The best books on Nazi occupied France during World War II

3 authors have picked their favorite books about Nazi occupied France and why they recommend each book.

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A Train in Winter

By Caroline Moorehead,

Book cover of A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France

This fascinating book follows 230 women, some more in-depth than others, who were imprisoned outside Paris for crimes of resistance activities. I began reading it as research and became captivated by the stories, especially the devotion the women developed for one another. I felt a deep connection to each of the prisoners as I climbed into their shoes, cheering for them to survive while fearing they would not. (The Appendix lists the 49 who survived if you want to know in advance. I didn’t.) It’s difficult to grasp what they endured over an unimaginable period of time. Just the sheer depth of their hunger is something I’ve never come close to experiencing. Moorehead keeps the tone intimate and compassionate. Yes, their suffering could be hard to read, but at the same time, I found inspiration as if they spoke to me from the past of the power of mutual dependency-…

A Train in Winter

By Caroline Moorehead,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Train in Winter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A moving and extraordinary book about courage and survival, friendship and endurance - a portrait of ordinary women who faced the horror of the holocaust together.

On an icy morning in Paris in January 1943, a group of 230 French women resisters were rounded up from the Gestapo detention camps and sent on a train to Auschwitz - the only train, in the four years of German occupation, to take women of the resistance to a death camp. Of the group, only 49 survivors would return to France.

Here is the story of these women - told for the first…


Who am I?

Susan Tate Ankeny left a career in teaching to write the story of her father’s escape from Nazi-occupied France. In 2011, after being led on his path through France by the same Resistance fighters who guided him in 1944, she felt inspired to tell the story of these brave French patriots, especially the 17-year-old- girl who risked her own life to save her father’s. Susan is a member of the 8th Air Force Historical Society, the Air Force Escape and Evasion Society, and the Association des Sauveteurs d’Aviateurs Alliés. 


I wrote...

The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

Book cover of The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

What is my book about?

It was no secret that the chances of surviving a full twenty-five mission tour as a B-17 bombardier were minimal, and on February 8, 1944, Dean Tate’s luck ran out when his Flying Fortress was shot down in flames over northern France. But that wasn’t the end―Tate was one of four men from his aircraft who not only survived but were saved by the French resistance from capture. Tate spent thirty-seven days being sheltered in enemy-occupied France, passed from person to person until he was finally brought back to England by the escape line later known as Shelburn. What makes this book special is that Tate not only kept in touch with his helpers long after the war ended, but also wrote a personal and highly detailed account of his experiences, and it is that account, together with several years of research, that Tate’s daughter has used to such great effect in producing this highly readable true story. ―Keith Janes, author of They Came from Burgundy and Express Delivery

Never Forget You

By Jamila Gavin,

Book cover of Never Forget You

Jamila Gavin is best known for Coram Boy, which enjoyed huge success and went on to become a stage production. Her latest book is an incredibly moving story of four schoolfriends who go on to take very different and equally demanding roles during World War Two. The character of Noor is based on the real-life SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan, an Indian princess who served as a wireless operator in Nazi-occupied Paris. This is a beautifully written, emotionally engaging story of women barely in their twenties, and a harrowing insight into life in Paris for Jewish families and those working to help them. 

Never Forget You

By Jamila Gavin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Never Forget You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stunning and heartbreaking new novel from Jamila Gavin, the bestselling and award-winning author of Coram Boy and The Wheel of Surya.

England, 1937.

Gwen, Noor, Dodo and Vera are four very different teenage girls, with something in common. Their parents are all abroad, leaving them in their English boarding school, where they soon form an intense friendship. The four friends think that no matter what, they will always have each other. Then the war comes.

The girls find themselves flung to different corners of the war, from the flying planes in the Air Transport Auxiliary to going undercover in…


Who am I?

Having spent much time in France, I’ve been party to some incredible stories of the war years. The beautiful home owned by friends was once gifted by General De Gaulle to the village baker for his work hiding Resistance messages in loaves of bread; 90-year-old Jeanne remembers her father hiding Jewish families and helping them cross into free France; woodlands are punctuated by wooden crosses marking execution sites. For a writer, this is irresistible material, and it has been an honour to write The Schoolteacher of Saint-Michel and The Lost Song of Paris in tribute to the many acts of bravery and resistance over four long years of German occupation.


I wrote...

The Schoolteacher of Saint-Michel

By Sarah Steele,

Book cover of The Schoolteacher of Saint-Michel

What is my book about?

