The Holocaust, Literature of

Citation metadata

Editor: Laurie Di Mauro
Date: 1992
From: Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism(Vol. 42. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 1,548 words

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 


Arguably the most horrifying example of human brutality in recorded history, the Holocaust refers to the period between 1933 and 1945 when the National Socialist, or Nazi, forces of Germany murdered more than six million people of Jewish descent. Envisioned by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, the persecution of the Jewish population began in Germany with the withdrawal of their legal and civil rights, followed closely by their expulsion from the country. Hitler’s “final solution”—his attempt to totally eradicate the Jewish people through mass executions—commenced with the outbreak of World War II and Germany’s subsequent military occupation of much of Europe. Jewish Europeans, along with gypsies, homosexuals, and other “asocials,” were confined within urban ghettos then transported to such concentration camps as Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Dachau, where a life of appalling squalor, starvation, and degradation preceded death in gas chambers or before firing squads. While the Allied victory in 1945 ended these atrocities, the Holocaust continues to raise profound questions concerning the moral, theological, and psychological assumptions of the civilized world.

In the years immediately following the Holocaust, writers remained largely silent concerning the concentration camps. T. W. Adorno, the renowned German sociologist, declared: “No poetry after Auschwitz,” a statement which reflected the prevailing opinion that language could not fully encompass the insanity of the death camps. Therefore, attempts to address the Holocaust through literature were perceived as futile acts that further demeaned those who had suffered or died. Yet, an increasingly vocal group of survivors and others have asserted that silence perpetuated the Nazi crimes, and they have called upon artists and writers to confront the Holocaust and its legacy so that humanity might understand and ultimately overcome its basest tendencies.

Considered among the most poignant works to be published in response to this imperative are the diaries of Holocaust victims, which had been hidden or smuggled out of Nazi-occupied countries years earlier. As in the most famous of these records, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, overwhelming statistics are humanized through the diarist’s growing understanding of and struggle against the forces of destruction. A significant contribution to Holocaust literature has also been made by memoirists, including Elie Wiesel, Alexander Donat, and Samuel Pisar. Memoirs, unlike diaries, document the daily struggle of survivors against their memories and feelings of guilt for having survived when so many did not. Critics and readers generally approach these eyewitness accounts with what Alvin H. Rosenfeld has termed a “transfiguring sense of awe.” This reverence for historical truth in Holocaust literature highlights the problems confronting writers who attempt to base works of fiction on the events of the Holocaust. According to commentators, the reality of the Holocaust exceeded the imagination of novelists, poets, and dramatists and so cannot be adequately expressed in their work. However, critics also recognize the importance of authors who accept the challenge of overcoming the Holocaust’s alienating irreality to draw the reader or audience into its perverse moral landscape. Nelly Sachs, Primo Levi, and the many anonymous poets who wrote in the ghettos are recognized for their invention of new metaphors to adequately impart the Jewish experience during the Holocaust years. Survivors such as Elie Wiesel, Amost Lustig, and André Schwartz-Bart as well as some writers who did not suffer internment personally, including Saul Bellow and Isaac Bashevis Singer, are esteemed for novels that successfully synthesize historical truth and the imagination to become what Lawrence L. Langer has referred to as “factual fictions.” Similarly, the stylized works of such playwrights as Charlotte Delbo and George Tabori create environments that are considered to more accurately reflect the atmosphere of the concentration camps than many naturalistic representations of Nazi atrocities.

Despite the passage of years, the Holocaust remains in the forefront of modem consciousness through the continuing efforts of writers. Their many poems, memoirs, and novels offer fragments that together may approach the enormity of the event while continually compelling individuals and nations to reassess human morality. Richard Exner has asserted: “Writing can never solve the question of why and how such an event as the Holocaust occurred, but it is the duty of writers to further and to keep alive our awareness of that event. … In other words [post-Holocaust writers] must commemorate for fear we might forget why we almost have not survived.”

Representative Works

Aichinger, Ilse

  • Herod’s Children (novel) 1963

Amichai, Yehuda

  • Not of This Time, Not of This Place (poetry) 1968

Andersch, Alfred

  • Efraim’s Book (novel) 1970

Barkai, Meyer

  • The Fighting Ghettos (memoir) 1962

Becker, Jurek

  • Jacob the Liar (novel) 1975

Bellow, Saul

  • Mr. Sammler’s Planet (novel) 1970

Berg, Mary

  • Warsaw Ghetto (diary) 1945

Bettelheim, Bruno

  • The Informed Heart (memoir) 1960

Bor, Josef

  • The Terezin Requiem (memoir) 1963

Borowski, Tadeusz

  • This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (short stories) 1967

Bryks, Rachmil

  • Ghetto Factory 76 (poetry) 1967

Celan, Paul

  • Selected Poems (poetry) 1972

Delbo, Charlotte

  • None of Us Will return (memoir) 1969
  • Who Will Carry the Word? (drama) 1974

Des Pres, Terrence

  • The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps (memoir) 1976

Donat, Alexander

  • The Holocaust Kingdom (memoir) 1965

Eliach, Yaffa, and Assaf, Uri

  • The Last Jew (drama) 1977

Epstein, Leslie

  • King of the Jews (novel) 1979

Feldman, Irving

  • The Pripet Marshes, and Other Poems (poetry) 1965

Flinker, Moses

  • Young Moshe’s Diary: The Spiritual Torment of a Jewish Boy in Nazi Europe (diary) 1965

Frank, Anne

  • The Diary of a Young Girl (diary) 1952

Frankl, Viktor

  • Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (memoir) 1963

Friedländer, Saul

  • When Memory Comes (memoir) 1978

Gary, Romain

  • The Dance of Ghengis Cohn (novel) 1968

Gershon, Karen

  • Selected Poems (poetry) 1966

Glatstein, Jacob

  • The Selected Poems of Jacob Glatstein (poetry) 1972

Goldstein, Charles

  • The Bunker (memoir) 1973

Gray, Martin

  • For Those I Loved (memoir) 1972

Green, Gerald

  • Holocaust (novel) 1979

Hecht, Anthony

  • The Hard Hours (poetry) 1967

Heimler, Eugene

  • Night of the Mist (memoir) 1960

Hersey, John

  • The Wall (novel) 1950

Heyen, William

  • The Swastika Poems (poetry) 1977

Hoess, Rudolph

  • Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolph Hoess (memoir) 1960

Kaniuk, Yoram

  • Adam Resurrected (novel) 1971

Kaplan, Chaim A.

