Developing Empathy for Holocaust Victims: Recommended Books

I wrote quite a dramatic article on the Holocaust and Genocides. I thought I’d follow up with a more specific article, with a set of books that can help in developing empathy for the victims of the Holocaust. I’m not particularly well read on this, but there were three books in particular (well, two books and one comic to be precise) which I found very moving.


The Diary of Anne Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank was utterly seismic in understanding the individual, emotional contours, and facets of the Holocaust. Her diary is written whilst she hides from incarceration. It is sublime is conveying human emotion. That’s what comes across so strongly; Anne shows a plethora of emotion; sadness, depression, hopelessness, fear, optimism, happiness, envy, love. And in showing these, one truly understands her humanity, and the humanity of all those who tragically perished.

We live long after the Holocaust; it’s a distant memory in an age dominated by selfies and frivolous use of social media. In this regard, Anne’s diary is a thoroughly grounding experience, dragging us from our engineered online personalities, into a bitter realm where hatred reigns.

It is essential reading.


Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

On the front cover, Sunflower has one of the most fascinating premises I’ve ever seen. ‘You’re a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks you for forgiveness. What do you do?’

This uncanny situation actually happened to Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor. The book tantalisingly unveils the actual event, in grim and moving detail. It also contains Simon’s account of when he was held in a concentration camp, and it is a bewilderingly shaking and morbid read. It also complements Anne’s diary; whereas Anne’s diary ends upon her incarceration, leaving the horrors of the concentration camps to one’s imagination, Simon’s account tells his experience of the concentration camp.

Another fascinating feature of the book is that it contains the responses of eminent theologians and scholars to the question of whether or not they would forgive the dying Nazi soldier. In doing so, it explores the philosophical dimensions of genocide.

Again, essential reading.


The Complete MAUS

Maus is a Holocaust survival story, told by the son of the survivor, Art Spiegelman. But it distinguishes itself by presenting the story as a comic book, in which Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, Americans are dogs, and Poles are pigs; a crude analogy, but somehow it is powerful and moving in conveying the wildly asymmetric power relations between the Jews and their oppressors.

In terms of how the story progresses, it is outrageous. The number of encounters with death that Vladek faces, his ultimate fate, and all that he sees en route, is almost unbelievable. It trumps any Hollywood movie in how many twists and turns it takes. And all the while, Maus is packed with intense emotion, conveyed by thoughtful dialogue, and a bleak art style used to convey some occasionally graphic scenes.

Once more, absolutely essential.


Reading these books was emotionally very difficult. They took a tangible toll on my mental and subsequently physical health. But I regret nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because now, when I see racism, anti-Semitism, and discrimination, I truly hate it. Because I have seen where hatred goes. And so should you. So should all of us. These are stories that must be read.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Muhammad Sakib Ahmad says:

    I think this is a really valuable blog post for everyone.


  2. Alina says:

    Are there any books about the Nakba or maybe the Rwandan Genocide that you would recommend for reading to develop empathy? It has been a fruitless endeavour for me to find books of a similar nature to the Holocaust.


    1. I’m afraid I don’t! I was supposed to read about each major genocide one at a time – but have somehow ended up reading about female hadith scholars…


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