The best books on underground movements

Many authors have picked their favorite books about underground movements and why they recommend each book.

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The Volunteer

By Jack Fairweather,

Book cover of The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz

Witold Pilecki risked everything for his country. As a Polish resistance fighter he volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz in September 1940. There, he helped forge a Polish underground resistance of hundreds of prisoners. Despite torture, hunger, and conditions far worse than anyone imagined, he remained in the camp for two-and-a-half years by choice. His well-documented reports on Auschwitz in early 1941 were the first ones sent out of the camp. His plea? Destroy the camp before it grew worse.

Jack Fairweather wrote a definitive account that is thoroughly researched, and an engaging read. The world ignored Pilecki’s reports during the war. After the war, Russian communists declared Pilecki and his family enemies of the state. Pilecki’s story is well-known and revered in Poland. His valor and sacrifice deserve worldwide recognition.

The Volunteer

By Jack Fairweather,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I am an author, lifelong history geek, and relentlessly curious about finding unknown stories. In 2002 I met Henry Zguda, an eighty-five-year-old Polish Catholic who survived three years in Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II. He lived a mile from my house. Intrigued, I soon offered to write his incredible story. I am not Polish and knew little of Poland or Polish history when I began. This led to over ten years of research on Poland, World War II, and the Holocaust. My friendship with Henry changed the direction of my life and gave me keen insight into the plight of Poles, both Jewish and Christian, during World War II. Thousands of memoirs and books exist on the Holocaust. I believe the inspiring stories of Poles and other victims of Hitler and Stalin deserve equally widespread recognition.


I wrote...

Henry: A Polish Swimmer's True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America

By Katrina Shawver,

Book cover of Henry: A Polish Swimmer's True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America

What is my book about?

Poland, 1942. Henry Zguda was at home in the water. But one night in May, the SS arrested the celebrated competitive swimmer in Kraków for the sole crime of being Polish. Two weeks later, he was far from the life he’d known, interred as political prisoner #39551 at Auschwitz.

Told through a series of heartfelt conversations with the author, Henry recounts his gut-wrenching story of miraculous survival and of refusing to succumb, even amidst the most brutal of horrors. Interwoven with carefully constructed historical research and evidence, this powerful account of a Christian persecuted by Nazis is a gripping tale of love, loss, and loyalty that sheds light on some of the lesser-known evils of the Holocaust. He witnessed and lived through the absolute worst of humanity, yet preferred to look ahead rather than behind.

The Ragged Edge of Night

By Olivia Hawker,

Book cover of The Ragged Edge of Night

The book tells the story of a small village near Stuttgart during wartime when poverty, hunger, fear, and uncertainty plague every member of the community. Even in the face of unthinkable horrors, the characters perform amazing acts of love, faith, bravery, and sacrifice and ultimately find forgiveness and hope for the future. I really enjoyed the vivid look at the lives of the German Resistance members and what they were willing to do to sacrifice while hiding the marginalized and criminalized citizens the Nazis hunted. Beautifully written as well.

The Ragged Edge of Night

By Olivia Hawker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For fans of All the Light We Cannot See, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, and The Nightingale comes an emotionally gripping, beautifully written historical novel about extraordinary hope, redemption, and one man's search for light during the darkest times of World War II.

Germany, 1942. Franciscan friar Anton Starzmann is stripped of his place in the world when his school is seized by the Nazis. He relocates to a small German hamlet to wed Elisabeth Herter, a widow who seeks a marriage-in name only-to a man who can help raise her three children. Anton seeks something too-atonement for failing to protect…

Who am I?

I love to write stories of historical injustice, so this is mainly the genre I read. In recent years, many new novels merely rehashed the same theme, such as the horror show known as Auschwitz or the other camps. Although those are worthy of the people who died there, I’m always on the hunt for a fresh story that has never been told about those tragic years. 


I wrote...

When We Were Brave

By Karla M. Jay,

Book cover of When We Were Brave

What is my book about?

When We Were Brave tells three little-remembered stories that weave together and beg to be heard. We find a conflicted SS officer, Wilhelm Falk, who risks everything to escape the Wehrmacht and get out the message about the death camps. Izaak is a young Jewish boy whose positive outlook is challenged daily as each new perilous situation comes along. American citizens, Herbert Müller, and his family are sent back to the hellish landscape of Germany because of the DNA coursing through their veins. In the panorama of World War II, these are the high-stakes plots and endearing characters whose braided fates we pray will work out in the end.

