I’m not sure why, but I’ve been listening to a lot of World War II books lately. Maybe it’s because I lived a large part of my life in Germany, maybe it’s because my grandfather flew B-52 bombers during the war, or maybe it’s because the stories that come out of that time period are disheartening and make you question how anyone could possibly participate in such atrocities. But these books also give hope for humanity: the stories of the brave, resilient men and women who stood up in the face of terror and did what they knew was right even if it cost them their lives.
The following books have been some of my most recent reads:
The Tattooist of Auschwitz – First written as a screenplay, this book is based on the real life of Lale Sokolov and his wife, Gita Furman. Lale was a Slovakian Jew who was imprisoned in Auschwitz in 1942 and became a tattooist soon after. While tattooing numbers on prisoners’ arms, he meets and falls in love with Gita. The book is primarily Lale’s point of view and is not very descriptive, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. There have been some negative reviews of the book claiming factual inaccuracies so it’s important to note that while the story is based on real people and events, it is historical fiction. Heather Morris spent three years talking with Lale about his time in Auschwitz and life with Gita.
The Light in Hidden Places – The true story of Polish sisters Stefania (16) and Helena Podgorska (7) and how they hid thirteen Jewish men, women, and children in their attic for 2.5 years. For the last eight months, they were forced to house two German nurses and their boyfriends, with their friends hiding in the attic the whole time. Reading the book, you forget that Stefania is only 16 and caring for 14 people with no job and on war rations. I couldn’t help but wonder if I could do what Stefania and her sister did if I found myself in the same situation. Sharon Cameron did extensive research when writing this book, interviewing the survivors, reading Stefania’s memoirs and traveling to Poland with Stefania’s son to visit the place where this amazing story took place.
The German Wife – Inspired by the true story of Operation Paperclip, a controversial secret US Intelligent program that employed former Nazis after WWII, this book tells the story of two ladies both married to rocket scientists, whose lives cross paths after World War II. The book jumps back and forth between the two women’s stories, both throughout the war and afterwards, but the author does a great job following the timeline of events that it is easy to read and switch between characters. Each lady does what she has to do to get by in the world at their time, protecting their families from danger. There were times where the American wife got on my nerves and I just wanted to shake her and say stop being so blind.
The Alice Network – This book is told from the point of view of two ladies in various English and French locations across two time periods. Eve is a haunted woman who was a spy during World War I and wants revenge on her nemesis. Charlie is searching for her cousin Rose who disappeared in France during World War II and convinced Eve to help her find out what happened. While helping each other, Charlie learns more about the past, things she did not understand as a child and comes to terms with events that were out of her control. Eve is forced to face the demons that haunt her as her traveling companions learn more about their friend and how their paths and pasts are connected.
The Nightingale – This book tells the story of two sisters during the war, one who stays home and cares for her daughter and is forced to board a German soldier in her home while her sister works for the resistance. There is love, loss, trauma, and celebration that weaves throughout the story. Parts of this book could be triggering to some. Aside from the racist and violent events of WWII books, this book also contains sexual violence.
The London House – A family secret is uncovered that forces Carolyn Payne into the secret spy world of World War II. Her family was told that her British great aunt defected to the Nazis to marry her secret lover. What she uncovers could either destroy her family or bring them closer together and heal generations of hurt.
A Woman of No Importance – This book is the biography of Virginia Hall, the first female agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to take up residence in France. She created a network in Lyon, became an expert at organizing resistance movements, helping agents and downed airmen with safe houses, weapons, money, and medical assistance. She also helped 12 agents escape prison and smuggled them to Spain where they returned to England. The Gestapo considered her the most dangerous of Allied spies and she was hunted by the Butcher of Lyon, Klaus Barbie. She escaped France over the Pyrenees to escape the Germans and then returned as an agent for the OSS, in disguise and as a radio operator. This was a long book but you just keep thinking, “This lady is amazing.”