The best Stalin & Hitler-era books for young people and adults

Gabriele Goldstone Author Of Crow Stone
By Gabriele Goldstone

Who am I?

And, who are you? I write the stories I wish I could have read when I was growing up. As the self-conscious first-born daughter of post-war German/German-Russian immigrants, I looked for my reflection in books. My masters’ degree in 20th German literature only whetted my appetite. I needed more and continued to search for my family’s stories. That search included climbing Hitler's mountain, perusing Soviet secret police files, and cycling through old East Prussia searching for amber. Now I write my own stories even as I continue to read, listen, watch and travel. The past is everywhere.

I wrote...

Crow Stone

By Gabriele Goldstone,

Book cover of Crow Stone

What is my book about?

It’s January, 1945. A sense of doom pervades Katya’s East Prussian world. Trying to avoid Soviet troops, she and her two sisters trek along crowded, snowy roads towards ships waiting along the Baltic coast. Katya, separated from her sisters, gets dragged deep into the Ural Mountains. As a prisoner of war, her Russian language skills leftover from a kulak childhood, elevate her to a leadership position as a starosta. It’s a position fraught with danger as she navigates the two enemy worlds. Katya learns to eat crow, to find love, and to believe in herself.

Inspired by the author’s mother’s memories of more than two years in a Soviet forced labour camp at the end of the Second World War.

The books I picked & why

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Stolen Girl

By Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch,

Book cover of Stolen Girl

Why this book?

I love all of Marsha Skrypuch’s YA books. Page-turning plots, engaging characters, inspired by real events. Her novels focus on Ukrainian and Polish young people’s experiences under both Hitler and Stalin. This one stands out to me, first because of the cover and secondly, because of the author’s ability to wrench my heart. The novel focuses on a young Polish girl, deemed Aryan enough, so she can be raised in a Nazi family. It was a story that opened my eyes. These horrendous things happened to innocent kids.

Graffiti Knight

By Karen Bass,

Book cover of Graffiti Knight

Why this book?

This fast-paced adventure novel, set in Leipzig after the Second World War, tells the story from a German boy’s point of view. The Bass novel explores German guilt and the strained relationships that young people had with their Nazi-era parents. That includes me and my own relationship with my father who was a pilot for the Luftwaffe. Graffiti Knight is inspired by the author’s real-life friendship with the daughter of German immigrants to Canada.

A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans

By Alfred-Maurice de Zayas,

Book cover of A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans

Why this book?

This book opened the window to my mom and her sisters’ experiences in the last months of the war. I was blown away. It validated my mom’s memories in a way that no other book had up to this point. Growing up on the Canadian prairies I had little patience for my family’s memories filled with pain and suffering. Finally, I understood, that my mom had her own PTSD... something that I inherited and I feel compelled to explore.

The Women of Janowka: A Volhynian Family History

By Helmut Exner, Sascha Exner (translator), Gabriele Goldstone (translator), Ken Steinke (translator)

Book cover of The Women of Janowka: A Volhynian Family History

Why this book?

This book of non-fiction. explores the multi-generational journey of three women caught in the web of Stalin and Hitler’s madness. It begins in 1904, in my mom’s rural Ukrainian neighbourhood of Volhynia, about two hours east of Kyiv, and ends here in my rural Manitoba, Canada near Beausejour in 2008. Canada is a country filled with immigrants and I was struck by how little we know of the journeys of the people around us. It motivated me to write and to continue to write my family stories.


By Gudrun Pausewang, Rachel Ward (translator),

Book cover of Traitor

Why this book?

Discovering this German YA writer was a thrill. It focuses on the dilemma a German girl faces when she finds a Russian prisoner of war hiding in her barn. Pausewang has written many books about atrocities during war years and also anti-nuclear novels set in the future. I gobbled up several of her books and read them in the original German, then passed them on to older relatives who find the YA books an easier read with less complicated plots. Pausewang’s books are popular in the German school curriculum and many have now been translated into English. It’s great to read books that explore the German war history, written by Germans.

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