The best books about the German occupation of Europe

31 authors have picked their favorite books about the German occupation of Europe and why they recommend each book.

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Suite Française

By Irene Nemirovsky,

Book cover of Suite Française

Nemirovsky never had a chance to finish what was to be a five-part series of novellas about life in France during the German occupation, because she was arrested for being Jewish and sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed. You might imagine that it would be hard for fiction to live up to such a dramatic backstory, but the two surviving novellas are beautifully written illustrations of a society facing catastrophe.


Who am I?

Growing up near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, I was aware that the city had historical significance but also that it wasn’t particularly famous, at least to people from outside the region. I’ve always been drawn to these sorts of overlooked stories from history, which are, not coincidentally, often women’s stories. Women made up the majority of workers in Oak Ridge during World War II, and for decades afterward, their stories were generally viewed as less important than male-dominated narratives of the war. But I’ve always believed that women’s stories are no less interesting than men’s. These books look at history’s worst conflict from unique perspectives that foreground the female experience. 


I wrote...

The Atomic City Girls

By Janet Beard,

Book cover of The Atomic City Girls

What is my book about?

In 1944, eighteen-year-old June boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge has sprung up in a matter of months, and June joins hundreds of other young girls there operating mysterious machines to help win the war. While June wants to know more and begins an affair with Sam, a young physicist who understands the end goal only too well, her beautiful roommate Cici simply wants to find a wealthy husband. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family. But a breach in security intertwines his fate with June’s, and the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth into devastating focus.

Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East

By David Stahel,

Book cover of Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East

The author provides an analysis of the initial stages of the fighting on the Eastern Front that effectively revises several of the prior generally accepted views of that critical portion of the war. Here is one book that extensively utilizes German sources without becoming enslaved by them as too many works appear to become.


Who am I?

Gerhard Weinberg fled Germany at the end of 1938 and experienced the first year of World War II – including the beginning of the Blitz – in England. He completed his PhD after serving in the US Army of Occupation in Japan, researched the captured German documents, established the program for microfilming them, and after writing an analysis of the origins of World War II decided to prepare a book covering the war as a whole.


I wrote...

A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II

By Gerhard Weinberg,

Book cover of A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II

What is my book about?

This is the first general history of World War II to be based both on the existing literature and on extensive work in British, American, and German archives. It covers all the theaters of war, the weaponry used, and developments on the home front. Taking a global perspective, the work deals with all belligerents and relates events in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and the Pacific to each other. The role of diplomacy and strategy, of intelligence and espionage, and the impact of war upon society are all dealt with, often on the basis of hitherto unknown material. New light is shed on the actions of great and small powers and on topics ranging from the beginning of the war to the dropping of the atomic bombs; the titanic battles on the Eastern Front are fitted into the war as a whole; the killing of six million Jews and millions of others is placed into context, and the fighting at sea and in the air is included in a coherent view of the great conflict.

The World at Night

By Alan Furst,

Book cover of The World at Night

What would World War II book recommendations be without a good spy novel? Alan Furst has written a dozen of them as part of his Night Soldiers series. The series can sometimes be formulaic (especially the love stories), but all do an excellent job of exploring little-known facets of history and the complex choices and risks individuals face in times of uncertainty. (Another title, The Spies of Warsaw, has been dramatized.)

The World of Night follows a film producer in Paris, whose world is upended by the Nazis. Another strength of the series is its depiction of the early war in Europe, something Americans don’t always read much about.


Who am I?

The books I’ve recommended here range from scholarship, young adult historical fiction, literary fiction, and a good spy mystery—all set in World War II. I’ve read widely in the field since I’ve written several nonfiction books for young readers and teens about World War II. Along with We Must Not Forget, these include Courage & Defiance, about the Danish resistance, Dive!, about the submarine war in the Pacific, D-Day: The World War II Invasion that Changed History, and We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport. I’m currently working on a book about a 1945 POW rescue in the Philippines.


I wrote...

We Must Not Forget: Holocaust Stories of Survival and Resistance

By Deborah Hopkinson,

Book cover of We Must Not Forget: Holocaust Stories of Survival and Resistance

What is my book about?

