The Diary of a Young Girl and other WWII Lit Recommendations

The Diary of a Young Girl

I’ve been more affected than I thought I would be by this book. Of course I had heard about The Diary of Anne Frank and knew the basic story – a Jewish girl in hiding during the second world war. But I never imagined the depth of this diary, and how heartbreaking it would be to read.

During the war, the Dutch government called for citizens to preserve their documents, and diaries were specifically mentioned. Up to this point Anne had already been keeping a diary, and she took this declaration to heart and continued recording her experience in the so-called Secret Annex. There she and seven other Jews were in hiding, helped by the owners of the building, which was the spice shop where her father used to work, before Jews were forbidden to work.

Anne revised her earlier fairy entries and from that point on worked to craft a collection of diary entries that would one day be published in a book. We learn of the daily schedule in the Annex, the relationships between each of those in hiding, tense break ins, insufferable boredom, and blissful appreciation for the sun and fresh air.

While reading I would forget that I was reading a historical document, and that it did not have a happy ending. I kept hoping that maybe, just maybe, the Franks would be ok. I put off reading the last 100 pages of the book because I did not want the end to come.

They were not ok.

And neither were the millions of others who met a similar fate, Jewish, Gypsy, or otherwise.

This was a difficult book to read, but immensely important. I think I put off reading it for so long because I knew it was taught in schools, and was written by a young girl, and so how interesting could it be? I was certainly proved wrong, and recommend that anyone and everyone read this book.

Other WWII Literature

Once I read two books set during WWII in a row and started having nightmares about hiding from Hitler in my basement. So, perhaps space out reading these books.

In many cases it has been years since I’ve read the book, so synopses from Goodreads have been included to give a better overview than I could.

Non-Fiction

Night, Elie Wiesel

“Born in the town of Sighet, Transylvania, Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were taken from their home in 1944 to Auschwitz concentration camp, and then to Buchenwald. Night is the terrifying record of Elie Wiesel’s memories of the death of his family, the death of his own innocence, and his despair as a deeply observant Jew confronting the absolute evil of man.”

When I studied abroad we visited Buchenwald, an experience that was harrowing and brought Wiesel’s experiences to life in a horrifying way. It’s been several years since I last read Night, and though it is a painful experience, I believe it is an important one and plan on re-reading it soon.

Maus, Art Spiegelman

By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival – and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

Perhaps an unexpected medium for a work exploring the Holocaust, the graphic novel Maus is the first and currently only work of its kind to earn a Pulitzer. Even if you are not usually a reader of comics or graphic novels, I highly recommend Maus as a unique lens through which to view this subject.

Fiction

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

I’m not sure that I knew what I was getting into when I started reading The Book Thief, but it ended up being one of the most beautiful books I’ve read.

If you’ve also seen the movie JoJo Rabbit (if not, I would highly recommend it), this video essay is an interesting look into how Jews are portrayed in WWII fiction. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcOVAt13U3w&vl=en

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

A blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

This was another beautifully written novel, which I read a few years ago and don’t remember much of it except for the emotions it left me with. But really, that’s the most important part, right?