As a result of rising anti-Semitism and the ascension of Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany, the oppression of the Jewish people rose sharply across Europe over the course of the 1930s. State-sponsored pogroms, such as Kristallnacht in 1938, led to the exodus and persecution of Jews and other minorities, starting in Germany and sweeping westward and south into France and Northern Africa.
The first forced labor camps and Jewish ghettos were established in September of 1939. By November of that year, any Jews living under Nazi rule were labeled with the Star of David. Over the course of the war, it’s estimated that roughly six million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nazis through enforced labor and extermination camps, such as Auschwitz and Dachau.
Related: These Fascinating Jewish History Books Illuminate the Path of the People
The survivors of these camps fought to rebuild their lives, their families, and to tell the stories of the horrors that they endured to ensure that these atrocities are never committed again. Many of the historical fiction novels below are based on true stories from the Holocaust, or reimagine real events from that era. They examine the genocide from various points in the war, and from the perspectives of the outsiders, profiteers, and survivors of the Holocaust.
Boat of Stone
As Nazi sentiment and anti-Semitism began to spread across Europe, Jews sought safe havens outside of the continent. One such journey was the voyage of the SS Atlantic. This ship set sail in October of 1940, taking residents of Austria and Germany to Palestine.
In this novel based on the true story of the SS Atlantic, Hanna Sommerfield and other passengers on the ship find themselves turned away from Palestine by the British government after an already harrowing journey. Forced to seek out another safe port, they must risk the possibility of losing more than they already have.
A Meal in Winter
This sparse short novel offers a bleak picture of three Nazi soldiers. Camped out in Poland in the dead of winter, they find a young Jewish man in the woods and take him prisoner with the intention of executing him, as they've been ordered to do. They share a meal with their captive, and with a passing Polish soldier who has an obvious hatred for Jews. But once they break bread together, the soldiers find themselves facing a moral quandary.
Related: Explore the 20th Century Through Martin Gilbert's Best Books
After the fall of the Third Reich, Shalom Nagar is among the group of Israeli soldiers that guards Adolf Eichmann during his trial. Eichmann was an SS officer and a key figure in creating “The Final Solution”, the Nazi plan to decimate the world's Jewish population.
When the former SS officer is sentenced to death, the guards draw straws to decide who will carry out the execution. Shalom doesn't want to figure into Eichmann’s death—but he draws the short straw, and is charged with the burden of ending the life of someone who is responsible for ending so many others.
My Mother's Secret
This book is based on the true story of a small, courageous Polish family. Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter, Helena, take the risk of sheltering several Jews during the German Occupation. Sheltering Jews during the Second World War was a death sentence. We follow Franciszka and Helena as they struggle to survive the brutal realities of war, and to protect 13 innocent lives.
One of the many appalling aspects of the Holocaust was that some people took the opportunity to profit off the violent tragedy. In this novel, Bruce Ducker draws the recent past into the vicious and corrupt atmosphere of the 1940s. Bloodlines intertwines the narrative of a desperate escape from Europe in 1943 with a man trying to find his way in 1997. Peter Steinmuller simply meant to reclaim his grandfather's wealth, but finds his inheritance to be a meager remainder of what it's meant to be. Steinmuller digs into the past, tracing the truth behind his grandfather’s lost wealth.
Three Sisters: A Novel
When Livia is ordered to Auschwitz at the age of 15, Cibi, her eldest sister, is determined to go with her. Their middle sister, Magda, remains in Slovokia, hiding from the Nazis for as long as she possibly can—but it’s not long before she, too, finds herself in the deadly concentration camp.
Related: 10 Accurate Historical Fiction Books for Nonfiction Readers
The young women are acutely aware of the horrors of the camp: other members of their family have lost their lives there. Livia, Magda, and Cibi always promised their father that they would stay together, no matter what—and now the girls must fight together to stay alive.
The Librarian of Auschwitz
Like many of these stories, this book is based on the real-life story of a young woman that was ripped from her life in Prague, and was taken to Auschwitz at the age of 14. Dita Kraus finds herself in a peculiar position in Block 31—she becomes the librarian of the small school in the facility. Dita risks her life to hide a few diverse books among the library, and to sustain herself and her family through the horrors of the camp.
Beyond the Tracks
In Berlin, 1938, Jacob Kagan and his family see the tide turning against them. Jewish stores and homes are being burned and vandalized; Jewish people are being rounded up and sent to unknown locations. The Kagans flee Germany after Kristallnacht, and settle in Holland, hoping to escape the Nazi tide. But as Hitler's reign sweeps through Europe, the Kagans find themselves within reach of danger again.
Related: Jewish Resistance Fighters Pulled Off the Largest Prison Escape of WWII