We Must Not Forget has received starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus Reviews, which noted, “The stories of Jewish children and teens who survived against all odds are told in ways that readers will never forget.” A companion to my book, We Had to Be Brave, explores the true stories of those who did not escape the Nazis. The book is arranged by geography, with key dates and historical context to introduce each section, and links so readers can listen to some of the oral histories of survivors.

First to Fight

By Roger Moorhouse,

Book cover of First to Fight: The Polish War 1939

A Major scholar of the period, Moorhouse is particularly instructive for his ability to capture the Eastern European perspective. The Polish war of 1939 has generally been underplayed in the literature, and it is particularly valuable therefore to see this well-researched account.


Who am I?

Jeremy Black is a prolific lecturer and writer, the author of over 100 books. Many concern aspects of eighteenth-century British, European, and American political, diplomatic and military history but he has also published on the history of the press, cartography, warfare, culture, and on the nature and uses of history itself.


I wrote...

A History of the Second World War in 100 Maps

By Jeremy Black,

Book cover of A History of the Second World War in 100 Maps

What is my book about?

The First World War was marked by an exceptional expansion in the use and production of military cartography. But World War II took things even further, employing maps, charts, reconnaissance, and the systematic recording and processing of geographical and topographical information on an unprecedented scale. As Jeremy Black--one of the world's leading military and cartographic historians--convincingly shows in this lavish full-color book, it is impossible to understand the events and outcomes of the Second World War without deep reference to mapping at all levels. In World War II, maps themselves became the weapons.

Bad Faith

By Carmen Callil,

Book cover of Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France

Plenty of Resistance activity in the Lot, certainly, but it was also the home of the vicious anti-semite Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, who rounded up many Jews to their deaths on behalf of the Vichy Government. Years later, Carmen Callil, founder of Virago, was seeking psychiatric help when she came across his daughter Anne, a psychiatrist, who had been abandoned by her despicable parents.

It was Anne’s death by suicide that set Callil off on a stunning attempt to track the life of Darquier, a drunkard, a rapist, and a man of few if any redeeming features. He disgraced his family and native town, where his father was mayor of Cahors, capital of the Lot. He was sentenced to death but, protected by Franco, died a free man in Spain.

“Only lice were ever gassed at Auschwitz” was his mantra as he sent children off to the gas chambers.


Who am I?

A francophile and a researcher. I ran the research department of The Guardian newspaper for many years. I decided to write my book after it became apparent that there were no English language guidebooks devoted to the Lot alone (and not many in French either). I have been travelling all over France since I was a child in the 50s and discovered the Lot, en route to Spain, in about 1956. I have visited every year since. Pretty well all my interests in life are centred around my passion for this area, but extend beyond it -- history, ecclesiastical architecture, vernacular architecture of Quercy, gastronomy, cave art, the Resistance.


I wrote...

Lot: Travels Through a Limestone Landscape in Southwest France

By Helen Martin,

Book cover of Lot: Travels Through a Limestone Landscape in Southwest France

What is my book about?

It’s a book about pretty much all the towns and villages in the Lot, but also about the causse, the wild limestone uplands that rise here and stretch southwards. It is a unique and special landscape, hot and arid in summer, concealing paleolithic cave art and supporting its own ecology and agriculture. It is slashed by dramatic river valleys, some of which flow underground. The views over to the Auvergne defy description. Pilgrims and troubadours wandered its tiny roads to Rocamadour and on to Compostela. English and French kings fought over its stony wastes and built their castles.

Lot tells of the people, the history and the legends that shaped the region, of the tragic events of World War II, when these wild uplands provided refuge for the Resistance, of the little round-apsed, round-arched Romanesque churches, of feast days and long-lasting friendships. It examines the Cahors wine industry and gives a taste of the countless culinary delights on offer, from causse-bred, herb-infused lamb and cabécou goat’s cheese in little round discs to succulent duck confit.

The Ravine

By Wendy Lower,

Book cover of The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed

In an attempt to name the people in a single photograph, Lower demonstrates how intimate and participatory the Nazi killing process was in the Soviet Union. The photo itself is disturbing, and Lower’s investigation into its origins shows how much more chilling the story behind it actually was. Written in riveting prose, Lower leads her readers through her own discovery process, demystifying academic research. 


