I saw a commercial the other day for The Monuments Men, which is now out on DVD. This is a WWII era story about the military men who searched for and recovered art stolen by the Nazis during their various occupations. This got me to thinking there are so many stories written about the Holocaust but harder to find are books set in WWII but about other topics. I know there are several out there as I have read them myself and read them with students so I thought I’d give you a list of books to check out. And with the 70th anniversary of D Day coming up tomorrow, these books tell the stories that we must not forget.
First up is Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, based on the true story of how the Danish people saved 90% of their Jewish population from death this book is centered on young Annemarie Johannesen, her family and her friend Ellen Rosen. At the beginning of the book Denmark is under German Occupation but as of yet has done nothing with the Jews in the country as they have in others. Suddenly the button shop on the corner owned by a Jewish family is closed, Ellen’s family goes to synagogue and when they come home Ellen stays the night while her parents go somewhere. In the middle of the night German soldiers come banging on the door, the Johannesen family pretends that Ellen is their daughter Lise, who died a few years ago. The next morning Annemarie, her mother, sister Kirsti, and Ellen head off to the coast to Uncle Henrik’s house. From here you learn how the Danish people hid and smuggled their Jewish friends and neighbors across to Sweden. While there is no movie version of this particular book there is a Wonderful World of Disney movie: Miracle at Midnight that tells a very similar tale with a bit more detail of the Danish resistance. They are an excellent set. After all the sadness and horror of the Holocaust books it is uplifting to read this book of the determination and victory over the Nazis.
France was another country occupied by the Nazis and For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is the story obviously of a French spy, a member of the French resistance. This spy however is 13 year old Suzanne David a school-girl and aspiring singer. The day the Nazis invade she and a friend are at the beach where they witness a pregnant neighbor die from a bomb blast. Soon after she and her family are forced out of their home. She is then offered a chance to help the resistance and takes it. This is a fast-paced story told in first person, based on interviews with the real Suzanne David, filled with suspense. Definitely a good read.
Yet one more story based on some events that happened during WWII is Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan. In June of 1940, a Norwegian freighter landed in Baltimore with $9,000,000 worth of gold bullion. Reports from the crew state that the children of Norway smuggled the bullion past the occupying German soldiers on sleds. McSwigan turned this into a book, with the story focusing on Peter, his Uncle Victor, his mother and the others of their small village, doing exactly that smuggling the gold bullion of Norway onto Uncle Victor’s ship by hiding it on their sleds and sledding right past the unknowing German soldiers. Another great story of triumph from a horrible time period.
While I grew up learning about the Holocaust and World War II, I never learned about the Japanese internment camps here in the United States, that is until I was reading Silent Honor by Danielle Steele. This is clearly not a young adult book but it was my eye opener so I mentioned it. In 2008 David Patneaude released his book Thin Wood Walls about Joe Hanada and his family who are taken from their homes near Seattle to an internment camp. We see his entire family take up residence in a single stall of a stable turned “apartment”. Throughout the story we see many different reactions from the Japanese Americans held in this camp, some like Joe’s brother Mike decide to enlist in the Army to prove their loyalty to the country, others ask to be repatriated to Japan, still others insist on only speaking Japanese. Again this book was an eye-opener for me to what was thought to be a precaution and instead an embarrassing time in American history. This time has come even more to light recently with the writing and production of Allegiance by George Takei, best known for his portrayal of Sulu in the original Star Trek series and movies. The play is the story of Takei’s own time in the internment camps. Thin Wood Walls is a must read as I truly believe if we are not aware of our history we are more likely to repeat it.
There were other camps in America during WWII, camps for German prisoners of war. One such camp and the town near it is the setting for the book Summer of My German Soldier by Betty Green. Patty Bergen is a twelve year old Jewish girl in small town Arkansas when a POW camp is set up. She meets and connects with Anton, then hides him above her father’s garage. I will be honest I haven’t read this book myself but I worked with a history teacher who read it to her classes every year, so on her recommendation I recommend it to you.
One final book to recommend, it’s actually post WWII but it’s a great follow-up to Thin Wood Walls. This is not an actual sequel but the stories go together well. Bat 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolff is told by 21 girls from a small town in Oregon. The two local grade schools have a yearly softball game. On one team is a girls whose father was killed in the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the other a Japanese American girl back from the internment camps. Racism runs rampant in this town as the girls prepare for their game. Getting each girls’ viewpoint makes this a unique and easily connectable story and a great life lesson.
Hopefully somewhere in here you found a book you’d like to read or that you’ll recommend to a young adult you know.