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The Holocaust is one of the most horrifying and devastating events in history, and while those who experienced it firsthand are fewer each year, Holocaust Education week is held annually in November and International Holocaust Remembrance Day occurs every January 27th  to ensure that the history doesn’t die with the last survivor.

 

Thankfully, as sales statistics prove, reader interest in the Holocaust endures for both modern and classic books on the subject. Elie Weisel’s memoir Night, chronicling his experience surviving Nazi death camps as a teenager is one such example.   

 

Since the original Yiddish publication in 1956, it has been translated into more than 30 languages, was an Oprah book club pick in 2006, and is widely studied in schools around the world. Today, it remains a fixture on the Publisher’s Weekly Biography/Autobiography bestseller list, and tops Amazon’s Jewish Biographies list. According to Publisher’s Weekly, the book has sold 209k copies as of November, 2018, and the book has sold more than 10 million copies overall.

 

My first introduction to the Holocaust was through Anne Frank's Diary. I still remember the first time I read it. I was around 8 or 9 years old and my teacher assigned it in school. I was way too young to fully grasp everything that Anne was talking about in her diary (particularly the stuff about sexuality), but I did understand the reason that she and her family had to hide and the tragedy of what happened to Anne and her family.  

 

When the movie Schindler’s List released 25 years ago this Christmas, it became a huge box office success, and brought fresh attention to Thomas Keneally’s Booker Prize-winning historical novel of the same name.  Oskar Schindler was a German man who found a way to save 1200 Jewish people from execution by employing them in his factories. It's a story of heroism and courage, and viewers/readers flocked to it. 

 

In recent years, the genre has become so popular that it now has its own category on Amazon and is mainstream in bookstores. From The Book Thief to this year’s hit The Tattooist of Auschwitz, these titles resonate with readers, so what is it about the Holocaust that appeals both to writers and readers?

 

I believe there are a few reasons. One is that the generation who fought in WWII and survived the Holocaust are in their 80s and 90s, and there is a renewed sense of urgency to share their stories before there’s nobody left to tell them.

 

Another is that good historical fiction on any subject allows readers to make connections between the past and the present. For children especially (and adults too), history can be highly abstract and it can be difficult to understand what something that happened so long ago has to do with them. I hated history when I was a kid because my teacher was dry and boring. She had obviously forgotten the most important part of the word history is ‘story”.  Holocaust fiction brings it to life in a way that most textbooks can’t, and makes facts matter.

 

Lastly and most importantly is the emotional connection. If there wasn’t someone to care about or root for, why would anyone keep reading? These characters persevere against all odds and in one way or another are heroes.

 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is based on interviews that Morris had with the real Lale Sokolov in the three years before he passed away at age 90.

 

What makes this book successful is not just that it’s a Holocaust story, but a human story. It is a story of triumph, hope, resilience and love. Lale didn’t want to be the tattooist. It was a terrible task but one that he knew offered him a layer of protection and a chance to survive. When Lale inked the tattoo on Gita’s arm at Auschwitz, it was love at first sight, and he vowed to survive the camp and to marry her when the war was over.

 

Lale's story is like a beautiful flower in a barren wasteland. The fact that he and Gita survived at all is miraculous, let alone falling in love and finding each other after the war. It's about incredible courage, and love triumphing against all odds.

 

Readers want Lale and Gita to survive. They hope for the happily ever after. He is a hero for finding ways to help others when many wouldn’t, and for finding ways to give them hope. Gita was shipped out of the camp before he was, and all he knew was her name, not where she was from. At this point, it seemed like hope was lost and he’d never see her again, yet somehow they found each other. The couple was married in 1945, and were together until Gita’s death in 2003.

 

Some reviewers have criticized the book for focusing too heavily on the romance and of glossing over the horrors of the Holocaust, but I disagree.  In an age where the news is so bleak, we need hope. We need to be uplifted and to be reminded that even when things seem their darkest, something good can still exist.

 

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Happy reading!

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