  • Scroll of Agony (diary) 1965; also published as The Warsaw Diary of Chaim Kaplan, 1973

Karmel, Ilona

  • An Estate of Memory (novel) 1969

Katz, Josef

  • One Who Came Back: The Diary of a Jewish Survivor (memoir) 1973

Katznelson, Yitzhak

  • Vittel Diary (diary) 1972


  • Atrocity (novel) 1963
  • House of Dolls (novel) 1969
  • Star Eternal (novel) 1971
  • Sunrise over Hell (novel) 1977

Klein, A. M.

  • Collected Poems (poetry) 1974

Klein, Gerda Weissman

  • All But My Life (memoir) 1957

Kolmar, Gertrud

  • Dark Soliloquy: The Selected Poems of Gertrud Kolmar (poetry) 1975

Kosinski, Jerzy

  • The Painted Bird (novel) 1965
  • Steps (novel) 1969

Kovner, Abba

  • A Canopy in the Desert (poetry) 1973

Kuznetsov, A. Anatoli

  • Babi Yar (memoir) 1971

Lampell, Millard

  • The Wall (drama) 1961

Langfus, Anna

  • The Whole Land Brimstone (novel) 1962
  • The Lost Shore (novel) 1963

Levi, Primo

  • The Reawakening (memoir) 1965
  • Survival in Auschwitz (memoir) 1969
  • Shema: Collected Poems of Primo Levi (poetry) 1976

Lieberman, Harold and Edith L.

  • Throne of Straw (drama) 1973

Lind, Jakov

  • Soul of Wood, and Other Stories (short stories) 1964
  • Landscape in Concrete (novel) 1966
  • Counting My Steps (novel) 1969
  • Numbers (novel) 1972

Lustig, Arnost

  • A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova (novel) 1973
  • Darkness Casts No Shadow (novel) 1977
  • Night and Hope (short stories) 1977
  • Diamonds of the Night (novel) 1978
  • Dita Saxova (novel) 1983
  • The Unloved: From the Diary of Perla S. (novel) 1985

Miller, Arthur

  • Incident at Vichy (drama) 1965

Milosz, Czeslaw

  • Selected Poems (poetry) 1973

Morgenstern, Soma

  • The Third Pillar (novel) 1955

Pisar, Samuel

  • Of Blood and Hope (memoir) 1979

Radnoti, Miklos

  • Clouded Sky (poetry) 1972

Rawicz, Piotr

  • Blood from the Sky (novel) 1964

Reznikoff, Charles

  • Holocaust (poetry) 1975

Ringelblum, Emmanuel

  • Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto (diary) 1958

Rosen, Donia

  • The Forest My Friend (memoir) 1971

Rosen, Norma

  • Touching Evil (novel) 1969

Rousset, David

  • The Other Kingdom (memoir) 1947

Różewicz, Tadeusz

  • “The Survivor,” and Other Poems (poetry) 1976

Rudnicki, Adolf

  • The Alive and the Dead Sea (short stories) 1957

Sachs, Nelly

  • O the Chimneys (poetry) 1967
  • The Seeker, and Other Poems (poetry) 1970

Sartre, Jean-Paul

  • The Condemned of Altona (drama) 1961

Schaeffer, Susan Fromberg

  • Anya (novel) 1974

Schwartz-Bart, André

  • The Last of the Just (novel) 1960

Semprun, Jorge

  • The Long Voyage (novel) 1964

Shapell, Nathan

  • Witness to the Truth (memoir) 1974

Shaw, Robert

  • The Man in the Glass Booth (drama) 1967

Singer, Isaac Bashevis

  • Enemies: A Love Story (novel) 1972

Singer, Israel Joshua

  • The Carnovsky Family (novel) 1943

Sobol, Joshua

  • The Ghetto (drama) 1988

Steiner, George

  • The Voyage to San Cristobal of A. H. (novella) 1979

Styron, William

  • Sophie’s Choice (novel) 1979

Tabori, George

  • The Cannibals (drama) 1968

Thomas, D. M.

  • The White Hotel (novel) 1981

Uris, Leon

  • Mila 18 (novel) 1961
  • QB VII (novel) 1970

von Kardoff, Ursula

  • Diary of a Nightmare (diary) 1966

Wells, Leon W.

  • The Janowska Road (memoir) 1963

Wiesel, Elie

  • Night (memoir) 1960
  • Dawn (novel) 1961
  • The Accident (novel) 1962
  • The Town Beyond the Wall (novel) 1964
  • The Gates of the Forest (novel) 1966
  • A Beggar in Jerusalem (novel) 1970
  • The Oath (novel) 1973
  • Zalmen; or, The Madness of God (drama) 1974
  • The Trial of God (drama) 1979
  • The Testament (novel) 1981
  • The Fifth Son (novel) 1985

Wincelberg, Shimon

  • Resort 76 (drama) 1969

Footnotes:*This list contains only works in English or in English translation.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CQHEYD784153071