The best stories of World War II that you’ve never heard before

Stephanie Vanderslice Author Of The Lost Son
By Stephanie Vanderslice

The Books I Picked & Why

Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler

By Bruce Henderson

Book cover of Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler

Why this book?

Sons and Soldiers tells the stories of the Ritchie Boys, a special military intelligence unit of the US Army in World War II trained in Camp Ritchie, Maryland and made up of German-Austrian men, often German Jews who had fled Nazi persecution. These men had everything to lose: if they were captured and identified behind enemy lines, they would be killed on the spot. However, they also knew that their special knowledge of the German language and German culture gave them an advantage against Hitler’s army. The Ritchie Boys were critical to the Allied victory. Not surprisingly, those who survived went on to become leaders in American society, great heroes who understood that there are some things worth dying for. 


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Requiem for a German Past: A Boyhood among the Nazis

By Jurgen Herbst

Book cover of Requiem for a German Past: A Boyhood among the Nazis

Why this book?

Requiem for a German Past: A Boyhood Among the Nazis offers a nuanced glimpse of what it was like to grow up in Germany from 1928 to 1948. Author Jurgen Herbst joined the Hitler Youth or Jungvolk and became a leader because he supported a mythic German past. But the more involved he became as the war wore on, the more he understood and was deeply troubled by the nefarious basis of the National Socialist regime. His descriptions of how fascism slowly overcame a democratic country are particularly chilling. Captured at the end of the war by American forces, Herbst would learn even more of the horrors that had taken place in Nazi Germany, horrors that forced him to leave his home country for the US, pledging never to return.


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Heirlooms: Stories

By Rachel Hall

Book cover of Heirlooms: Stories

Why this book?

An unforgettable collection of linked stories, Heirlooms follows one Jewish family escaping Holocaust-era St. Malo, France through to present-day America and Israel. Hall depicts with masterful, exquisite prose just what it means to be a refugee, to rebuild a life outside one’s own country, to survive and endure. I recently taught Heirlooms to a class of fiction writing students who deeply appreciated this stunning collection and what they could learn from it about storytelling, and about resilience.


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Quiet Americans

By Erika Dreifus

Book cover of Quiet Americans

Why this book?

Erika Dreifus’ collection of stories, Quiet Americans, offers a haunting, kaleidoscopic view of the Holocaust as it has reverberated through the lives of generations of American Jews right up to the present. Depicting, among them, a high-ranking Nazi’s wife and a Jewish doctor, a Jewish-American soldier guarding a German POW, and a refugee returning to Europe against the backdrop of the terrorist massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, these are stories, characters that have stayed with me even as I read this book more than ten years ago when it debuted. Dreifus is an expert at dissecting and reframing this dark chapter in human history and showing its effects on ordinary people. 


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On Hitler's Mountain: My Nazi Childhood

By Irmgard Hunt

Book cover of On Hitler's Mountain: My Nazi Childhood

Why this book?

Born in 1934 in Berchtesgaden, in the shadow of Hitler’s Eagles Nest, Irmgard Hunt witnessed the growth of fascist ideology among the people she loved during an otherwise idyllic childhood. As the shadow of World War II fell over the mountain, however, Hunt began to question and then disavow the Nazi doctrines she had accepted as a young child. As time went on and the regime crumbled literally before her eyes, she was vocal in confronting her country’s criminal past and in championing the democratic principles her elders had so easily dismissed.


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