The Schoolteacher of Saint-Michel tells the story of Lucie Laval, teacher in a Dordogne village split in two by the German demarcation line in 1942. Lucie is at the heart of a perilous operation to rescue Jewish children picked from the streets of Paris and pass them across to Free France, from where they will be taken to safety. Decades later, Hannah Stone honours her late grandmother’s request for her to visit Saint-Michel and find Lucie at Les Cerisiers, the Laval family home with its beautiful cherry orchard. The associated recipes Hannah finds in an old cookery book lead her to discover family secrets that have lain dormant for over half a century.

Colonel Henri's Story

By Hugo Bleicher,

Book cover of Colonel Henri's Story: The Memoirs of the German Secret Agent who arrested Odette and Peter Churchill

I recommend this book to any “hard core” student of the German occupation of Paris. It is written by the Abwehr’s spy master assigned to track down and arrest foreign agents and French résistants operating in Paris. It was said that Bleicher could identify a foreign agent or résistant from a long distance. Bleicher was responsible for shutting down the Interallié network and SOE’s most productive circuit, Prosper.

While an interesting read, the reader must be cautioned. This is a memoir based on ten-year-old memories. Second, there is no independent research and much of this information remained classified until the 1990s. It might be best to have a good knowledge of the history of the occupation in Paris before reading Bleicher’s book.

Colonel Henri's Story

By Hugo Bleicher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Colonel Henri's Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I received my B.S. in geology and spent my career in commercial banking. How did I go from banking to becoming an author? I learned to write as a banker back in the “good old” days when the loan officer had to write their own credit memorandum. I enjoyed it so much I told myself, “One day, I'm going to write a book.” Then I found a book called Walks Through Lost Paris by Leonard Pitt. As my wife and I walked through the streets of Paris, I said, “I can write a book like this.” And so I did. We're about to publish our sixth book in an anticipated series of nine.


I wrote...

Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters?-The False War & Vichy: Volume One A Walking Tour of Nazi-Occupied Paris, 1940−1944

By Stew Ross,

Book cover of Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters?-The False War & Vichy: Volume One A Walking Tour of Nazi-Occupied Paris, 1940−1944

What is my book about?

I bring occupied Paris to life without you having to obtain a ration card to survive.

Come walk in the footsteps of the men, women, and children who lived, worked, and played in Nazi-occupied Paris. Your walks will take you to buildings, places, and sites that were significant to the Nazis, French Resistance, Free French, the British, and most importantly, the citizens of Paris. You will follow individual stories of bravery, horror, and treason, and visit sites unknown to most tourists⏤Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Oberbefehlshaber West bunkers), former brothels, former headquarters of the Vichy paramilitary organization known as the Milice, and German soldier social clubs.

The Gestapo

By Jacques Delarue,

Book cover of The Gestapo: A History of Horror

Studying the history of the German occupation of France must include a knowledge of Gestapo history and its crimes against humanity. This book is an introductory overview of the German security forces (RSHA) and in particular, Amt IV, or the Gestapo. The book focuses on the Gestapo forces in Paris and how they interacted with other security units including the Sicherheitdienst (SD), or Nazi political intelligence agency (Amt VI).

The author was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1944 after he was caught as a saboteur in the Combat resistance movement. During his post-war career, Delarue was called as a prosecution witness at Klaus Barbie’s trial, and he was assigned to investigate the French war criminal, Paul Touvier. I recommend this book to anyone who needs an overview of the Gestapo from Berlin to Paris.

The Gestapo

By Jacques Delarue,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From 1933 to 1945, the Gestapo was Nazi Germany's chief instrument of counter-espionage, political suppression, and terror. Jacques Delarue, a saboteur arrested by the Nazis in occupied France, chronicles how the land of Beethoven elevated sadism to a fine art. The Gestapo: A History of Horror draws upon Delarue's interviews with ex-Gestapo agents to deliver a multi-layered history of the force whose work included killing student resisters, establishing Aryan eugenic unions, and implementing the Final Solution. This is a probing look at the Gestapo and the fanatics and megalomaniacs who made it such a successful and heinous organization-Barbie, Eichmann, Himmler,…

Who am I?

I received my B.S. in geology and spent my career in commercial banking. How did I go from banking to becoming an author? I learned to write as a banker back in the “good old” days when the loan officer had to write their own credit memorandum. I enjoyed it so much I told myself, “One day, I'm going to write a book.” Then I found a book called Walks Through Lost Paris by Leonard Pitt. As my wife and I walked through the streets of Paris, I said, “I can write a book like this.” And so I did. We're about to publish our sixth book in an anticipated series of nine.


I wrote...

Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters?-The False War & Vichy: Volume One A Walking Tour of Nazi-Occupied Paris, 1940−1944

By Stew Ross,

Book cover of Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters?-The False War & Vichy: Volume One A Walking Tour of Nazi-Occupied Paris, 1940−1944

What is my book about?

I bring occupied Paris to life without you having to obtain a ration card to survive.

Come walk in the footsteps of the men, women, and children who lived, worked, and played in Nazi-occupied Paris. Your walks will take you to buildings, places, and sites that were significant to the Nazis, French Resistance, Free French, the British, and most importantly, the citizens of Paris. You will follow individual stories of bravery, horror, and treason, and visit sites unknown to most tourists⏤Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Oberbefehlshaber West bunkers), former brothels, former headquarters of the Vichy paramilitary organization known as the Milice, and German soldier social clubs.

Double Cross

By Ben Macintyre,

Book cover of Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies

If you want to read about one of the most amazing operations of World War II, then this is the book for you. It is the story of the Allied double agents (five in particular) who successfully tricked Hitler into thinking the invasion of France would occur in a different location than planned. In my opinion, this book is enjoyable to read because of the five agents and their backgrounds, personalities, and how they went about tricking the Germans. One of the agents was used by Ian Fleming as a model for the James Bond character. Another agent was the only person in the war to have been awarded both the German Iron Cross and the British MBE. I have several favorite World War II genre authors and Ben Macintyre is one of them.   

Double Cross

By Ben Macintyre,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Double Cross as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

D-Day, 6 June 1944, the turning point of the Second World War, was a victory of arms. But it was also a triumph for a different kind of operation: one of deceit, aimed at convincing the Nazis that Calais and Norway, not Normandy, were the targets of the 150,000-strong invasion force.

The deception involved every branch of Allied wartime intelligence - the Bletchley Park code-breakers, MI5, MI6, SOE, Scientific Intelligence, the FBI and the French Resistance. But at its heart was the 'Double Cross System', a team of double agents controlled by the secret Twenty Committee, so named because twenty…

Who am I?

I received my B.S. in geology and spent my career in commercial banking. How did I go from banking to becoming an author? I learned to write as a banker back in the “good old” days when the loan officer had to write their own credit memorandum. I enjoyed it so much I told myself, “One day, I'm going to write a book.” Then I found a book called Walks Through Lost Paris by Leonard Pitt. As my wife and I walked through the streets of Paris, I said, “I can write a book like this.” And so I did. We're about to publish our sixth book in an anticipated series of nine.


I wrote...

Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters?-The False War & Vichy: Volume One A Walking Tour of Nazi-Occupied Paris, 1940−1944

By Stew Ross,

Book cover of Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters?-The False War & Vichy: Volume One A Walking Tour of Nazi-Occupied Paris, 1940−1944

What is my book about?

I bring occupied Paris to life without you having to obtain a ration card to survive.

Come walk in the footsteps of the men, women, and children who lived, worked, and played in Nazi-occupied Paris. Your walks will take you to buildings, places, and sites that were significant to the Nazis, French Resistance, Free French, the British, and most importantly, the citizens of Paris. You will follow individual stories of bravery, horror, and treason, and visit sites unknown to most tourists⏤Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Oberbefehlshaber West bunkers), former brothels, former headquarters of the Vichy paramilitary organization known as the Milice, and German soldier social clubs.

Flames in the Field

By Rita Kramer,

Book cover of Flames in the Field: The Story of Four SOE Agents in Occupied France

The story of four women agents from the SOE’s French section and their journey to a death camp in France is movingly told. They travel from different directions and come from different backgrounds but meet their tragic fate together. The book captures the spirit of resistance and their heroism.

Flames in the Field

By Rita Kramer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Flames in the Field as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the true story of four women, members of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), who were sent into Nazi-occupied France during World War II, and then caught up in a web of deception which resulted in their deaths at the hands of the Gestapo. In this book, Rita Kramer pieces together the women's stories, how they came to be involved in such a dangerous operation as well as their experiences in France, and also analyzes the controversial methods of SOE at a crucial period in the war.

Who am I?

I am a writer of Indian origin and have always been passionate about telling the story of the involvement of Indians in both World Wars. Very few people know that 2.5 million Indian volunteered for the Second World War, the largest volunteer force in history. I have always enjoyed reading stories of intelligence operations in wartime, the role of the Resistance in occupied countries and particularly the role of women in the Second World War. I was drawn to the story of Noor Inayat Khan from all these perspectives.


I wrote...

Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan

By Shrabani Basu,

Book cover of Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan

What is my book about?

