage that is available through the National Archives.
Lexile: 880, Word Count: 38K
Escape Home: Rebuilding a Life After the Anschluss by Charles Paterson 9780997003468 (March 2017) is the story of the Schanzer family, who fled Vienna after the Nazi occupation (the Anschluss), then Czechoslovakia, and then France, always just steps ahead of the Nazi advances. The harrowing but heartwarming story is told in a very accessible way through memories, pictures, letters and recovered documents — a nine-year-old boy and his eleven-year-old sister making their way as refugees in new languages and lands after the death of their mother, eventually being adopted in Australia as a last-ditch effort when their resourceful and loving father could find no other way to get them out of Europe. The book has strong echoes with the hundreds of thousands of refugee children living in uncertain circumstances throughout the world today.
We recommend the excerpt of chapters 1–15, approximately 35K words at Lexile level 880.
Black Thursday by Maurice Rajsfus 9780997003499 — (June 2017) The author, Maurice, was 14 years old when he was arrested in the Vél d’Hiv raid, the largest, best organized and most infamous raid in wartime France, sweeping up over 13,000 Jews, most of whom were immigrants and who would never return from Auschwitz. Maurice luckily survived to tell his story. He spends the first half of the book describing his family life, the details of the arrest and his escape, and then the second half detailing his search forty years later for witnesses to the crime and for documents. He even has a confrontation with the policeman, one of his neighbors, who had arrested him!
Lexile level: 1020, Word Count: 54K
A second book, Operation Yellow Star, is included under the same ISBN and has important background information about the use of the yellow star and its history, parts of which could be excerpted for a high school class.
Three Tearless Histories by Erich Hackl 978099975444 (January 2016) is a book of three short stories, the central one of which, The Photographer of Auschwitz, tells the story of Wilhelm Brasse, a Polish political prisoner at Auschwitz tasked with snapping the infamous “intake” photographs that often have served as the last documentation of incoming Jewish prisoners. Hackl’s signature style of storytelling yearns for justice, and the episode illustrates ways in which some who worked inside Auschwitz tried to resist the annihilation of Jewish lives and memories. Brasse, for himself, risked his life to save evidence of Mengele’s crimes, among other photo documents.
Lexile level: 1050, Word Count: 6K
See our complete list of Holocaust and Jewish diaspora books for more titles!