Compiled by Nashville Symphony violinist Rebecca Cole
James A. Grymes’ book Violins of Hope details the remarkable stories behind some of the instruments restored by the Weinstein family. It’s a great starting point for learning more about the experiences of Jewish musicians and others during the Holocaust. For those interested in going further, there are many more books, both fiction and nonfiction, that provide insights into the almost unimaginable horrors of this period of history.
The lists below include books I have read, recommendations from Parnassus Books, recommendations from librarians at the Nashville Public Library, and books I have found on the library website. My thanks to Andy Brennan and the salespersons (and shop dogs) at Parnassus Books for their recommendations, and to the Nashville Public Library’s librarians for book suggestions and tips to navigate their treasure-trove of a website catalog.
– Rebecca Cole
You can find additional recommendations at:
- Rebecca’s Book Reads on Facebook
- Tennessee Holocaust Survivors Archive
- A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust
Books about people mentioned in James A. Grymes’ book Violins of Hope.
Richard Newman, Alma Rosé: Vienna to Auschwitz
Alma Rosé, Gustav Mahler’s niece and member of an illustrious musical family, was transported to Auschwitz, where she ran the women’s orchestra.
Szymon Laks, Music of Another World
Szymon Laks’ autobiography discusses his life and musical compositions while interred in Birkenau-Auschwitz.
Martin Goldsmith, An Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of music and love in Nazi Germany
Rosemary Gumpert Goldschmidt and her husband lived through the rise of Nazi Germany, the persecution of Jews, threats of internment and a harrowing escape, before immigrating to the U.S., where she became a member of the St. Louis Symphony and, later, The Cleveland Orchestra. Author Martin Goldsmith is their son.
Josh Aronson, Orchestra of Exiles
In the late 1930s, violinist Bronisław Huberman used his fame to raise the money, audition an entire orchestra and arrange for musicians and their families to move to Palestine so that they could take jobs with the ensemble that would become the Israel Philharmonic. An awe-inspiring story!
Elie Wiesel, Night
Although not mentioned in the book Violins of Hope, Wiesel was such an important figure in Holocaust remembrance that his own book needs to be included here. From the publisher: “Wiesel’s account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps, including a new preface in which he reflects on the enduring importance of Night and his lifelong, passionate dedication to ensuring that the world never forgets man’s capacity for inhumanity to man.”
Books About World War II and the Holocaust
Diane Ackerman, The Zookeeper’s Wife
This novel details how a Polish zookeeper and his wife turn their zoo into a haven for escaping Jews. Now a motion picture, the source book is so much better.
Mary Chamberlain, The Dressmaker’s War
The story of a dressmaker imprisoned in a concentration camp and the emotional aftermath of her imprisonment. A haunting tale of PTSD.
Arrmondo Lucas Correa, The German Girl
A woman discovers her relatives’ past involving their voyage on the M.S. St. Louis, a refugee ship filled with Jews fleeing the Nazis that was eventually turned away from every country. (The voyage of the M.S. St. Louis is chronicled in Violins of Hope.)
Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
A blind girl in occupied France, her uncle (sender of secret radio signals for the Resistance), and a German soldier struggle to survive, until their lives collide. The prose is spare and gorgeous.
Hans Fallada, Every Man Dies Alone
Recommended by Parnassus Books: “This never-before-translated masterpiece – by a heroic bestselling writer who saw his life crumble when he wouldn’t join the Nazi Party – is based on a true story. It presents a richly detailed portrait of life in Berlin under the Nazis and tells the sweeping saga of one working-class couple who decides to take a stand when their only son is killed at the front.”
Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale: A Novel
Viviane struggles to survive in occupied France, while her younger sister Isabelle becomes a member of the Resistance. A very descriptive story about Vichy France and the lives of political prisoners in Nazi Germany.
Georgia Hunter, We were the Lucky Ones
A family of Polish Jews is scattered at the start of World War II. Will their determination to survive and reunite be realized?
Pam Jenoff, The Orphan’s Tale
Noa, her baby and the German circus performers who adopted her travel throughout Nazi Germany, struggling to remain undetected by the Nazis.
Martha Hall Kelly, Lilac Girls
As the war escalates, the lives of three women collide: Caroline, an American involved in a Jewish relief organization; Kasia, a spy and courier; and Herta, a female doctor who becomes trapped within the Nazi organization. A thrilling book.
Walter William Melnyk, Pavel’s Violin
From the author: “Pavel’s Violin is an historical novel based upon the true stories of Pavel Lustig, a survivor of Terezin and Auschwitz, and a Jakob Stainer model violin that he received after his escape from an Auschwitz death march. It is a tale of joy, sorrow, despair and hope, inspired through the music of this instrument.” Melnyk is a Tennessee-based author, and all sales of his book go to Holocaust awareness efforts. Learn more at PavelsViolin.com.
Jessica Shattuck, The Women in the Castle
Three women, all of whom knew each other during the rise of the Third Reich, end up in a crumbling Bavarian castle struggling to survive the war. A story of friendship, betrayal and the emotional aftermath of World War II for Germans.
Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank’s classic journal about living in hiding with her family to escape the Nazis.
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
From the publisher: “Set in the closing months of World War II in an American bomber squadron off the coast of Italy, Catch-22 is the story of a bombardier named Yossarian who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he has never even met keep trying to kill him.”
Thomas Keneally, Schindler’s List
From the publisher: “A stunning novel based on the true story of how German war profiteer and factory director Oskar Schindler came to save more Jews from the gas chambers than any other single person during World War II.”
Erik Larsen, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
When William E. Dodd moves his family to Berlin to become the first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, they witness the rise of Hitler and the escalating violence within Hitler’s Reich.
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-five, or, the children’s crusade, a duty-dance with death
From the publisher: “The now famous parable of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran and POW who has in the later stage of his life become “unstuck in time” and who experiences at will (or unwillingly) all known events of his chronology out of order and sometimes simultaneously.”
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
Death tells of his interactions with Liesel, a young German girl whose love of books (and stealing them) puts her adopted family in danger in Nazi Germany.
YA and Teen Fiction Recommended by Parnassus Books
Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray
“In 1941, 15-year-old Lina, her mother and brother are pulled from their Lithuanian home by Soviet guards and sent to Siberia, where her father is sentenced to death in a prison camp while she fights for her life, vowing to honor her family and the thousands like hers by burying her story in a jar on Lithuanian soil. Based on the [Nashville-based] author’s family, includes a historical note.”
Ruta Sepetys, Salt of the Sea
“As World War II draws to a close, four teens meet aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a cruise ship that will give them passage out of Prussia before the Russians overtake the retreating German troops. The cruise ship, built to hold 1,500 passengers, is laden with over 10,000 desperate people. The four band together and try to survive when a Russian torpedo slams into the ship.”
Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity
“In 1943, a British fighter plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France and the survivor tells a tale of friendship, war, espionage and great courage as she relates what she must to survive while keeping secret all that she can.”
Elizabeth Wein, Rose Under Fire: Code Name Verity, Book 2
“When young American pilot Rose Justice is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp, she finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners.”
Antonio Iturbe, The Librarian of Auschwitz
“Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father…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 volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.”
Gavriel Savit, Anna and the Swallow Man
“When her university professor father is sent by the Gestapo to a concentration camp, 7-year-old Anna travels the Polish countryside with the mysterious Swallow Man during World War II.”
Meg Wiviott, Paper Hearts
“Amid the brutality of Auschwitz during the Holocaust, a forbidden gift helps two teenage girls find hope, friendship and the will to live in this novel in verse that’s based on a true story.”
YA and Teen Nonfiction
M.T. Anderson, Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
From the publisher: “A brilliant and riveting account of the Siege of Leningrad and the role played by Russian composer Shostakovich and his Leningrad Symphony.” (Symphony #7)
Neal Bascomb, Sabotage: the mission to destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb
From the publisher: “The invasion begins at night, with German cruisers slipping into harbor, and soon the Nazis occupy all of Norway… At Vemork, an industrial fortress high above a dizzying gorge, they gain access to an essential ingredient for the weapon that could end World War II: Hitler’s very own nuclear bomb. When the Allies discover the plans for the bomb, they agree Vemork must be destroyed.”
James M. Deem, The Prisoners of Breendonk: Personal Stories from a World War II Concentration Camp
From the publisher: “Fort Breendonk was built in the early 1900s to protect Antwerp, Belgium, from possible German invasion. Damaged at the start of World War I, it fell into disrepair…until the Nazis took it over after their invasion of Belgium in 1940. Never designated an official concentration camp by the SS and instead labeled a “reception” camp where prisoners were held until they were either released or transported, Breendonk was no less brutal.”
Kids’ Fiction Recommended by Parnassus Books
John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: A Fable
“Bored and lonely after his family moves from Berlin to a place called ‘Out-With’ in 1942, Bruno, the son of a Nazi officer, befriends a boy in striped pajamas who lives behind a wire fence.”
Lois Lowry, Number the Stars
“In 1943, during the German occupation of Denmark, 10-year-old Annemarie learns how to be brave and courageous when she helps shelter her Jewish friend from the Nazis.”
R.M. Romero, The Dollmaker of Krakow
“In the vein of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Number the Stars, this fusion of fairy tales, folklore and World War II history eloquently illustrates the power of love and the inherent will to survive even in the darkest of times.”
Kathryn J. Atwood, Women Heroes of World War II: 26 stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance and Rescue
From the publisher: “Young readers will meet these and many other similarly courageous women and girls who risked their lives to help defeat the Nazis. Twenty-six engaging and suspense-filled stories unfold from across Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain and the United States, providing an inspiring reminder of women and girls’ refusal to sit on the sidelines around the world and throughout history.”