This is the riveting story of Noor Inayat Khan, the descendant of an Indian ruler, Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, who became a British secret agent for SOE during World War II. Shrabani Basu tells the moving story of Noor's life from her birth in Moscow - where her father was a Sufi preacher - to her capture by the Germans. Noor was the first woman radio operator to be infiltrated into occupied France, and worked in one of the most dangerous areas in the field. She was betrayed, captured, tortured, but revealed nothing, not even her name. Kept in solitary confinement, chained between hand and feet and unable to walk upright, Noor existed on bowls of soup made from potato peelings. Ten months after she was captured, she was taken to Dachau Concentration Camp and, on 13 September 1944, she was shot. Her last word was 'Liberte'. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre.

Ticket to Freedom

By H.J. Spiller,

Book cover of Ticket to Freedom

A gripping personal account of an airman’s adventurous escape through France and over the Pyrenees. After Herbert Spiller’s Halifax bomber crash-landed to the east of Paris in October 1942, he had the good luck to be helped by the priest and abbot of St-Dizier. They saw him safely on to a train to Paris, where he was taken under the wing of the Comet escape line and then passed south down the line and eventually over the Pyrenees … sometimes at a high cost. Several of the French people who assisted him later died either by execution or in the concentration camps. “You can imagine ... the sense of debt that hangs over me when I ponder on the fact that nine people died through helping me to live and return to duty,” Spiller writes, dedicating his book to all those who risked their lives to help him.

Ticket to Freedom

By H.J. Spiller,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

Anne-Marie Walters was born in 1923 in Geneva to a British father and French mother. At the outbreak of war in 1940, the family escaped to Britain, where Anne-Marie volunteered for the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). Having been approached by SOE in 1943, she was accepted for training and in January the following year dropped into France by parachute to work as a courier with George Starr, head of the Wheelwright circuit of the SOE in SW France. This she did until August 1944, when Starr sent her back to Britain under somewhat controversial  circumstances. Anne-Marrie was awarded the OBE in 1945 in recognition of her “personal courage and willingness to undergo danger.” 


I wrote...

Moondrop to Gascony

By Anne-Marie Walters,

Book cover of Moondrop to Gascony

What is my book about?

In January 1944, Anne-Marie Walters, aged just 20 years old, parachuted into southwest France to work with the Resistance in preparation for the Allied invasion. With a British father and French mother, she was to act as a courier for the Wheelwright circuit of SOE (Special Operations Executive), carrying messages, delivering explosives, arranging the escape of downed airmen, and receiving parachute drops of arms and personnel at dead of night – living in constant fear of capture by the Gestapo. Then, on the very eve of liberation, she was sent off on foot over the Pyrenees to Spain, carrying urgent dispatches for London.

Originally published just after the war, this new edition includes meticulously researched background notes and identifies the real people behind the pseudonyms. M R D Foot (official historian of SOE) described Moondrop to Gascony as “one of the outstanding surveys of the real-life of a secret agent.”

The Cannibal Galaxy

By Cynthia Ozick,

Book cover of The Cannibal Galaxy

Cynthia Ozick's 1983 novel is set in a Midwestern academy founded by a Jewish refugee from Nazi-occupied France who wants to offer students a “dual curriculum” combining traditional Jewish religious instruction with the secular liberal arts. Eventually, this principal comes into conflict with a brilliant philosopher who insists that he not judge her under-achieving daughter too quickly when she becomes a student at the school. Ozick’s richly descriptive prose recreates the horrors of 1940s Europe and the placidity of the midcentury American Midwest as she surveys the dangers of American assimilation and anti-intellectualism with all the rigor we'd expect of a novelist who doubles as one of our best essayists. As a teacher myself, I recognize the anxieties of pedagogy Ozick portrays—how do we know when and if we’re doing justice to our students?—and I would recommend it to anyone who teaches at any level. 

The Cannibal Galaxy

By Cynthia Ozick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This novel is about the uneasy condition of Jewish heritage in the prevailing Gentile culture of middle America.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by philosophical ideas, the more radical and counterintuitive the better. But as someone who’s never excelled at abstract thought, I’ve found these ideas’ expression in argumentative nonfiction both dry and unpersuasive, lacking the human context that would alone test the strength of propositions about spirituality, justice, love, education, and more. The novel of ideas brings concepts to life in the particular personalities and concrete experiences of fictional characters—a much more vivid and convincing way to explore the world of thought. Many readers will be familiar with the genre’s classics (Voltaire, Dostoevsky, Mann, Camus), so I’d like to recommend more recent instances I find personally or artistically inspiring.


