Friday 17 November 2017

Non-Fiction November: Be the Expert

This week's topic for Nonfiction November is Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Hosted by Kim @Sophisticated Dorkiness, head on over by the end of today to link up and/or read all the fabulous responses.

I've had a Holocaust fixation for a very long time.

It goes back to Yr 9 at high school when I studied the causes and effects of WWII for the first time. We read Anne Frank's Diary as part of our studies. I was appalled, horrified and fascinated in equal measure. I simply couldn't understand how it happened. How did the German people get caught up in such a huge and obviously wrong situation? How did the rest of the world let it happen? And could it happen again?

The conditions and treatment of the Jews inside the concentration camps gave me bad dreams and bad feelings for years. How could human beings treat other fellow human beings so awfully? What did this say about man's inhumanity to man? Not only on a universal level, but also on a more personal, day to day level? What is in our human psyche, our human hearts and souls that could allow something like this to happen? Why did so many people participate knowingly in such events?

Over the years I have read many, many books about the Holocaust - histories, memoirs, commentaries, eye witness accounts, fiction, diaries and the occasional denial piece.

I still don't understand, but the three books that brought it tantalising close are:

Mein Kampf is an awful book, poorly written, full of hideous thoughts and ideas. But to understand evil you need to know what it looks like. Skim read it if that's all can you manage, but the early parts about his impoverished childhood give the modern, more psychologically aware reader some inkling into why Hitler and many German people like him, where able to think and act the way they did.

I felt dirty and guilty the entire time I was reading this book, but it reminded me that Hitler was not necessarily born evil. He acted like a monster, but he was in fact a human being, just like you and me, and that's the bit I still struggle to understand.

Gitta Sereny's biography on Albert Speer is a masterpiece in psychology, trust and truth. This huge book is a commitment, but it is worth every word and every page. Sereny wears down Speer's defences slowly but surely in this compassionate yet relentless search for truth, responsibility and conscience.

If you only ever read one book about the Holocaust, make it this one.

I read Reading the Holocaust about 15 years ago. It was hard going. Intellectual, exacting, in your face accounts from survivors and perpetrators that explored the Holocaust from ever angle. Clendinnen used her historians gaze to examine the stories and literature surrounding the Holocaust. Like me she was on a search for the human amongst the inhumanity. It was gut-wrenching, thought-provoking stuff, some of it not for the faint-hearted. But I've always figured that if people actually had to live through such unspeakable, unthinkable things...and survived, then the very least I can do is read about them and bear witness.

Perhaps not the lightest or easiest topic to be an expert on, but if you've ever wondered why or how such a thing could have ever happened, then these three books may help you come a step closer to understanding.


  1. Anonymous18/11/17

    I am not sure whether I'll ever be able to bring myself to read Mein Kampf, but I will definitely look for the other two books you recommend.

    1. I skim read Mein Kampf as a teenager, I'm not sure I could make myself do it now. The older I get, the more upset I get about stuff like this.

  2. I have read many books on the Holocaust, too. NIGHT by Ellie Weisel was the first I read where I really "got it" about the horrors. Somehow The Diary of Anne Frank, to me, was so much more about the hiding. THE HIDING PLACE made a big impact on me when I was younger, too. Several fiction books have also impacted me: Sarah's Key, Schindler's List, The Book Thief, Rose Under Fire. It is such a difficult topic.

    1. I have read one of Weisel's biographies, but I can't remember which one. It was about the time I realised I had to stop reading about the Holocaust for a while as all the stories were beginning to blur together & I didn't feel that that was a healthy thing.

  3. You're right, definitely not a light topic. But it's one that's really important. Thanks for sharing your recommendations this week!

  4. It is hard to believe that something like this could happen and yet we have so many other horrors going on all over the world to this day. I feel like, have we not learned anything? Difficult subject indeed but one to keep learning about. I'm also with Anne and recommend Night if you haven't checked it out.

    1. Iliana you've just tapped into one of the reasons why I have eased up on reading about the Holocaust. Seeing so many awful atrocities still being played in the world today and feeling so helpless to do anything about them, makes me realise that we don't seem to learn anything at all from the mistakes of the past and that history is doomed to repeat itself ad nauseum!


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