The best books about truth-seeking post WWII

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been interested in what makes people tick – in their unseen inner world. In my twenties, I literally embodied others in my work as an actor. In my thirties, I studied applied psychology and sat alongside others and talked. In my forties, I started my consulting business Changeable, working with group and organizational dynamics. Now in my fifties, I am accessing inner worlds through writing, placing myself imaginatively into other people and places. I have merely scratched the surface. These post-WWII books give a gripping, personal, and scorching window into truth-seeking. 


I wrote...

Back to Bangka: Searching For The Truth About A Wartime Massacre

By Georgina Banks,

Book cover of Back to Bangka: Searching For The Truth About A Wartime Massacre

What is my book about?

On 16th February 1942, on Bangka Island, Indonesia, twenty-two unarmed Australian army nurses were massacred by the Imperial Japanese Army. One of the nurses was Georgina Banks’ great-aunt Dorothy ‘Bud’ Elmes. Post war, silence ensued in the family. Georgina’s grandmother never mentioned her sister Bud’s name. But, inspired by an unexpected invitation to attend the 75th memorial service, Georgina retraced Bud’s steps to unravel the events of that day all those years ago, grappling with gaps in history and allegations of censored war crimes. Back to Bangka is a deeply moving intergenerational family story; a gripping retelling and investigation of events that throw a spotlight on women in wartime – in their vulnerability and profound strength.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between

Georgina Banks Why did I love this book?

The Return taught me that it is an act of homage to go to any ends to find out what really happened to a family member lost or killed in a conflict: in Matar’s case, his father, Jaballa, missing in Libya during Gaddafi’s brutal regime. His storytelling is both an act of desperation and unstinting hope. Though his father is lost, in these pages he is resurrected. 

By Hisham Matar,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION
SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA BIOGRAPHY AWARD
SHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR AUTOBIOGRAPHY
WINNER OF THE SLIGHTLY FOXED BEST FIRST BIOGRAPHY PRIZE
ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES' TOP 10 BOOKS OF 2016

The Return is at once a universal and an intensely personal tale. It is an exquisite meditation on how history and politics can bear down on an individual life. And yet Hisham Matar's memoir isn't just about the burden of the past, but the consolation of love, literature and art. It is the story of what…


Book cover of The Book Of Dirt

Georgina Banks Why did I love this book?

"They chose not to speak and now they are gone." Presser has woven a remarkable tale of his grandfather and other family members in concentration camps in WWII from the threads of rumour and legend.

I was inspired by his quest-like devotion to transform the silence and gaps in his family history into a poetic legacy connecting past and present generations with those to come. He writes, "What’s left to fill the silence is no longer theirs," reminding us of the invitation we have to honour our past.

By Bram Presser,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book Of Dirt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER, 2018 NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD GOLDBERG PRIZE FOR DEBUT FICTION

"A remarkable tale of Holocaust survival, love and genealogical sleuthing."―Books + Publishing

"Lyrical, impassioned and culturally rich."―Saturday Paper

"As in Sebald's prose narratives, Presser's novel inhabits and the dynamic region between fiction and non-fiction."―Australian Book Review

"A heartfelt and original attempt to bridge the ever-growing gaps between history, memory and silence."―The Australian

This novel was written as a tribute to the author's grandparents:

All we knew was silence. My maternal grandparents never spoke of their wartime experiences. We built myths around them: he was a teacher in the camps,…


Book cover of Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

Georgina Banks Why did I love this book?

A young Australian, Anna Funder, places an advertisement in the newspaper to find resistors and enforcers of the brutal East German regime, the Stasi. This naïve, but bold act leads her on a path to discover tales that reverberate through time.

Similarly, I felt ill equipped to face vestiges of censored war crimes, historical documents, and fragments of memory, but, inspired by Funder’s curiosity and dedication, I pressed on.  

By Anna Funder,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Stasiland demonstrates that great, original reporting is still possible. . . . A heartbreaking, beautifully written book. A classic.” — Claire Tomalin, Guardian “Books of the Year”

Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction: a powerfully moving account of people who heroically resisted the communist dictatorship of East Germany, and of people who worked for its secret police, the Stasi.

Anna Funder delivers a prize-winning and powerfully rendered account of the resistance against East Germany’s communist dictatorship in these harrowing, personal tales of life behind the Iron Curtain—and, especially, of life under the iron fist of the Stasi, East…


Book cover of Jewels and Ashes

Georgina Banks Why did I love this book?

Zable writes of the haunted consciousness of post-conflict generations, in his case, the holocaust.

He argues that great stories must have both terror and beauty, or they merely add to the darkness. It is easy to see the terror, but what of the jewels? I grappled with this question too - how do we rightly remember victims of extreme violence? When I looked to Zable, I found a work imbued with poetry and lyricism.

Jewels and Ashes is a transcendent retracing of the terrain of his parents and grandparents.

By Arnold Zable,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In a memoir of a Jewish man's search for his roots, the son of Holocaust survivors returns to his parents' homeland in Poland to rediscover the former glory of East European Jewry.


Book cover of The Railway Man: A POW's Searing Account of War, Brutality and Forgiveness

Georgina Banks Why did I love this book?

This is a story about brutality, justice, and mercy, set amongst the aftermath of Lomax’s experiences as a POW in WWII. With a steady gaze he faces the depths of human barbarity and reckons with his own emotional responses.

Lomax confronts his previous captor wanting retribution, but instead makes an astonishing decision that changes the course of hatred for both him and his perpetrator. I also grappled with the shadows of dark acts committed against my family - even all these years later. 

By Eric Lomax,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Railway Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING COLIN FIRTH, NICOLE KIDMAN AND JEREMY IRVINE

During the second world war Eric Lomax was forced to work on the notorious Burma-Siam Railway and was tortured by the Japanese for making a crude radio.

Left emotionally scarred and unable to form normal relationships Lomax suffered for years until, with the help of his wife Patti and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, he came to terms with what had happened and, fifty years after the terrible events, was able to meet one of his tormentors.

The Railway Man is an…


You might also like...

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

By Joylynn M Ross, Falessia Booker (editor),

Book cover of Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

Joylynn M Ross

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business is for anyone who wants to learn how to make money with their book and make a living as an author. Many authors dive into the literary industry without taking time to learn the business side of being an author, which can hinder book sales and the money that can be made as an author.

This resource serves as a guide to mastering the art of financial literary success and to help avoid the mistakes that many authors make while learning the ropes on their own. This book helps authors “think outside the book” in order to make money in ways other than book sales and create multiple streams of literary income.

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

By Joylynn M Ross, Falessia Booker (editor),

What is this book about?

Do you want to make money with your book? Do you want to make a living as an author? There’s more to doing so than simply writing and publishing your book. Many authors dive into the literary industry without taking time to learn the business side of being an author. This could dramatically hinder your book sales and the money you can make as an author. Without a guide such as this, mastering the art of financial literary success can take you years, and you’ll be sure to make mistakes during the learning phase. Some mistakes could cost you money;…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Holocaust, East Germany, and prisoner of war?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Holocaust, East Germany, and prisoner of war.

The Holocaust Explore 391 books about the Holocaust
East Germany Explore 27 books about East Germany
Prisoner Of War Explore 82 books about prisoner of war