Who am I?

My father survived the Holocaust in Budapest and my mother’s immediate family fled Poland just before she was born, leaving behind a large extended family. I grew up witnessing the trauma of suffering and loss. As a professional historian, I had already written several books on Russian-Jewish history, mostly on culture and theater, when I joined a group that was interviewing Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivors in Ukraine. Since 2014, I have been teaching courses on the Holocaust at the University of Michigan and soon after became involved with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where I serve on the Academic Committee.


I wrote...

In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust

By Jeffrey Veidlinger,

Book cover of In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust

What is my book about?

Between 1918 and 1921, over a hundred thousand Jews were murdered in Ukraine by peasants, townsmen, and soldiers who blamed the Jews for the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Largely forgotten today, these pogroms—ethnic riots—dominated headlines and international affairs in their time. Aid workers warned that six million Jews were in danger of complete extermination. Twenty years later, these dire predictions would come true.

Drawing upon long-neglected archival materials, including thousands of newly discovered witness testimonies, trial records, and official orders, acclaimed historian Jeffrey Veidlinger shows for the first time how this wave of genocidal violence created the conditions for the Holocaust. He explains how so many different groups of people came to the same conclusion: that killing Jews was an acceptable response to their various problems.

Mistress of the Ritz

By Melanie Benjamin,

Book cover of Mistress of the Ritz

Manager of the Paris Ritz is a prestigious position, and the American wife of the Frenchman who is the manager leads a charmed life there – until the Nazi invasion of Paris. Once the Gestapo sets up their headquarters at the Ritz, the couple must negotiate their new, uncomfortable circumstances. As the war escalates, the danger to the American woman increases, especially since she has become involved with the Resistance. When the war is over, the American woman, Paris, and Parisians are not the same. Based on real people, this historical novel presents a heartbreaking picture of the aftermath of the Holocaust in Paris and the devastated lives left to deal with their devastated city.


Who am I?

As the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, I have experienced, observed, and researched inherited trauma. I have also noticed the dearth of works of fiction that focus on the second generation. I believe it is time for the voices of the second generation to be heard, and for the issues facing us to be explored.


I wrote...

Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

By Ruth Rotkowitz,

Book cover of Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

What is my book about?

This novel features an adult daughter of Holocaust survivors who struggles with her legacy of inherited trauma and desperately tries to lead a ‘normal’ life in 1980 New York. Due to the stigma attached to mental illness, she feels unable to share her pain with anyone else and puts on a desperate act of normalcy, despite her fears of ‘demons’ hiding out in her closet to torment her. With the backdrop of the Iranian hostage crisis combined with a series of crises at the school where she is a guidance counselor, dealing with teen pregnancy, teen suicide, toxic relationships, and mental illness, she reaches a breaking point. No longer able to suppress her demons, she feels she must flee her life in order to find a path to healing. Will flight and physical escape be her answer?

Fleeing Hitler

By Hanna Diamond,

Book cover of Fleeing Hitler: France 1940

The first book to read on this subject. An accessible, expert synthesis of refugee experiences based on many accounts, including interviews, but focused on eight that contain extensive, significant detail (all by Paris residents, Léon Werth among them). Diamond concludes that Philippe Pétain leveraged refugees' suffering to propagandize for military capitulation and the legitimacy of his regime.


Who am I?

Twenty years ago I nearly married a French woman and emigrated. I prepared vigorously to become an honorary Frenchman, cramming French history, language, and culture. Ultimately, I neither married nor emigrated, but the passion for that cultural acquisition project never left me, meaning many years of trips, reading, and language study. For the last decade, I've supplemented that interest by looking for historically significant French texts to translate (primarily contemporaneous texts about the World Wars and the interwar period). I have degrees in history and international affairs, plus professional experience in military affairs (including the Office of Secretary of Defense) and editing magazines (for Time, Inc.).


I wrote...

