Friday, May 8, 2020

Reading on a Theme: World War II Resistance Fighters

Today is the 75th anniversary of VE Day, so we are casting aside our usually schedule for World War II content and celebrating World War II Wednesday on a Friday. In honor of VE Day, I bring you five books about the people working behind the scenes to make this victory a reality: the resistance fighters. I have a nice mix here with two adult titles (Resistance Women and All the Light We Cannot See), two YA titles (Girl in the Blue Coat and White Rose), and one middle grade title (Resistance), so there is something for everyone.

Resistance Women was one of my favorite reads of 2019. It tells the stories of Mildred Fish Harnack, Greta Kuckoff, and Martha Dodd, real women who were involved in resistance efforts in Germany during the Nazi regime. A fourth narrator, Sara Weitz, is a fictional character, a Jewish university student who is working with the resistance circle. Greta and Mildred and her husband had opportunities to leave Germany, but they chose to stay year after year and tirelessly work from within to bring down Hitler's regime. Most World War II books begin after well after Hitler's rise to power. I really like that Jennifer Chiaverini brought us to Germany and took us through the whole messy buildup. 

The Netherlands:
In 1943 Amsterdam, Hanneke is a courier for her boss who dabbles in the black market. An unexpected request from a customer--to find the Jewish girl who vanished from her hidden room--leads Hanneke to the Dutch resistance and a greater knowledge of the terrors the Germans have wrought on her countrymen. Monica Hesse does an excellent job evoking the setting of the World War II Amsterdam, and I really enjoyed learning more about the war years in The Netherlands. Hanneke is a strong character with a lot of passion and a lot of hurt who must decide if she will choose to fight back in the face of great danger. The Girl in the Blue Coat also gained a spot on my yearly favorites list back in 2016.

Chaya Lindner is a Jew living in Nazi-occupied Poland. After becoming separated from her family, she joins the resistance and becomes a courier. Her job is to smuggle food and papers into the ghettos and smuggle people out of them. Eventually Resistance takes us in the Warsaw Ghetto's final hours. Although I've read a lot of WWII books that take place in Poland, I think Jennifer A. Nielsen's book may be the first fictional middle-grade story set in that country that I've encountered. It would be a good way to introduce a younger audience to the horrors of the Jewish ghettos and the devastating impact the war had on Poland. 

Is there anyone who has yet to read All the Light We Cannot See? If so, I guess this post is for you. Anthony Doerr's sweeping novel follows Werner, a German radio operator, and Marie-Laure, a blind French girl whose household is involved in the resistance. I love all the details in this book: the radio, the museum, the gem, the locksmith. The characters are fantastic. I also appreciate how Etienne, Maurie-Laure's great uncle serves as the connection between World War I and World War II and drives home their proximity. The setting in the book is also perfectly rendered and will make you want to visit Saint-Malo. Most of all the writing is gorgeous. There's a reason why everyone loves this book and why it landed on my Favorites of the Decade list.

White Rose is a verse novel based on the life of Sophie Scholl. As a young college student Sophie and her brother challenged the Nazi regime by secretly publishing and distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets. Their small group of trusted student and professor dissenters called themselves the White Rose. Sophie and her brother, as well as many of the other members of the White Rose, were arrested and tried for treason by the Nazis. Sophie's story is one of great courage and dedication in the face of danger, and it is both inspiring and very tragic. Kip Wilson's retelling of Sophie's story moves between Sophie's past and present, and recounts Sophie's tale in stark poetical language.

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