The best books about life under Nazi occupation

Why am I passionate about this?

I am Robert Loewen, the author of The Lioness of Leiden. Imagine that you were born between 1910 and 1925, and the war in Europe is raging. You're a university professor in Berlin who holds meetings at your home to resist the oppressive regime that has imprisoned prominent members of the opposition. Or maybe you are a Jewish man who plans to use your linguistic talent to succeed in a Czechoslovakian business venture, but you just received an order to report for transportation to a place called Auschwitz. Perhaps you are a Dutch university student who joins the resistance when the Third Reich invades your country.


I wrote...

The Lioness of Leiden

By Robert Loewen,

Book cover of The Lioness of Leiden

What is my book about?

How do you fight the Nazis right under their noses? With cunning and courage.

Poignantly drawing on the fascinating first-hand account of his mother-in-law’s lived experiences in the Dutch resistance, Robert Loewen’s historical fiction debut introduces the world to three brave everyday women who defied societal expectations and fought against the Nazi Gestapo in World War II. With The Lioness of Leiden [Greenleaf Book Group, April 4], Loewen shines a light on the female resistance fighters of the Netherlands, who were hunted by the Gestapo and betrayed by spies they thought were their friends.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Robert Loewen Why did I love this book?

This is a novel about an improbable relationship carried out under Hitler’s nose at Auschwitz, where over a million people were murdered.

Before writing The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris interviewed Lale Sokolov, who lived in Australia during the latter part of his life.

Lale told the story about how he was assigned by the Germans to place tatoos on the arms of people entering Auschwitz—a concentration camp built for mass extermination. This gave him certain privileges—including access to food—that enabled him to help Gita, another prisoner who he fell in love with.

Ms. Morris expertly weaves Lale’s story into a novel, which drags the reader into the horror and hope of Lale’s improbable narrative.    

By Heather Morris,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Tattooist of Auschwitz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the bestselling books of the 21st century with over 6 million copies sold.

Don't miss the conclusion to The Tattooist of Auschwitz Trilogy, Three Sisters. Available now.

I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.

In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival - scratching numbers into his fellow victims' arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust.

Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl.…


Book cover of Three Ordinary Girls: The Remarkable Story of Three Dutch Teenagers Who Became Spies, Saboteurs, Nazi Assassins-And WWII Heroes

Robert Loewen Why did I love this book?

This is a history about three young women in the Netherlands who resisted the occupiers by murdering enemy soldiers.

The story told in Three Ordinary Girls about young women who assassinated German soldiers had already been told partially in the memoirs of the survivors.

The story of Hannie Schaft, the ring leader and a student at Amsterdam University at the outset of the war, is now part of the history told to students in Dutch schools.

But author Tim Brady does an admirable job of bringing new perspectives to these heroes by weaving a story that reads like a novel even though the facts are documented in his footnotes.

By Tim Brady,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Three Ordinary Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“The book's teenage protagonists and their bravery will enthrall young adults, who may find themselves inspired to take up their own causes.” —Washington Post

An astonishing World War II story of a trio of fearless female resisters whose youth and innocence belied their extraordinary daring in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. It also made them the underground’s most invaluable commodity.

May 10, 1940. The Netherlands was swarming with Third Reich troops. In seven days it’s entirely occupied by Nazi Germany. Joining a small resistance cell in the Dutch city of Haarlem were three teenage girls: Hannie Schaft, and sisters Truus and Freddie…


Book cover of A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

Robert Loewen Why did I love this book?

This is the story of an American diplomat, Virginia Hall, who served in the French resistance.

Virginia Hall, the protagonist in A Woman of No Importance, worked for American and British intelligence. Much of her story was classified until recently.

But once she had access to those documents, author Sonia Purcell was able to weave together a masterly account of this most unusual woman’s brave contributions to the war effort.