33 Days: A Memoir

By Leon Werth, Austin Denis Johnston (translator),

Book cover of 33 Days: A Memoir

What is my book about?

When Germany attacked westward in May 1940, eight million civilians fled their homes; Léon Werth was one of them. Air attacks and shortages of food, water, shelter, and medical care killed 100,000. When the six-week battle ended, nearly one in five people in France were displaced. The French call this refugee crisis l'Éxode (the exodus), reflecting its biblical proportions.

Werth was a famous novelist, journalist, and art critic—and a Jewish leftist. He was banned from publishing in France under Vichy race laws. His close friend Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince is dedicated to Werth) smuggled 33 Days out of France for publication in the West, but the manuscript was "lost" until 1992. Now Werth's book is in French high school's curriculum to preserve l'Éxode in national memory.

The Fall of France

By Julian Jackson,

Book cover of The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940

Also for historical context, this is a more traditionally constructed history—though also a masterful synthesis of sources—and among those that view the refugee crisis as having a role in France's defeat. Clear, concise and comprehensive; if you read one book about the fall of France, read this.


Who am I?

Twenty years ago I nearly married a French woman and emigrated. I prepared vigorously to become an honorary Frenchman, cramming French history, language, and culture. Ultimately, I neither married nor emigrated, but the passion for that cultural acquisition project never left me, meaning many years of trips, reading, and language study. For the last decade, I've supplemented that interest by looking for historically significant French texts to translate (primarily contemporaneous texts about the World Wars and the interwar period). I have degrees in history and international affairs, plus professional experience in military affairs (including the Office of Secretary of Defense) and editing magazines (for Time, Inc.).


I wrote...

33 Days: A Memoir

By Leon Werth, Austin Denis Johnston (translator),

Book cover of 33 Days: A Memoir

What is my book about?

When Germany attacked westward in May 1940, eight million civilians fled their homes; Léon Werth was one of them. Air attacks and shortages of food, water, shelter, and medical care killed 100,000. When the six-week battle ended, nearly one in five people in France were displaced. The French call this refugee crisis l'Éxode (the exodus), reflecting its biblical proportions.

Werth was a famous novelist, journalist, and art critic—and a Jewish leftist. He was banned from publishing in France under Vichy race laws. His close friend Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince is dedicated to Werth) smuggled 33 Days out of France for publication in the West, but the manuscript was "lost" until 1992. Now Werth's book is in French high school's curriculum to preserve l'Éxode in national memory.

Odette's Secrets

By Maryann MacDonald,

Book cover of Odette's Secrets

Odette Meyers was a young Jewish girl living in Paris when the Nazis invaded. Her father joined the army and her mother joined the French resistance, so Odette was sent to live with a Catholic family in the countryside, where she would be safe. She had to pretend to be Catholic and keep her secrets locked away. After the war, Odette returned to her family and had to find a way to rediscover her true identity. Writing poetry helped her to adjust and she grew up to be a poet. Macdonald retells Odette’s story in evocative free verse, capturing the poetic voice of a young girl learning how to express her innermost thoughts and feelings during a tumultuous and dangerous time. The reader comes to love this little girl and admire her courage.


Who am I?

I’m the author/illustrator of over 20 books for children, ranging from whimsical fiction about anthropomorphic cats and rambunctious dogs to serious nonfiction about hidden children, unusual heroes and surprising spies of WWII and the Holocaust. Several of my nonfiction books, including The Grand Mosque of Paris, were created in collaboration.


I wrote...

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust

By Deborah Durland DeSaix, Karen Gray Ruelle,

Book cover of The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust

What is my book about?

This is a true story that nobody knows about, the hidden history of how the Muslim community of the Grand Mosque of Paris helped to save the lives of Jews and others fleeing from the Nazis. It includes spies and disguises, secret underground passages, and action in the face of grave danger. When my co-author and I discovered this inspiring story of compassion and courage, we knew it needed to be told, so we embarked on years of research to find the truth. And as illustrators, we were inspired by the visual splendor of the mosque, with its colorful mosaic patterns, intricate woodwork, and graceful architecture. It was a joy to paint the illustrations and an honor to unearth this important story and share it with the world.

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