WWII on the Page: Books About Perseverance and Survival

It’s still a tough subject to read about but a necessary one to process even now, more than seventy years after it’s end. World War II was brutal and ugly but in its aftermath, stories of survival—of the front line, of the occupation, of the concentration camps—have inspired us for decades.

From a resistance movement in the Channel Islands to a daring plan for survival in a German labor camp, these stories of resilience, like the five below, show us how the human spirit can persevere beyond the nightmares of war and find a light to reach for, even in the darkest times.


The Dutch Wife by Ellen Keith

A tale of courage and resistance that moves between two of recent history’s darkest moments, three people—a member of the Dutch resistance, an SS officer and a prisoner of war in Argentina, fight for survival and hope in the face of the bleakest of circumstances. Even as their link to each other becomes clearer, the line between right and wrong and hope and despair becomes more deeply blurred.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Enjoying a renewed popularity thanks to its debut as a Netflix movie, this story of the occupation of the island of Guernsey and the residents there that quietly stage their resistance, is also a beautifully told romance. Toggling between the time during and just after the war, a woman begins a correspondence with a man in Guernsey that leads to a surprising tale of resilience while unraveling the truth of a long-buried mystery.


The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Based on a true story, Lale is a Slovakian Jew who has been captured and taken to Auschwitz. There, he is given the job of tattooist—marking his fellow Jews as they arrive at the concentration camp. Remarkably, he falls in love with one of the women he must tattoo, and together they embark on a quiet and courageous fight not only to survive, but to help as many of their fellow prisoners survive as well.


Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

A group of musicians make their way to Europe where they hope to make their mark on the burgeoning Jazz scene in Germany. But when war breaks out, the group battles for survival on the streets and between each other, enabling events to unfold that will lead to a decades-long quest for atonement.


The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

As war rages across Europe, a 16-year old girl, on the run with a baby she is determined to protect, finds refuge with a German traveling circus. There, a trapeze artist with secrets of her own takes the girl on as an apprentice. As the two struggle to guard their pasts and do everything they can to ensure their future, they slowly nurture a friendship that their very survival will depend upon.




    Karen Green

    Karen Green is a freelance writer and big city ex-pat now living in rural Ontario. She writes for numerous print and online publications, and considers her library card to be one of her most valuable possessions.

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