World War II: A Travel Reading List
The titles below are not “travel” books. However, they tell the country-specific stories of World War II. Reading these books provided me with a deeper understanding of the lasting impact of the war in Europe.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer
Mary Ann Shaffer tells the story of the Nazi occupation of Guernsey Island during World War II. The British island was completely cut off from Mother England, and the islanders were left to fend for themselves. This fictionalized story was beautifully written. Netflix recently made this book into a film, but the novel was far superior to the movie.
Wallenberg: Missing Hero – Kati Marton
This is the story of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in Hungary during the Holocaust. He was later captured by the Russians as World War II ended. Wallenberg’s story is both inspiring and tragic. Kati Marton is an excellent, non-fiction writer.
The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy’s Art During World War II – Ilaria Dagnini Brey.
One morning, my husband found me sobbing on the sofa. And, by sobbing, I mean deep, loud, can’t-catch-my-breath-sobs. He was immediately alarmed and asked me what had happened. I said that THEY had blown up the bridges in Florence, Italy. Shocked, he asked, “Who? When?” Through my tears, I sadly said, “It happened during World War II, but I didn’t know about it until today.” I continued to cry, and he left the room shaking his head at his crazy wife. After reading The Venus Fixers, I truly understood for the first time that our collective cultural heritage is worth more than the life of any one individual.
The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe – David Kertzer.
David Kertzer won the Pulitzer Prize for this book , which examines the relationship between Pope Pius XI, Mussolini, and Italian society in the years leading up to World War II. Travel Inspiration: I went to Lake Como, where Mussolini was executed. My mother thought it was quite morbid to visit an execution site, but I find it fascinating to see where important events in history take place.
Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation: 1940-1944 – Charles Glass.
Mr. Glass provides a glimpse into the actions of Americans who lived under Nazi Occupation in Paris. Some became collaborators, others became prisoners, and the most inspiring were heroes of the resistance. Travel Inspiration: The city of Paris itself. Beautiful parts of Paris were supposed to be destroyed as the Nazis withdrew at the end of the war, but the orders were disobeyed.
A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France – Caroline Morehead.
This is the powerful story of the fate of more than 200 women who resisted the Nazis in occupied France. Travel Inspiration: There are few travel experiences as important as visiting Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.
The Hôtel on the Place Vendôme: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris – Tilar Mazzeo.
Mr. Mazzeo provides captivating insights into the intrigues, occupants, and history of the Ritz Hotel during World War II. Travel Inspiration: I took a Coco Chanel tour in Paris. Coco Chanel lived at the Ritz Hotel and plays a prominent role in The Hôtel on the Place Vendôme.
Countrymen: The Untold Story of How Denmark’s Jews Escaped the Nazis – Bo Lifeguard & A Conspiracy of Decency: The Rescue of the Danish Jews During World War II – Emmy Werner
I thought all books written about the Holocaust would be heartbreaking. I knew there were individual stories of humanity and courage during a horrific time in our collective history, but I had no idea that an entire country banded together to save their people. The citizens of Denmark, with the help of the Swedes, stood up to the Nazi regime and said, “Not on our watch.” Countrymen and A Conspiracy of Decency tell the true story of how the Jews of Denmark largely survived the Holocaust.
The World of Yesterday – Stefan Zweig.
This is one of the most poignant and beautifully written books I have ever read. It describes in vivid detail the Vienna and Austria of the late 19th century, its descent into World War I, and the later devastation wrought by Hitler. Travel Inspiration: After reading this book, I visited the great cafes of Vienna and walked on Stefan Zweig Weg, which overlooked the house where Zweig lived in Salzburg.
Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Bloch-Bauer – Anne-Marie O’Connor.
The Lady in Gold encompasses two fascinating stories — a biography of artist Gustav Klimt and the fate of a painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was stolen by the Nazis in World War II. Travel Inspiration: The Belvedere Museum in Vienna, which houses a number of Gustav Klimt paintings.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and An American Family in Hitler’s Berlin – Erik Larson
I am a big fan of Erik Larson, who writes non-fiction books from interesting perspectives. In this book, Erik Larson writes about the rise of Hitler and the Nazis through the experiences of William E Dodd, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany from July 1933 to December 1937.