The best books on women during WW2

Who am I?

Susan Tate Ankeny left a career in teaching to write the story of her father’s escape from Nazi-occupied France. In 2011, after being led on his path through France by the same Resistance fighters who guided him in 1944, she felt inspired to tell the story of these brave French patriots, especially the 17-year-old- girl who risked her own life to save her father’s. Susan is a member of the 8th Air Force Historical Society, the Air Force Escape and Evasion Society, and the Association des Sauveteurs d’Aviateurs Alliés. 

I wrote...

The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

Book cover of The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

What is my book about?

It was no secret that the chances of surviving a full twenty-five mission tour as a B-17 bombardier were minimal, and on February 8, 1944, Dean Tate’s luck ran out when his Flying Fortress was shot down in flames over northern France. But that wasn’t the end―Tate was one of four men from his aircraft who not only survived but were saved by the French resistance from capture. Tate spent thirty-seven days being sheltered in enemy-occupied France, passed from person to person until he was finally brought back to England by the escape line later known as Shelburn. What makes this book special is that Tate not only kept in touch with his helpers long after the war ended, but also wrote a personal and highly detailed account of his experiences, and it is that account, together with several years of research, that Tate’s daughter has used to such great effect in producing this highly readable true story. ―Keith Janes, author of They Came from Burgundy and Express Delivery

The books I picked & why

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A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France

By Caroline Moorehead,

Book cover of A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France

Why this book?

This fascinating book follows 230 women, some more in-depth than others, who were imprisoned outside Paris for crimes of resistance activities. I began reading it as research and became captivated by the stories, especially the devotion the women developed for one another. I felt a deep connection to each of the prisoners as I climbed into their shoes, cheering for them to survive while fearing they would not. (The Appendix lists the 49 who survived if you want to know in advance. I didn’t.) It’s difficult to grasp what they endured over an unimaginable period of time. Just the sheer depth of their hunger is something I’ve never come close to experiencing. Moorehead keeps the tone intimate and compassionate. Yes, their suffering could be hard to read, but at the same time, I found inspiration as if they spoke to me from the past of the power of mutual dependency- which for them meant the difference between life and death. These are heroes to emulate and remember.

Suite Française

By Irene Nemirovsky,

Book cover of Suite Française

Why this book?

The Ukrainian author Irène Némirovsky was already a successful author living in Paris when she began working on this novel in the early 1940s. In 1942, she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, and a month later at the age of 39, she was dead. Her daughters took her handwritten manuscripts into hiding and later had the novel published. Many of the events in the story Némirovsky experienced as she, her husband, and their two small daughters fled Paris attempting in vain to evade the Nazis. Maybe it’s for this reason that the story has such a feeling of authenticity. I loved the lyrical, haunting storytelling, the vivid descriptions of people trying to outrun the invading German army as they were thrown together on clogged roads heading south and away from Paris. Some had packed everything they owned in their cars while others carried almost nothing and struggled along on foot. The images are unforgettable, as is the behavior of the refugees. How they chose to help one another, or not in some cases, is a fascinating commentary on human behavior. Némirovsky shines a light on what happens to people, rich and poor, when they become dependent on one another to survive and makes the reader wonder, what would I do?

Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

By Lynne Olson,

Book cover of Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

Why this book?

I love stories about little-known heroes, and this one about Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, a young mother who headed the largest spy network in Nazi-occupied France, and the only woman to serve as chief of Resistance, is that and more. The fearless Fourcade, well known for her beauty and glamour, shrewdly expected to be underestimated for being a woman. She escaped capture by the Nazis twice, once by slipping naked through the bars of her cell. The details about what Fourcade achieved and risked are alone worth the read. I enjoy photographs, and there are many spread throughout the book. I hope this action-packed adventure will be made into a movie; it reads like one!

Lilac Girls

By Martha Hall Kelly,

Book cover of Lilac Girls

Why this book?

Although this book is historical fiction, it was inspired by the life of Caroline Ferriday, a New York city philanthropist who worked at the French Consulate during World War II and helped rescue 35 Polish women from the Nazi concentration camp for women called Ravensbruck. Woven in are the stories of two other women, a Polish teenager whose carefree youth disappears as she begins to assist the Resistance, and a young German doctor who finds herself forced to participate in horrific procedures at Ravensbruck- talk about a great moral dilemma! I love historical fiction about unsung women who changed history but have all but been forgotten. It held me spellbound, unable to stop reading, knowing the three would somehow eventually meet and wondering if any of them would succeed in their struggle to be free.

War Brides: A Novel

By Lois Battle,

Book cover of War Brides: A Novel

Why this book?

War Brides is a work of historical fiction that explores the lives of five young women from differing backgrounds who meet in a small English village in 1939. I love World War II stories about ordinary people on the Homefront. Despite a slightly misleading title, I was drawn to the strong characters who face the horrors surrounding them with the unwavering support of one another. Bryan has done extensive research into the time period and the traumatic effect the war had on British citizens. What sets this story apart is the inspiring friendship the women develop that endures over time despite the challenges of their differences, the terror of bombing raids that cause the deaths of their neighbors and friends, and an unforgivable deception.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 2, France, and the German occupation of Europe?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about World War 2, France, and the German occupation of Europe.

World War 2 Explore 967 books about World War 2
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