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

Gemma Liviero Author Of The Road Beyond Ruin
By Gemma Liviero

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Sergio Luzzatto

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.


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A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City

By Anonymous, Philip Boehm

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.


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Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

By Keith Lowe

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.


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The Second World War: A Complete History

By Martin Gilbert

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.


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Suite Francaise

By Irene Nemirovsky

Suite Francaise

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.


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