In her book Brushstrokes of a Gadfly, E.A. Bucchianeri wrote, “If you boil it down, just because someone else does the wrong thing we are not exempt from doing what’s right.” Or, as my mom always told me when I was growing up, "Two wrongs don't make a right."
During World War 2, many people did many wrong things. Some people knew that others were doing wrong, but instead of doing right, they accepted the wrong. They stood by and looked away while their friends and neighbors suffered, allowing evil people to do very wrong things. They would have done well to remember that just because others are doing wrong, they are not exempt from doing what's right.
My hope as I read these accounts of wrongdoings is that I will be continually reminded that I am not exempt from doing right even when others are doing wrong.
Continue reading for a second list of books about WW2 and the Holocaust.
Historical Fiction Novels About World War 2 and the Holocaust
1. The Room on Rue Amelie
Written by Kristin Harmel, The Room on Rue Amelie "tells the tale of an American woman, a British RAF pilot, and a young Jewish teenager whose lives intersect in occupied Paris during the tumultuous days of World War II." - Goodreads
This fascinating story based on the historical meetings that occurred in Munich between Chamberlain and Hitler tells the story of "treason and conscience, loyalty and betrayal, set against the backdrop of the fateful Munich Conference of September, 1938." (Goodreads)
Written by Robert Harris, Munich was one World War 2 book that I could not put down.
3. Girl in Hyacinth Blue
Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland traces the history of a painting thought to be painted by Vermeer. At one point, the painting is stolen from a Jewish family by a Nazi soldier. So although the story is not specifically about WW2, it is enough of a reference that I am including it here. I loved this book and highly recommend reading it!
4. The Last Train to London
"In 1936, the Nazi are little more than loud, brutish bores to fifteen-year old Stephan Neuman, the son of a wealthy and influential Jewish family and budding playwright whose playground extends from Vienna’s streets to its intricate underground tunnels. Stephan’s best friend and companion is the brilliant Žofie-Helene, a Christian girl whose mother edits a progressive, anti-Nazi newspaper. But the two adolescents’ carefree innocence is shattered when the Nazis’ take control." - Goodreads
Meg Waite Clayton weaves a gripping tale of love and loss in The Last Train to London.
5. We Must Be Brave
"Spanning World War II and the sweep of the twentieth century, We Must Be Brave explores the fierce love that we feel for our children and the power of that love to endure. Beyond distance, beyond time, beyond life itself." - Goodreads
We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet follows the story of Ellen Parr and the little girl she takes in.
6. The Last Time I Saw Paris
Lynn Sheene's debut novel The Last Time I Saw Paris follows the story of Claire Harris and her work with the French Resistance. This is a story of deception and intrigue, bravery and brilliance. Wonderful!
Drive by Joyce Moyer Hostetter takes place in the years following WW2, but because of Ellie's father's postwar trauma, I include it in this list. "Ellie Honeycutt seeks escape at the NASCAR speedway and in her dreams of travel and college, while her twin sister, Ida, clings to family and finds solace in her sketchbook. Their close relationship is threatened when they both fall for the same charming classmate at their new high school. But a devastating car accident renews the sisters' deep bond and forces them to reverse their roles."
This middle-grade book is an easy read but a great story.
8. The Paris Orphan
A historical fiction novel by Natasha Lester, The Paris Orphan weaves a tale of "One lost little girl. One American soldier. And the woman who braves a war to save them both."
"New York City/Paris, 1942: When American model Jessica May arrives in Europe to cover the war as a photojournalist for Vogue, most of the soldiers are determined to make her life as difficult as possible. But three friendships change that. Journalist Martha Gellhorn encourages Jess to bend the rules. Captain Dan Hallworth keeps her safe in dangerous places so she can capture the stories that truly matter. And most important of all, the love of a little orphan named Victorine gives Jess strength to do the impossible. But her success will come at a price." - Goodreads
9. Saving Amelie
Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke tells the story of Rachel Kramer and her efforts to save Amelie, a child who has been deaf since birth, putting her in danger of being exterminated by Hitler.