Silence of the Sea / Le Silence de la Mer

By James W. Brown (editor), Lawrence D. Stokes (editor), Cyril Connelly (translator)

Book cover of Silence of the Sea / Le Silence de la Mer

This book is about passive resistance to the Nazi occupation; about taking a stand and not talking to the enemy, using silence as a weapon, not letting the invader feel comfortable. There is no action, no fights, no gore, no espionage. A family is obliged to live with a Nazi and endure his presence, but behind the enemy uniform, there is an individual, a human being. I found it touching and beautiful that in the midst of the German invasion of his country, Vercors could write about the enemy in such a tender and tolerant way. This is the book that inspired me to write my second novel about a German in Paris during the occupation.

Silence of the Sea / Le Silence de la Mer

By James W. Brown (editor), Lawrence D. Stokes (editor), Cyril Connelly (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Silence of the Sea / Le Silence de la Mer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This first bilingual edition of France's most enduring wartime novel introduces Vercors's famous tale to a generation without personal experience of World War II who may not be able to read it in its original language. Now available in paperback, readers are assisted with a historical and literary introduction, explanatory notes, a glossary of French terms and a select bibliography.

Who am I?

I became intrigued by the German occupation of Paris when I moved here in 1993. I began to imagine how the French citizens would have lived alongside the enemy; housing them, serving them, working for them, feeding them, and even entertaining them, while hiding what was really in their hearts. This duplicity fascinated me, and I read all the books I could on the subject. Living in Paris, I also had the opportunity to talk to French people who had lived through the occupation. Putting all the pieces together, I did my best to recreate the atmosphere in my two novels.


I wrote...

While Paris Slept

By Ruth Druart,

Book cover of While Paris Slept

What is my book about?

On a darkened platform, two destinies become intertwined, and the choices each person makes will change the future in ways neither could have imagined.

Told from alternating perspectives, While Paris Slept reflects on the power of love, resilience, and courage when all seems lost. Exploring the strength of family ties, and what it really means to love someone unconditionally, this debut novel will capture your heart.

White Rose

By Kip Wilson,

Book cover of White Rose

This is based on the true story of Sophie Scholl, who courageously rebelled against the restrictions and horrors of the Nazi regime. White Rose was a more recent read and it saddened me to think that we've learned so little from the lessons of the past. Though it is a story with a tragic ending, White Rose reminded me how important it is to speak out against injustice before injustice becomes the norm. 

White Rose

By Kip Wilson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Disillusioned by the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Sophie Scholl, her brother, and his fellow soldiers formed the White Rose, a group that wrote and distributed anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and calling for action from their fellow German citizens. The following year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated for information about their collaborators. This debut novel recounts the lives of Sophie and her friends and highlights their brave stand against fascism in Nazi Germany.

Who am I?

Technology advances, scenery changes, but the human heart remains the same. As a writer, I hope to honor lives unnoticed or forgotten and have found that writing in verse affords me the truest, most uncorrupted pathway into the human heart. Each of the verse novels I’ve written or recommended here is spun from the strongest threads of time, place, and character. My hope is that the spare words within each book will build bridges across time and culture, and that those of us willing to open our hearts and cross these bridges will help create a more tolerant and peaceful world. 


I wrote...

Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown

By Ann E. Burg,

Book cover of Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown

What is my book about?

My most recent book, Flooded, Requiem for Johnstown, tells the story of the Johnstown Flood of 1889. Johnstown Pennsylvania was a working-class factory city. Above the soot-soaked streets, an elite fishing and hunting club, built on a pristine man-made lake, drew America's wealthiest business barons. Though repeatedly urged to fix the deteriorating dam that held the lake, club members disregarded these warnings. When heavy rains came, the dam collapsed and plunged the city into chaos.

While set in a different century and told through the experiences of characters whose daily lives were much different than our own, the events which unfolded in Johnstown reflect the same attitudes and issues we face today. History has much to tell us if we are listening.

Resistance

By Anita Shreve,

Book cover of Resistance

I love Anita Shreve’s writing style, which is spare and yet conveys so much emotion. Resistance is set during World War 2 in occupied Belgium and tells the story of a downed US air force pilot who is found by a young boy, the son of a Nazi collaborator, before being taken in by a couple who hides him in the attic before he can be discovered by the Germans. This atmospheric story is about love and betrayal, but so powerfully portrays the atrocities of war. 

