Understanding the Shoah through reading | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Understanding the Shoah through reading


MILWAUKEE – Looking for a meaningful read? Look no further than the library at 1360 N. Prospect Ave., just steps away and one floor up from Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

The Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center Library is home to 1,500 titles, covering topics like the Holocaust, genocide, anti-Semitism and diversity.

Most of the books are scholarly, but there are also works of fiction, curricular materials, films and titles for young readers. These items are available to the public for checkout at no charge. To schedule a browsing appointment send an email to HERC@MilwaukeeJewish.org. Visit HolocaustCenterMilwaukee.org to peruse some of what’s available.

Here’s a sampling.


The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

2007; 576 pages; Alfred A. Knopf

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist – books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

The Plot Against America: A Novel

Philip Roth

2004; 391 pages; Houghton Mifflin

BOOKS AT HERC - plot against

When the renowned aviation hero and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh defeated Franklin Roosevelt by a landslide in the 1940 presidential election, fear invaded every Jewish household in America. Not only had Lindbergh, in a nationwide radio address, publicly blamed the Jews for selfishly pushing America toward a pointless war with Nazi Germany, but upon taking office as the thirty-third president of the United States, he negotiated a cordial understanding with Adolf Hitler, whose conquest of Europe and virulent anti-Semitic policies he appeared to accept without difficulty. What then followed in America is the historical setting for this startling new book by Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Roth, who recounts what it was like for his Newark family and for a million such families all over the country during the menacing years of the Lindbergh presidency, when American citizens who happened to be Jews had every reason to expect the worst.

Schindler’s List

Thomas Keneally

1993; 400 pages; Touchstone

BOOKS AT HERC - Schindler

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Fiction, Schindler’s List is a remarkable work of fiction based on the true story of German industrialist and war profiteer Oskar Schindler, who, confronted with the horror of the extermination camps, gambled his life and fortune to rescue 1,300 Jews from the gas chambers. Working with the actual testimony of Schindler’s Jews, Thomas Keneally artfully depicts the courage and shrewdness of an unlikely savior, a man who is a flawed mixture of hedonism and decency and who, in the presence of unutterable evil, transcends the limits of his own humanity.


Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

1996; 640 pages; Knopf


A work of the utmost importance – as authoritative as it is explosive – “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” will fundamentally change our perception of the Holocaust and of Germany in the Nazi period. Goldhagen reaches conclusions that are both uncompromising and savage, rejecting as inadequate the conventional historical explanations for how an entire country could allow the Holocaust to happen, and gives the first detailed, broad-ranging account of the actual killers of the Jews. 31 photos.

The Last Jews in Berlin

Leonard Gross

1982; 349 pages; Simon & Schuster


In February 1943, four thousand Jews went underground in Berlin. By the end of the war, all but a few hundred of them had died in bombing raids or, more commonly, in death camps. This is the real-life story of some of the few of them – a young mother, a scholar and his countess lover, a black-market jeweler, a fashion designer, a Zionist, an opera-loving merchant, a teen-age orphan – who resourcefully, boldly, defiantly, luckily survived. In hiding or in masquerade, by their wits and sometimes with the aid of conscience-stricken German gentiles, they survived. They survived the constant threat of discovery by the Nazi authorities or by the sinister handful of turncoat Jewish “catchers” who would send them to the gas chambers. They survived to tell this tale, which reads like a thriller and triumphs like a miracle.

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story

Diane Ackerman

2008; 384 pages; W. W. Norton & Company


“The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story” won the 2008 Orion Book Award. The New York Times bestseller, a true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands. When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw — and the city’s zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen “guests” hid inside the Zabinskis’ villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants — otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes. With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her. 8 pages of illustrations.