The best books on WW2 occupation, resistance, and the aftermath

Gemma Liviero Author Of The Road Beyond Ruin
By Gemma Liviero

Who am I?

Gemma is the bestselling author of historical fiction novels, translated into several languages. Set against the backdrop of war in Europe, her fifth book in this genre will be released later this year. She has combined the war experiences of family members in WWI and WWII, information collected during her research and travels, and her academic studies in writing and history, to create the authentic scenes and characters for her books.

I wrote...

The Road Beyond Ruin

By Gemma Liviero,

Book cover of The Road Beyond Ruin

What is my book about?

August 1945. As Stefano, an Italian POW, heads toward home across war-ravaged Germany, he encounters a young child beside his dead mother. Unable to leave him to an unknown fate, Stefano takes the boy with him, finding refuge in a seemingly abandoned house in a secluded woodland. But the house is far from vacant. Stefano wakes at the arrival of its owner, Erich, a former German soldier, who invites the travelers to stay until they can find safe passage home. Stefano cautiously agrees, intrigued by the disarming German, his reclusive neighbor Rosalind, and her traumatized husband, Georg. Stefano is also drawn to Monique, the girl in a photograph on Rosalind's wall, who went missing during the war. But when he discovers letters written by Monique, a darker truth emerges. This place of refuge could be one of reckoning, and the secrets of the past might prevent the travelers from ever getting home.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Primo Levi's Resistance: Rebels and Collaborators in Occupied Italy

By Sergio Luzzatto,

Book cover of Primo Levi's Resistance: Rebels and Collaborators in Occupied Italy

Why this book?

The partisan experiences of Primo Levi—chemist, Auschwitz survivor, and writer—are researched and offered in gritty, thorough detail by Luzzatto. Levi, in his writings, alluded to incidents that occurred during his time as a partisan, and Luzzatto delves deeper into the motivations behind these events and the personalities involved. The Resistance in its early days, while being hunted by Nazis and their Italian allies, became a small force of its own making, using collective, military-style decisions and tactics, and meting out its own forms of justice. An important book to gain insight into the complexities of purpose within the Resistance, learn about the crimes and subsequent justice of members of Salò—the puppet government installed in northern Italy—and understand the influences on political alignments and fascism in the period beyond the war.

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City

By Anonymous, Philip Boehm (translator),

Book cover of A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City

Why this book?

This is a harrowing account of a woman’s experience as the Red Army raged through Berlin in the final days of the war. Sadly, the women of Berlin were another group that paid the price for Hitler’s warped vision. The author, who for most of the book’s life remained anonymous, was later revealed as a journalist, Marta Hillers. Hillers conveys the fear and the constant disorder, while carving out a grim existence that causes her to almost give up emotionally, and during what she calls the “sexual spoils”. She describes how she and the other women were “spoken for” by the soldiers left to secure the city. For weeks, deprived of much, reliant on the Soviets for basic necessities, and working long days in their employ, she searches for ways to survive. The book supplied me with an understanding of the German victims of this senseless war.

Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

By Keith Lowe,

Book cover of Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

Why this book?

Though the bombs stopped falling in May in Europe, and the German army disintegrated, for many the battle didn’t end there. Chaos continued as borders shifted, revenge was foremost in the minds of some, and hunger, deprivation and homelessness remained widespread. And while the world wasn’t watching too closely, it became opportune for ethnic cleansing and for black markets to thrive. In this turbulent aftermath of the war, women who associated with Germans were imprisoned or denied citizenship. Retaliation against fascists and sympathizers meant thousands more Italians died. Expulsions of millions of Germans from occupied territories such as Poland were in many cases carried out violently. Lowe’s research and intensive detail about these and other events helped greatly to provide the backdrop for my book.

The Second World War: A Complete History

By Martin Gilbert,

Book cover of The Second World War: A Complete History

Why this book?

This 900-page history is a vivid account of WWII across all fronts. Though the research is meticulous and covers the length of the war, the explanations are clear and fascinating and the chronology makes it feel like a guided tour through time. Along the way, Gilbert interposes a human face and a very personal account, revealing upheaval and atrocities, but ensuring that there is a permanent record of those civilians, particularly Jews, who died without just cause. And the examples and conditions endured are at times difficult to read and heartbreaking. The book covers all aspects, from battle lines to partisan attacks, to numbers killed, to firsthand accounts, to Hitler’s inners circle, and more. This is an outstanding read and this book is just one of Gilbert’s many significant contributions as a historian.

Suite Française

By Irene Nemirovsky,

Book cover of Suite Française

Why this book?

Némirovsky, a successful author before WWII, never saw her final book published. As Jews, her family fled Russia during the civil war, the writer later establishing her career in France and living with her husband and young daughters. While writing this work of fiction, which describes the fleeing of people to the French countryside and life under German occupation, she was also living through such events. The next part of her planned series played out in real life. Due to the Nazi laws for Jews, Némirovsky had been unable to gain French citizenship and her earlier conversion to Catholicism was ignored. She was arrested as a Jew, separated from her husband and children, and died in Auschwitz; her husband later experienced the same fate. One of her children released the manuscript decades later. The writer’s depictions of relationships and forced adjustment are poignant and continue to influence my writings.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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

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, the German occupation of Europe, and the Holocaust.

World War 2 Explore 967 books about World War 2
The German Occupation Of Europe Explore 43 books about the German occupation of Europe
The Holocaust Explore 176 books about the Holocaust

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like A Train in Winter, Madame Fourcade's Secret War, and War Brides if you like this list.