Resistance

By Anita Shreve,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The wife of a Resistance worker in Nazi-occupied Belgium falls in love with a wounded American pilot, forcing her to struggle with trust and betrayal. The wounded pilot becomes the pivot of the young housewife's life and their love affair causes repercussions throughout the small town.

Who am I?

As a child I grew up listening to my Dutch mother’s stories of life under German occupation and her family’s struggle for survival during the Hunger Winter. Life was hard but exciting for a teenager who thought nothing of delivering anti-Nazi leaflets, chopping down lime trees in front of the house for firewood, and evading the Germans on her ancient bike in her quest for food. It was this unwavering spirit that I wanted to capture in the four novels I’ve written set in wartime Holland. She was the inspiration behind my latest World War 2 novel, The Boy in the Attic.


I wrote...

The Boy in the Attic

By Imogen Matthews,

Book cover of The Boy in the Attic

What is my book about?

Holland, 1945. Ilse is only just surviving the terrible famine and violent German occupation. She takes up a position as a nurse far from home at a hospital in the grounds of her friend Connie’s house. When Ilse discovers a young Jewish man in hiding in the tiny attic room, Ilse must decide whether to keep him concealed or risk almost certain death. 

London 2001. When Anna’s father unexpectedly dies, he leaves behind a bent silver sixpence on a delicate silver chain holding the clue to a devastating family secret. Among his possessions, Anna finds a ticket to the Dutch town where he was born and a note revealing who his parents were. Anna sets out on a quest to discover their wartime fate.

A Past in Hiding

By Mark Roseman,

Book cover of A Past in Hiding: Memory and Survival in Nazi Germany

Historian Mark Roseman interviewed Marianne Ellenbogen née Strauss in a suburban house near Liverpool. After she passed away, her son shared with him the diaries and letters he found in the attic. In the summer of 1943 Marianne escaped deportation and hid in various places across Germany, supported by a little-known network of unorthodox socialists. Her life under Nazism was horrible—yet strangely liberating. She flourished away from her strict parents but was still traumatized at leaving them behind. The fate of someone who repeatedly changed her German, Jewish, political, and indeed personal identity will move you emotionally as well as stimulate you intellectually. All along, Marianne struggled to maintain control over her own story—which makes A Past in Hiding a brilliant title for an outstanding book.   

A Past in Hiding

By Mark Roseman,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

As a historian at the University of Amsterdam, one of my concerns is to understand why so many Germans supported and participated in Adolf Hitler’s atrocious political project. I am equally interested in the other side: the Nazis’ political opponents and victims. In two decades of researching, writing, and teaching, I have read large numbers of official documents, newspapers, diaries, novels, and memoirs. These contemporary texts have made me vividly aware of how different people lived through the Nazi years, how they envisioned their lives, and how they remembered them after World War II. The questions they faced and the solutions they found continue to challenge and disconcert me.  


I wrote...

Culture in the Third Reich

By Moritz Föllmer,

Book cover of Culture in the Third Reich

What is my book about?

“It’s like being in a dream,” commented Joseph Goebbels visiting Nazi-occupied Paris in 1940. Dream and reality intermingled in the Third Reich: fantasies of imperial rule and racist domination came true; so did the worst fears of the regime’s opponents and victims. And culture was central to what the Nazis set out to do in a country that had long considered itself more cultured than most. Theater, film, and music galvanized Germans’ imaginations and offered them reassurance and distraction. My book elucidates a potent blend of extreme-right utopianism, middle-brow conventionality, and modern mass culture, while also covering the Jews and antifascists who drew on culture for consolation or strength to resist. The story it tells is disturbing throughout and culminates in a nightmare of destruction.   

The Resistance

By Matthew Cobb,

Book cover of The Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis

My personal library holds dozens of histories and first-person accounts dealing with the French Resistance. Some are scholarly, others more popular in treatment, but many so boring that I barely reached the final page. Cobb’s work however is a great exception, depicting in smooth prose and outstanding research the dramatic development of the Résistance. You'll meet heroes and heroines, and see the extraordinary lengths taken by simple French citizens to undermine fascist tyranny and aid Allied efforts. Here is the insight needed to truly appreciate accurate fictional portrayals of this time.