I wrote...

The Quarantine of St. Sebastian House

By John Pistelli,

Book cover of The Quarantine of St. Sebastian House

What is my book about?

I wrote The Quarantine of St. Sebastian House between March and April 2020. I wanted to capture not the factual history of those early pandemic days, but to record the period’s apocalyptic atmosphere—fears of impending doom amid the eerie quietude; the chaos of contradictory information and ideology in a society suddenly transported online; and above all how it felt for normal life to be suspended in an existential crisis, with all our values and priorities suddenly up for debate.

My story of one quarantined apartment building whose tenants face off over art, politics, and philosophy—a struggle that builds to terrible revelations, climactic violence, and redemptive love—is about how social crisis reveals the conflicting truths at the bloody heart of our individual and social lives.

Book cover of Fair Stood the Wind for France

Less involved with the moral and political dilemmas than some of the other novels I’ve listed, this is more of a straightforward adventure story about a British aircrew who survives a crash landing in France and hides out in a farmhouse. Naturally one of them falls for the farmer’s daughter and she helps him on his way to the border. A great romantic adventure but tinged with the real horror and pain of warfare.

Fair Stood the Wind for France

By H.E. Bates,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fair Stood the Wind for France as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When John Franklin brings his plane down into Occupied France at the height of the Second World war, there are two things in his mind - the safety of his crew and his own badly injured arm. It is a stroke of unbelievable luck when the family of a French farmer risk their lives to offer the airmen protection. During the hot summer weeks that follow, the English officer and the daughter of the house are drawn inexorably to each other...


Who am I?

My novel Nourishment is loosely based on stories I was told about the war by my parents who lived through it. My mother was a firewoman during the Blitz and my father was in Normandy after the D-Day landings. They married during the war. I wish now I’d written down the stories my parents used to tell me. There was always humour in their stories. My parents could both see the absurdity and the dark comedy that can sometimes be present in wartime situations, especially on the home front, and I hope some of that comes through in Nourishment.


I wrote...

Nourishment

By Gerard Woodward,

Book cover of Nourishment

What is my book about?

Nourishment is set during the Blitz and is the story of Tory Pace, who lives with her elderly mother in southeast London. Her husband Donald has been missing in action for several months and is assumed to be dead. When a letter from him arrives from a prisoner of war camp, she is thrown into turmoil by the unusual request he makes. Her mother has always strongly disapproved of Donald, but this request of his is beyond the pale. No decent woman would comply, and certainly not her daughter. Or would she?

Code Name Verity

By Elizabeth Wein,

Book cover of Code Name Verity

I was recently drawn to this book because of its unusual central characters—two young women, Julie and Maddie, from very different backgrounds, who become friends during WW2. Both women are doing crucial work, not being the object of desire for a man, not competing with one another. I read it in one sitting. The ingenious structure starts with a ‘confession’ by SOE recruit Julie, written under torture by the Nazis in France, which reveals the depth of her friendship with Maddie, a pilot, supposedly just transporting planes for the RAF, who ends up hiding in occupied France trying to free her friend from the most appalling fate. I found it clever, moving, and unputdownable. Code Name Verity is marketed as YA but was quite graphic enough for this adult!

Code Name Verity

By Elizabeth Wein,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Code Name Verity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I have two weeks. You'll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.'

Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, Code Name Verity is a bestselling tale of friendship and courage set against the backdrop of World War Two.

Only in wartime could a stalwart lass from Manchester rub shoulders with a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a special operations executive. When a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France, she is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in…


Who am I?

I grew up in small-town America, very far from where I was born (London), with a strong desire to travel and explore. I also developed a thirst for history—the older the better! At eighteen, I went to work on European digs before studying Archaeology in the UK and teaching in Southern Africa. Across these adventures I both experienced and witnessed the victimization of young women—an even more common ordeal in the past. So now I write historical fiction about resourceful, brave women who strive to be the active, powerful centres of their own stories. I hope you find the books on my list as inspiring as I do!


I wrote...

The Errant Hours

By Kate Innes, James Wade (illustrator),

Book cover of The Errant Hours

What is my book about?

My first medieval novel and Book One of The Arrowsmith Trilogy is the story of Illesa, a young woman more or less alone in Plantagenet Britain, as she struggles to save the life of her brother, and then her own in the face of poverty, violence, and corruption. Both a fast-paced tale of courage and a slow-burn romance, this novel interweaves real historical treasures, legends, and facts in an exuberant literary adventure. 

Set in the Welsh Marches where I live, the action is underpinned by extensive historical research. The Errant Hours is a Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice.

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