Richard Spilsbury, World War II Survival Tips
“Find out how people stayed safe during World War II. They had to learn how to: avoid flying debris; survive gas attacks; and build their own air raid shelters.”
Sarah De Capua, The Tuskegee Airmen
“Describes the history of the Tuskegee airmen, an Air Force squadron of African Americans who fought in World War II and were pioneers in the racial integration of the United States armed forces.”
Ken Mochizuki, Baseball Saved Us
From the publisher: “A Japanese American boy learns to play baseball when he and his family are forced to live in an internment camp during World War II, and his ability to play helps him after the war is over.”
Margaret Wild, Let the Celebrations Begin
From the publisher: “A child who remembers life at home before life in a concentration camp makes toys with the women to give to the other children at the very special party they are going to have when the soldiers arrive to liberate the camp.”
Uchida Yoshiko, The Bracelet
From the publisher: “Emi, a Japanese American in the second grade, is sent with her family to an internment camp during World War II, but the loss of the bracelet her best friend has given her proves that she does not need a physical reminder of that friendship.”
Additional Recommendations for Young Readers
By Teena Cohen
Marilyn Taylor, 17 Martin Street
This work of juvenile fiction introduces the reader to two families, the Byrne family and the Golden family. They are neighbors, living on Martin Street in Dublin, Ireland, in 1940 during World War II. This is a story of relationships and how people come together in friendship after much suspicion due to their differences and fears. Well-written and characters are well defined in this story.
Peter Lane Taylor, The Secret of Priest’s Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story.
What is survival? What lengths would a family endure to survive the horrors of the German occupation and certain death? Thanks to cavers Chris Nicola and Peter Lane Taylor and their quest for the tale told by artifacts and by members of three families in Ukraine, we learn how an extended family unit, in an effort to survive, carved a life in two caves during 1943-44. The Stermers, Dodyks and the Kurzs survived by living off the land, resilience and loyalty to each other. First, they hid in Verteba and later in what was know as Popowa Yama, or the Priest’s Grotto. How creative they were to provide food, water and some basic needs is almost beyond comprehension. This book is unique with its study of the underground labyrinths by Nicola, Taylor and local guides plus the human element told by the survivors, now living in New York, Florida and Canada.
Kathy Kacer, The Magician of Auschwitz
A story of friendship and hope in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. A young boy, alone and without any family, meets Herr Levin, with whom he shares a bunk in this terrible place. One night, German prison guards arrive and wake up Herr Levin and demand that he do his magic for them. Everyone in the bunk watches as Herr Levin does card tricks, to the cheers and approval of the guards. While Werner, the young boy, is amazed and excited about what he sees, his new friend warns him that his magic tricks can either save his life or mean the end of it. Faced with hopelessness, Herr Levin teaches Werner a special magic trick, meant only for him. Werner survives Auschwitz and continues to remember his friend and shares the same card trick with his sons many years later. A beautiful story as it unfolds.
Jeff Gottesfeld, The Tree in the Courtyard
In this picture book, we watch the story of Anne Frank and her family unfold as World War II takes hold. Under the watchful eye of a horse chestnut tree, we learn of the changes that occur for members of the Frank family. In Gottesfeld’s rendering,
Jennifer Roy, Jars of Hope
Raised to understand that there were only two kinds of people, good and bad, Irena Sendler treated all people equally, whether rich or poor, no matter their beliefs. As an adult, she became a social worker, hoping to help others. When Germany invaded Poland, she helped inoculate people in the Warsaw Ghetto and subsequently organized others to bring in food and saved many, many children of all ages by taking them secretly out of the ghetto. Children were given new names, taken in by foster families, convents and Polish orphanages. Understanding that the war would come to an end, and families would search for other family members, Irena kept meticulous lists, with the current names of children, their birth names and where they were living. She hid these lists in jars and buried them, calling them jars of hope.
Nancy Amis, The Orphans of Normandy
This is the story of the orphans who lived at La Maison du Clos in St. Andre-sur-Orne and had to evacuate their home in June 1944, when bombing began by the Germans. They lived in abandoned mines, marched across the countryside and stayed in barns and haylofts to find safety from the invading forces. This book features quotes with accompanying drawings and is bilingual – in English and French.
Alan Gratz, Prisoner B-3087
Meet Yanek Gruener, a 10-year-old boy at the start of World War II, living in Krakow, Poland. He experiences life with all its hardships as he is shifted among 10 concentration camps, is beaten and forced to do hard labor, all while willing himself to survive. Yanek loses his family to the death camps and witnesses much brutality by the Nazis against Jews of all ages. He succeeds in maintaining his humanity, helping others to survive, putting his own life in peril. While in Birkenau, he truly loses his identity when the Nazis carve a tattoo on his arm – B-3087. With little food and horrific living conditions, he maintains the will to live. This work of historical fiction is based on the true-life story of Jack Gruener, who did survive World War II and ultimately settled in America with the help of a special program for Jewish orphans of the war. He and his wife, Ruth Gruener, are both survivors of the Holocaust and have traveled widely to share their story.