The best books about the Germans who stood up to the Nazis

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a writer and television producer who researches and writes in an attic surrounded by tumbling bookshelves. When I was young I watched a BBC series called Secret Army which got me hooked on the people who stood up to the Nazis when their country was occupied. Over the years I’ve travelled around Europe to interview many of WW2’s resisters and veterans, and I became interested in the people inside Germany who defied the Nazis. Trying to tell the stories of the people who dared to oppose Hitler became something of an obsession.

I wrote...

Defying Hitler: The Germans Who Resisted Nazi Rule

By Greg Lewis, Gordon Thomas,

Book cover of Defying Hitler: The Germans Who Resisted Nazi Rule

What is my book about?

Defying Hitler tells the story of people who faced terrible danger but chose to do what they believed was right. It describes the men, women, and teenagers inside Germany who risked everything to oppose Hitler and the Nazis, from American Mildred Fish-Harnack to students Hans and Sophie Scholl. Their courage is inspiring.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Oster Conspiracy of 1938: The Unknown Story of the Military Plot to Kill Hitler and Avert World War II

Greg Lewis Why did I love this book?

For me, Hans Oster is one of the most noble and courageous of the military resisters to the Nazis.

Unlike many in uniform, Oster’s opposition did not waver during Hitler’s military successes or begin with Germany’s defeats: he always hated them. Terry Parssinen’s book centres on Oster’s pre-war plot to kill Hitler, which failed after Britain signed the Munich peace treaty with Germany.

It inspired me to research Oster’s continuing resistance throughout the war and even his efforts to help Jews. As Oster said later, after being captured by the Nazis, it is “my duty to free Germany and the world of this plague”.

By Terry Parssinen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Oster Conspiracy of 1938 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

September 1938. In power more than five years, Hitler unilaterally dismantled the Treaty of Versailles, provision by provision, daring Britain and France to stand up to him. Earlier that year, he forced Austria into his Third Reich without firing a single shot. Now his sights were set on Czechoslovakia.

It was in this dangerous climate that the first anti-Nazi coup was born. The plot was spearheaded by Lieutenant-Colonel Hans Oster, and its members included top German military leaders, the Berlin police, local troop commanders, civil authorities, religious leaders, and a group of resisters whose names have been wiped from the…

Book cover of Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the Woman who Defied Hitler

Greg Lewis Why did I love this book?

The story of Sophie Scholl and the student resistance group, the White Rose, never fails to being me to tears.

Sophie, her brother Hans, and friends in Munich printed and distributed thousands of anti-Nazi leaflets, which describe a post-war need for international cooperation. She believed that it was wrong for anyone to side with their own nation if they knew that nation was doing wrong.

She and her friends paid the price for their resistance but remained defiant to the end. Sophie wrote one word on the back of the indictment against her: ‘Freedom’.

Never has her story been more inspiringly told than by McDonough.

By Frank McDonough,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sophie Scholl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On 22 February 1943, Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old student at Munich University, was executed by the Nazi regime, along with two fellow students from the White Rose resistance movement. They had fought against Hitler's tyranny, not with bullets and bombs, but with words, printed in leaflets, that proclaimed a passionate desire to live in a free and democratic society. Her brave and principled stand made her a legend in Germany, and she was voted 'Woman of the Century' by a popular women's magazine in 1999. Frank McDonough has used a variety of original documents from German archives, including letters and…

Book cover of Counterfeit Nazi

Greg Lewis Why did I love this book?

One of the strangest and morally-complex stories from WW2 and the one I most struggled with while exploring the nature of resistance for my own book.

Could someone at the heart of the apparatus of Nazi terror also be a resister? After joining the Waffen SS to expose its crimes, Kurt Gerstein become involved in the supply of the deadly Zyklon B gas to the death camps.

At the height of the war, he destroyed consignments of gas and tried to tell the Allies and the Vatican about the Holocaust, but was ignored.

Prague-born Friedländer’s parents were murdered by the Nazis but he explores the paradoxes in Gerstein’s story with heart-rending humanity.

By Saul Friedlander,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Counterfeit Nazi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of A Spy at the Heart of the Third Reich: The Extraordinary Story of Fritz Kolbe, America's Most Important Spy in World War II

Greg Lewis Why did I love this book?

The story of the nondescript German diplomat who became one of the United States' greatest spies in Nazi Germany reads like a thriller.

It was important to me because it showed how a single person, working alone, could do incredible damage to the Nazi war effort.

Kolbe’s story did not come out until well after the war, when declassified CIA documents revealed 1,600 diplomatic cables copied by Fritz Kolbe, a career-functionary in the German Foreign Office. Koble had smuggled the documents into Switzerland – mainly tucked down into his pants – to be passed to the OSS bureau head, Allen Dulles.

Only a tight circle of people knew who Kolbe was; even the president, Franklin D Roosevelt, who read his reports with astonishment, only knew of Kolbe by the codename, George Wood.

Kolbe disappeared into obscurity after the war, but the CIA left a wreath on his grave.

By Lucas Delattre, George A Holoch Jr (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Spy at the Heart of the Third Reich as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fascinating account of Fritz Kolbe, a German bureaucrat who worked secretly with the Allies during World War II, describes his harrowing espionage work relaying valuable information on high-level Axis meetings and munitions factories to the Allies. 25,000 first printing.

Book cover of Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra

Greg Lewis Why did I love this book?

Mildred Fish-Harnack was part of a wide circle of anti-Nazis that formed in the 1930s and continued to grow until it was broken by the Gestapo.

Brysac’s portrait of her is detailed and passionate. The fact that Mildred was American but gave up her life for a ‘better’ Germany never fails to move me. Mildred, her husband, and friends passed Nazi military secrets to the Americans and the Russians, and were to pay a heavy price. Virtually all were rounded up and killed.

Mildred, from Milwaukee, was the only American woman to be executed on Hitler’s personal orders. As the Nazis led her to the guillotine, she whispered, "And I loved Germany so much."

Those words act as an epitaph for all the people whose stories we told in our book: they hated the Nazis but loved Germany and wanted to save it from the horror unfolding under Hitler.

By Shareen Blair Brysac,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Resisting Hitler as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Resisting Hitler" is a biography of the only American woman to have been executed for treason against Germany during World War II. Mildred Harnack was born in Wiscinsin but moved to Germany with her husband in 1929 where she taught American literature. Both Mildred and her husband, Arvid (a professor of philosophy and a native of Gemany), socialised with the intellectual elite of Berlin. Appalled by the rise of Hitler, they joined with others to resist fascism by
any means they could. Brysac's exhaustive reasearch has found evidence to support the theory that both Mildred and Arvid gave classified information…

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Book cover of Saving Raine

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