The best WWII books that shed light on Polish history

Carly Schabowski Author Of All the Courage We Have Found
By Carly Schabowski

Who am I?

My passion for writing historical fiction set mainly in Poland, or including Polish protagonists is born from my own familial history. My grandfather was forced into the Wehrmacht as a young man, who managed to escape to the UK and join the Polish Army in exile, eventually going back to fight against the Germans. His story set me on a course to become a historical fiction author; reimagining the past and bringing little-known stories to a wider audience. I find that the best way to gain a basic understanding of Polish life during WWII is to read widely – try historical accounts, memoirs, second-hand accounts, and of course, historical fiction. 

I wrote...

All the Courage We Have Found

By Carly Schabowski,

Book cover of All the Courage We Have Found

What is my book about?

As Kasia creeps out of the farmhouse in the dead of night to transmit an urgent message, her heart pounds in her chest. Gripping her radio tightly in her hand, she feels a terrible sense of dread.

Crouching in the shadows, with trembling fingers she turns the dial on her radio and hears the familiar crackle of static. Shaking, she quickly taps out her message and, holding her breath, she waits in the darkness. Suddenly, she sees a quick flash of light out at sea. Her message has been received by the Allied boats; now they know it’s not safe to come ashore tonight. While Kasia knows her messages might save thousands of soldiers, she also knows that her radio signal could bring the Germans terrifyingly close.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War

Why did I love this book?

This book is, I think, the cornerstone of understanding Polish history during WWII. Indeed, it is my ‘go-to' book before I even think about writing anything! It gives such a comprehensive view of all Poles – those forced into the Wehrmacht, those sent to camps, those sent out of their own country, and much, much more. When you have read this fact-based book, it gives you a greater understanding when you come to read historical fiction.

By Halik Kochanski,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Second World War gripped Poland as it did no other country in Europe. Invaded by both Germany and the Soviet Union, it remained under occupation by foreign armies from the first day of the war to the last. The conflict was brutal, as Polish armies battled the enemy on four different fronts. It was on Polish soil that the architects of the Final Solution assembled their most elaborate network of extermination camps, culminating in the deliberate destruction of millions of lives, including three million Polish Jews. In The Eagle Unbowed, Halik Kochanski tells, for the first time, the story…

Book cover of The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945

Why did I love this book?

Yes! We all saw the movie, but did you know that it began as a memoir written by Szpilman to document his life during WWII? If you didn’t, pick up this book. You will be there, by Szpilman’s side as he fights for survival, and his first-person narrative allows us to see the ghetto and Poland through his eyes. 

By Wladyslaw Szpilman, Anthea Bell (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The powerful and bestselling memoir of a young Jewish pianist who survived the war in Warsaw against all odds. Made into a Bafta and Oscar-winning film.

'You can learn more about human nature from this brief account of the survival of one man throughout the war years in the devastated city of Warsaw than from several volumes of the average encyclopaedia' Independent on Sunday

'We are drawn in to share his surprise and then disbelief at the horrifying progress of events, all conveyed with an understated intimacy and dailiness that render them painfully close - riveting' Observer

'A book so…

Book cover of I Was Doctor Mengele's Assistant

Why did I love this book?

So you will need a strong constitution to read this book. I first read it after leaving a museum visit to Auschwitz on a train heading for Slovakia. It was the most harrowing of reads, but I think, one of the most important of my life. Although we ‘think’ we know about Auschwitz and Polish history, this gives you a personal, often harrowing first-hand account of the camp. Make sure you have a box of tissues ready.

By Miklós Nyiszli,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Was Doctor Mengele's Assistant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the Nazis invaded Hungary in 1944, they sent virtually the entire Jewish population to Auschwitz. A Hungarian Jew and a medical doctor, Dr. Miklos Nyiszli was spared from death for a grimmer fate: to perform "scientific research" on his fellow inmates under the supervision of the infamous "Angel of Death": Dr. Josef Mengele. Nyiszli was named Mengele's personal research pathologist. Miraculously, he survived to give this terrifying and sobering account of the terror of Auschwitz.


By James A. Michener,

Book cover of Poland

Why did I love this book?

Poland is a historical novel that spans Polish history all the way back to 1240, and continues on to cover various years, including WWI, WWII, and up to the early 1980s. The book is centered around three interconnected families throughout this investigation into their pasts, and is a must-read in terms of truly understanding and getting an authentic view into Polish lives throughout the ages. I feel that this book is a stand-out in terms of the authenticity it achieves.

By James A. Michener,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“A Michener epic is far more than a bedtime reader, it’s an experience. Poland is a monumental effort, a magnificent guide to a better understanding of the country’s tribulations.”—Chicago Tribune

In this sweeping novel, James A. Michener chronicles eight tumultuous centuries as three Polish families live out their destinies. The Counts Lubonski, the petty nobles Bukowksi, and the peasants Buk are at some times fiercely united, at others tragically divided. With an inspiring tradition of resistance to brutal invaders, from the barbarians to the Nazis, and a heritage of pride that burns through eras of romantic passion and courageous solidarity,…

If This Is a Man and The Truce

By Primo Levi, Stuart Woolf (translator),

Book cover of If This Is a Man and The Truce

Why did I love this book?

This I think is one of the most important first-hand accounts of prisoner life at Auschwitz. It is a quiet, yet determined narrative that makes you feel as though you were there with Levi; experiencing the horrors, finding friends with other inmates, and understanding the true horror that awaited so many in Poland during WWII. If you want to really understand what it was like for camp inmates, this is the book to read.

By Primo Levi, Stuart Woolf (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked If This Is a Man and The Truce as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the moral stamina and intellectual pose of a twentieth-century Titan, this slightly built, duitful, unassuming chemist set out systematically to remember the German hell on earth, steadfastly to think it through, and then to render it comprehensible in lucid, unpretentious prose. He was profoundly in touch with the minutest workings of the most endearing human events and with the most contempible. What has survived in Levi's writing isn't just his memory of the unbearable, but also, in THE PERIODIC TABLE and THE WRENCH, his delight in what made the world exquisite to him. He was himself a "magically endearing…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Poland, World War 2, and Auschwitz Concentration Camp?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Poland, World War 2, and Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Poland Explore 100 books about Poland
World War 2 Explore 1,545 books about World War 2
Auschwitz Concentration Camp Explore 40 books about Auschwitz Concentration Camp

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