My novel THE BEAST'S GARDEN is a retelling of the Grimm brothers' version of 'Beauty & the Beast' set in Nazi Germany.
The story takes place between Kristallnacht in November 1938, and the fall of Berlin in April 1948, with most of the action centred on Berlin, the nerve centre of the Third Reich.
I did an enormous amount of research while writing THE BEAST'S GARDEN, and I have had numerous letters and messages asking me about how I went about my research and what books were most useful for me.
So I've decided to do a series of blog posts about my research books, in the hope it will help those interested in reading more deeply.
To begin with, I thought I'd share the books which best helped me understand the plight of Jewish people in Berlin during those terrible years.
JEWS IN NAZI BERLIN: From Kristallnacht To Liberation - edited by Beate Meyer, Hermann Simon and Chana Schitz
This book is a collection of scholarly essays and articles by a variety of scholars, covering every aspect of Jewish life from the Juni-Aktion in Berlin in 1938, to the 'Snatchers' (the Gestapo's Jewish informants who betrayed many Jews hiding in the capital). It is beautifully constructed and illustrated, and contains many first-hand and personal accounts which really rammed home the horror of the times. My copy is now looking very battered, as it was on or beside my desk for months.
BETWEEN DIGNITY & DESPAIR: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany - Marion A. Kaplan
My copy of this book has been marked on nearly every page - it was an absolutely essential guide for me. It draws on a variety of memoirs, diaries, letters, and official reports to explore what life was like for the Jews in the Third Reich. I particularly loved the emphasis it gave to the live of Jewish women as they struggled to feed and protect their families.
HITLER'S WILLING EXECUTIONERS: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust - Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
This is one of the most chilling books I have ever read. I found it very hard to read, and only managed by studying one chapter at a time, with long breaks in between. It shows, with surgical precision, just how deeply engrained anti-semitism was in everyday German life and how that led to the Holocaust. Utterly heart-breaking and powerful, it draws upon a multitude of first-hand accounts and documents, many of them ever before examined.
HITLER'S FURIES: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields - Wendy Lower
In HITLER'S FURIES, Wendy Lower looks closely at the lives of thirteen ordinary German women who became renowned for their cruelty and barbarism in the killing fields of Eastern Europe. Some were nurses, some were secretaries, some were wives of Nazi officers - yet they all acted with utter cold-heartedness and, in some cases, sociopathic sadism. Another harrowing read.
THE BEASTS OF BUCHENWALD - Flint Whitlock
BUCHENWALD: HELL ON A HILLTOP - Flint Whitlock
Buchenwald is one of the most infamous German concentration camp, and is the setting for a few scenes in my novel THE BEAST'S GARDEN. These two books were of inestimable value in helping me understand what life was like for those poor prisoners locked
inside its concrete walls. 'The Beasts of Buchenwald' were, of course, Karl and Ilse Koch, most famous for allegedly making lampshades out of human skin.
In the upcoming weeks, I will blog about the best memoirs I read of life under Hitler, best books about the German resistance, and best books on Hitler himself. Keep an eye out!
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