The Resistance

By Matthew Cobb,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The French resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II was a struggle in which ordinary people fought for their liberty, despite terrible odds and horrifying repression. Hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen and women carried out an armed struggle against the Nazis, producing underground anti-fascist publications and supplying the Allies with vital intelligence.

The Resistancetouches on some of the strongest themes in life - courage, self-sacrifice, betrayal and struggle. It shatters the illusion of a unified Resistance created by General de Gaulle, and brings to vivid life a true story of heroes and conflicts forgotten over the next half-century as…

Who am I?

While a graduate student and then an army interpreter in Germany, I listened to reminiscences from both Third Reich military veterans and former French resistance fighters. Their tales picked up where my father's stories of pre-war European life always ended, and my fascination with this history knew no bounds. On occasion I would conceal my American identity and mentally play the spy as I traversed Europe solo. A dozen years later upon the death of my father, I learned from my mother his great secret: he had concealed his wartime life as an American spy inside the Reich. His private journals telling of bravery and intrigue inspire each of my novels.


I wrote...

Corridor of Darkness: A Novel of Nazi Germany

By Patrick W. O'Bryon,

Book cover of Corridor of Darkness: A Novel of Nazi Germany

What is my book about?

1930's Berlin is unrestrained, decadent, and torn by political and social strife. Novice foreign correspondent Ryan Lemmon is making the most of every moment exploring the city's dark underbelly, when a gut-wrenching murder brings him face-to-face with the growing fascist menaceAs Hitler’s stranglehold on the German nation grows, Lemmon is drawn into the theft of a Nazi protocol threatening citizens across Europe. Only Ryan and his former lover can get that intel to Washington, but a Gestapo mastermind stands in their way. 

Kirkus Reviews writes: "The novel is rife with historical intrigue and captures the flavor of mid-century Europe...a keen eye for detail...An intriguing early WWII spy yarn set in a well researched, authentic Germany.

The Invisible Woman

By Erika Robuck,

Book cover of The Invisible Woman

Virginia Hall is one woman whose stunning personal story ought to make her a household name. Robuck’s fascinating novel drops the reader into France in March of 1944, where the Nazis terrorize the population and American Special Ops leader Virginia Hall is doing all she can to subvert the occupiers and assist in the lead-up to D-Day. I barely breathed while reading this novel of one of the founding ladies of the CIA – and the best part of all? The story is true, and oh-so-inspiring. 

The Invisible Woman

By Erika Robuck,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I have a passion for telling the stories of women who've been sidelined by history, fascinating and significant leading ladies who made a meaningful mark, even though their names are now less well-known than many of the men of their time. The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post is my ninth book. I’ve written two children’s books, one nonfiction memoir, and six historical fiction novels, but this one feels particularly exciting and personal to me because I fell in love with the historical material, the time periods covered, and the subject herself, while researching and writing this novel. Post’s life is not taught in history classes, but should be, because she certainly makes history fun.


I wrote...

The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post

By Allison Pataki,

Book cover of The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post

What is my book about?

Growing up in the modest farmlands of Battle Creek, Michigan, Marjorie Merriweather Post was inspired by a few simple rules: always think for yourself, never take success for granted, and work hard—even when deemed American royalty, even while covered in imperial diamonds. Marjorie had an insatiable drive to live and love and to give more than she got.

Marjorie’s story, though full of beauty and grandeur, was equally marked by challenge and tumult. A wife four times over, Marjorie sought her happily-ever-after with the blue-blooded party boy, the charismatic financier, the international diplomat with a dark side, and the bon vivant whose shocking secrets would shake Marjorie and all of society. Marjorie did everything on a grand scale, especially when it came to love.

Primo Levi's Resistance

By Sergio Luzzatto,

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

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.

Primo Levi's Resistance

By Sergio Luzzatto,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Primo Levi's Resistance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

No other Auschwitz survivor has been as literarily powerful and historically influential as Primo Levi. Yet Levi was not only a victim or a witness. In the fall of 1943, at the very start of the Italian Resistance, he was a fighter, participating in the first attempts to launch guerrilla warfare against occupying Nazi forces. Those three months have been largely overlooked by Levi's biographers; indeed, they went strikingly unmentioned by Levi himself. For the rest of his life he barely acknowledged that autumn in the Alps. But an obscure passage in Levi's The Periodic Table hints that his deportation…

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.

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.

Mistress of the Ritz

By Melanie Benjamin,

Why should I read it?

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


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...

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?

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