The best books on World War II heroines

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a Dutch author and lawyer specialized in international criminal law. My expertise is the role of women leaders in times of conflict, crisis, and change – especially during war and in post-conflict societies. Women are traditionally portrayed as victims, while it is precisely women who show genuine leadership skills in times of conflict, crisis, and change. I've done research on women’s armed resistance in the Netherlands in WWII, and am an expert on the lives and resistance work of Hannie Shaft and the sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegen. In addition, I've done research in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and saw the same patterns in these conflicts and the impact on the generations after. 


I wrote...

Seducing and Killing Nazis: Hannie, Truus and Freddie: Dutch Resistance Heroines of WWII

By Sophie Poldermans,

Book cover of Seducing and Killing Nazis: Hannie, Truus and Freddie: Dutch Resistance Heroines of WWII

What is my book about?

This is the astonishing, true story of Hannie Schaft (19) and sisters Truus (16) and Freddie (14) Oversteegen who took up arms against the Nazis as one of the only women in the Netherlands during World War II. They seduced high-ranking Nazi officers, lured them into the woods, and killed them. In addition, they provided Jewish children with safe houses and gathered vital intelligence for the resistance. They did what they did “because it had to be done.” Above all, they tried to remain human in inhuman circumstances.

Hannie Schaft was executed by the Nazis three weeks before the end of the war and became the icon of female Dutch resistance. Truus and Freddie Oversteegen survived the war, but were forever haunted by the demons of their past.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Sarah's Key

Sophie Poldermans Why did I love this book?

This is such a fascinating, gripping, poignant but above all emotional story linking two families together with WWII as the binding factor. Informative, but most of all so incredibly moving, I cried my eyes out of both sadness and beauty. Because the story is linked to present-day life through an existing apartment in Paris, the story feels very close to us. A true page-turner and book that will leave an impression forever. I could certainly identify with the main character doing all the journalistic research, stressing the importance of WWII.

By Tatiana De Rosnay,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Sarah's Key as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours. Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that…


Book cover of All the Light We Cannot See

Sophie Poldermans Why did I love this book?

A beautiful moving story of a blind French girl and a German boy, an orphan, for whom a radio is a real life saver. The two stories of two completely different lives in a divided and war-torn world collide magnificently. A true piece of art, awarded with the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Doerr is an American author from Idaho. Since I did my senior year of high school as an exchange student in Idaho, I’m always extra charmed by someone from this particular area.

By Anthony Doerr,

Why should I read it?

41 authors picked All the Light We Cannot See as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2015 PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR FICTION

A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.'

For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic…


Book cover of The Sisters of Auschwitz: The True Story of Two Jewish Sisters' Resistance in the Heart of Nazi Territory

Sophie Poldermans Why did I love this book?

An incredibly powerful book that sheds light on Jewish Resistance in the Netherlands, by two women. Both topics are rare and especially the combination of them. The style of narrative non-fiction is brilliantly chosen. The book is historically informative and accurate, but told with the arts and craft of a novelist. A New York Times bestseller. This is exactly what my platform ‘Sophie’s Women of War’ sheds light on. 

By Roxane van Iperen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller

The unforgettable story of two unsung heroes of World War II: sisters Janny and Lien Brilleslijper who joined the Dutch Resistance, helped save dozen of lives, were captured by the Nazis, and ultimately survived the Holocaust.

Eight months after Germany’s invasion of Poland, the Nazis roll into The Netherlands, expanding their reign of brutality to the Dutch. But by the Winter of 1943, resistance is growing. Among those fighting their brutal Nazi occupiers are two Jewish sisters, Janny and Lien Brilleslijper from Amsterdam. Risking arrest and death, the sisters help save others, sheltering them in…


Book cover of All Ships Follow Me: A Family Memoir of War Across Three Continents

Sophie Poldermans Why did I love this book?

A remarkable and incredibly brave epic saga of a young woman struggling with the inheritance of her father who grew up in the colonial era of the Netherlands in the Dutch East Indies and who had been interned in a concentration camp by the Japanese as a child and her mother who had been abandoned as a little girl at the end of WWII because her parents were Nazi sympathizers and were therefore imprisoned. The author grew up in California, USA, with many questions about her family’s identity and secrets in the war. A courageous book breaking the taboo of shedding light on ‘the other side.’ The author is a personal friend of mine.

By Mieke Eerkens,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All Ships Follow Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An engrossing, epic saga of one family’s experiences on both sides of WWII, All Ships Follow Me questions our common narrative of the conflict and our stark notions of victim and perpetrator, while tracing the lasting effects of war through several generations.

In March 1942, Mieke Eerkens’ father was a ten-year-old boy living in the Dutch East Indies. When the Japanese invaded the island he, his family, and one hundred thousand other Dutch civilians were interned in a concentration camp and forced into hard labor for three years. After the Japanese surrendered, Mieke’s father and his family were set free…


Book cover of The Last Train To London

Sophie Poldermans Why did I love this book?

A remarkable novel about Truus Wijsmuller, a very brave woman in the Netherlands, resisting the Nazis by smuggling Jewish children out of Nazi Germany to the nations that will take them. A very moving and true story. The role of women in the resistance movement in the Netherlands has been neglected or underrepresented for way too long, so this story helps to shed light on the active resistance women carried out in WWII. This is exactly what my platform ‘Sophie’s Women of War’ sheds light on. 

By Meg Waite Clayton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

National bestseller

A Historical Novels Review Editors' Choice

A Jewish Book Award Finalist

The New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Exiles conjures her best novel yet, a pre-World War II-era story with the emotional resonance of Orphan Train and All the Light We Cannot See, centering on the Kindertransports that carried thousands of children out of Nazi-occupied Europe-and one brave woman who helped them escape to safety.

In 1936, the Nazi are little more than loud, brutish bores to fifteen-year old Stephan Neuman, the son of a wealthy and influential Jewish family and budding playwright whose playground extends from…


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Book cover of A Cursed Son

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