By Sonia Purnell,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked A Woman of No Importance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Chosen as a BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR by NPR, the New York Public Library, Amazon, the Seattle Times, the Washington Independent Review of Books, PopSugar, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, BookBrowse, the Spectator, and the Times of London

Winner of the Plutarch Award for Best Biography

"Excellent...This book is as riveting as any thriller, and as hard to put down." -- The New York Times Book Review

"A compelling biography of a masterful spy, and a reminder of what can be done with a few brave people -- and a little resistance." - NPR

"A…


Book cover of All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler

Robert Loewen Why did I love this book?

This book is a biography about Mildred Harnack, an American woman who became a leader of the German resistance.

Rebecca Donner is the great-great-niece of the protagonist, Mildred Harnack, in All the Frequent Trouble of Our Days.

Ms. Harnack met her German husband while they were graduate students at University of Wisconsin. While serving as university professors in Berlin, the young married couple was appalled by the rise of Hitler’s National Socialist Party.

They circulated pamphlets that encouraged resistance to the Nazis and passed along secret information to the allies.

The author’s great grandmother, who joined her aunt Mildred in Berlin at the outset of the war, retained an archive of letters that formed the basis for the well-presented story about Ms. Harnack’s courage.

The author found an old man, who had been a boy at the time of the war and carried secret messages for Ms. Harnack, and his recollection filled in the details.

Without these links to the past, we might not have known about this unique aspect of the German resistance, about which little has been written.

By Rebecca Donner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SELECTED AS A BBC RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK

Born and raised in America, Mildred Harnack was twenty-six when she enrolled in a PhD programme in Germany and witnessed the meteoric rise of the Nazi party. In 1932, she began holding secret meetings in her apartment - a small band of political activists that by 1940 had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin.

She recruited Germans into the resistance, helped Jews escape, plotted acts of sabotage and collaborated in writing leaflets that denounced Hitler and called for revolution. When the first shots of the Second World…


Book cover of Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women

Robert Loewen Why did I love this book?

This is a meticulously supported history of the women who were imprisoned at the notorious camp 54 miles north of Berlin.

Ravensbrück is a detailed history of the lives of the women imprisoned at the only concentration camp for women. Because the camp was located in East Germany, most of the documents needed to write the history were unavailable to western writers until the cold war ended.

As soon the Berlin wall fell, author Sarah Helm leaped into action, combing through the documents that remained, and from those she found survivors, who told her their stories.

Ms. Helm tells a gut-wrenching story about slave labor, starvation, medical experiments, infanticide, mass killing, betrayal, and heroism that made me feel like I was a witness to daily life at the camp.

By Sarah Helm,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ravensbrück as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Months before the outbreak of World War II, Heinrich Himmler—prime architect of the Holocaust—designed a special concentration camp for women, located fifty miles north of Berlin. Only a small number of the prisoners were Jewish. Ravensbrück was primarily a place for the Nazis to hold other inferior beings: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Resistance fighters, lesbians, prostitutes, and aristocrats—even the sister of New York’s Mayor LaGuardia. Over six years the prisoners endured forced labor, torture, starvation, and random execution. In the final months of the war, Ravensbrück became an extermination camp. Estimates of the final death toll have ranged from 30,000 to 90,000.…


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The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

Book cover of The Road from Belhaven

Margot Livesey Author Of The Road from Belhaven

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Reader Secret orphan Professor Scottish Novelist

Margot's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Road from Belhaven is set in 1880s Scotland. Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small girl that she can see the future. But she soon realises that she must keep her gift a secret. While she can sometimes glimpse the future, she can never change it.

Nor can Lizzie change the feelings that come when a young man named Louis, visiting Belhaven for the harvest, begins to court her. Why have the adults around her never told her that the touch of a hand can change everything? When she follows Louis to Glasgow, she begins to learn the limits of his devotion and the complexities of her own affections.

The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, a novel about a young woman whose gift of second sight complicates her coming of age in late-nineteenth-century Scotland

Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small child that she can see into the future. But her gift is selective—she doesn’t, for instance, see that she has an older sister who will come to join the family. As her “pictures” foretell various incidents and accidents, she begins to realize a painful truth: she may glimpse the future, but…


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