10. The Final Solution
"In deep retirement in the English countryside, an eighty-nine-year-old man, vaguely recollected by locals as a once-famous detective, is more concerned with his beekeeping than with his fellow man. Into his life wanders Linus Steinman, nine years old and mute, who has escaped from Nazi Germany with his sole companion: an African gray parrot." - Goodreads
This is an interesting mystery about friendship and loyalty. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon is a quick read but with surprisingly vigorous vocabulary.
Nonfiction Books About World War 2 and the Holocaust
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand is a true story of courage and survival. "On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane's bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War." - Goodreads
2. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
The Girls of Atomic City tells the story of the women who worked at a factory in Oak Ridge, TN. "In The Girls of Atomic City, Denise Kiernan traces the astonishing story of these unsung WWII workers through interviews with dozens of surviving women and other Oak Ridge residents." - Goodreads
3. The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy
Written by Judith Pearson, The Wolves at the Door tells the story of Virginia Hall, "America's greatest World War II spy heroine." - Goodreads
4. A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the Amerian Spy Who Helped Win World War II
Written by Sonia Purnell, A Woman of No Importance also chronicles Virginia Hall's important work as a spy during World War 2.
5. The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing
A memoir by Adam P. Frankel, The Survivors tells the story of Frankel's maternal grandparents who survived the Holocaust and rebuilt their lives in Connecticut.
6. I Will Bear Witness
I Will Bear Witness 1933-1041: A Diary of the Nazi Years by Victor Klemperer focuses much on the everyday, ordinary people who turned on their neighbors and friends.
"A Dresden Jew, a veteran of World War I, a man of letters and historian of great sophistication, Klemperer recognized the danger of Hitler as early as 1933. His diaries, written in secrecy, provide a vivid account of everyday life in Hitler's Germany." - Goodreads
7. The Boy on the Wooden Box
Read this; then watch Schindler's List. The Boy on the Wooden Box is a memoir by Leon Leyson with Marilyn J. Harran an Elisabeth B. Leyson.
"Even in the darkest of times--especially in the darkest of times—there is room for strength and bravery. A remarkable memoir from Leon Leyson, one of the youngest children to survive the Holocaust on Oskar Schindler’s list."
8. What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany
"Why did Hitler's party appeal to millions of Germans, and how entrenched was anti-Semitism among the population? How could anyone claim, after the war, that the genocide of Europe's Jews was a secret? Did ordinary non-Jewish Germans live in fear of the Nazi state? In this unprecedented firsthand analysis of daily life as experienced in the Third Reich, What We Knew offers answers to these most important questions." - Goodreads
What We Knew by Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband offers profound insights into life in Germany under Hitler's rule.
9. All But my Life
We read All But My Life, Gerda Weissman Klein's memoir of her years of loss, torture, and sickness at the hands of the Nazis, in book club, and we all agreed that this was a five-star book. Though it was a difficult read, and I often had to stop to allow myself time to process the horrors she endured, the hope and persistence that filled her soul gives me hope for our future.
10. Four Perfect Pebbles: A Holocaust Story
"Marion Blumenthal Lazan’s unforgettable and acclaimed memoir recalls the devastating years that shaped her childhood. Following Hitler’s rise to power, the Blumenthal family—father, mother, Marion, and her brother, Albert—were trapped in Nazi Germany. They managed eventually to get to Holland, but soon thereafter it was occupied by the Nazis. For the next six and a half years the Blumenthals were forced to live in refugee, transit, and prison camps, including Westerbork in Holland and Bergen-Belsen in Germany, before finally making it to the United States. Their story is one of horror and hardship, but it is also a story of courage, hope, and the will to survive." - Goodreads
Four Perfect Pebbles was written by Lila Pearl and Marion Blumenthal Lazan and is as hopeful as it is heartbreaking. Written for middle-grade students, this is a quick read, but an important one.
What have I missed? What World War 2 nonfiction and historical fiction books have you read that you recommend?
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