One of Dad’s coworkers—a family friend—has told a fascinating story about his family. His family lived in Holland when the Nazis took over, and his grandfather helped to hide Jews. Along with some of the family, his grandfather was arrested—and eventually died in concentration camp. Some of his family still has a hard time talking about the Germans.
While a tragic tale, it is something that seems to be very common from places affected by the Nazis. World War II stories come up frequently—especially ones coming from an Allied viewpoint. Have you ever noticed before how few books there are that show the war from the Axis point of view? Today’s collection has a few different books in it—several sharing what it was like to live under the dictatorship of the Nazis, one about the Communists, and several others about people generally affected by the war.
All of the titles below are great as read-alouds.
1. Twenty and Ten | Best for: Ages 5 – 12
Sister Gabriel is caring for twenty children in a house close to a remote village, where they hope to be safe until the war is over. Then a request comes to hide ten Jewish children for a while. Even though it could be extremely dangerous if they were caught, both the children and Sister Gabriel feel like it is their responsibility to try to protect these children. Then, one day, instead of seeing Sister Gabriel coming home with food from the village, the children spot two German soldiers on the road. They must hide the Jewish children, but where? And will they have enough food to last until Sister Gabriel gets back—or the soldiers leave?
2. Escape from Warsaw | Best for: Ages 8 – 15
Joseph has been taken prisoner by the Nazis, and sent off to prison. He knows he must get back to care for his family, and even though it’s difficult he manages to escape and sets off for home. When he arrives back, however, he finds his home in ruins and a neighbor across the street tells him that his wife was taken to prison, the house locked up with his children still inside, and then the Germans set off a bomb to destroy the place.
Meanwhile, the children have managed to escape, and forged living quarters among the ruins of their destroyed city—away from the destruction of their once-happy home. The three of them—Ruth, Bronia, and Edek—get along fairly well, until one day a Nazi patrol picks up Edek. Ruth and Bronia must fend for themselves. They have no choice but to go to their grandparent’s place—where their parents had told them to go if something happened to the two of them. But the journey is dangerous—will they be able to get there safely? How will they find enough food to eat? Will they ever be a complete, happy family again? This story is for slightly older children—say 10 and over—and it is a great picture of what life for children of that time would have been like.
3. Number the Stars | Best for: Ages 7 – 12
Annemarie’s friend, Ellen, is a Jew. As the Nazis begin rounding up the Jews, Annemarie’s family decide to take in Ellen, and the girl’s parents go into hiding elsewhere. It’s a dangerous risk to take in a Jew, but for now there is no other choice. Early one morning, two Nazi soldiers raid their apartment, and they must make them believe, somehow, that Ellen is a part of the family. What will happen to all of them—but especially Ellen—if the Germans find out she isn’t who they say she is? How can Annemarie and her family protect her friend? This is an exciting story, one that all youngsters will enjoy.
4. The Endless Steppe | Best for: Ages 12 – 15 and above
In 1941, ten-year-old Esther lived with her happy family in a town in Poland, helping out where she could, spending time with her aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and tending some of the family’s vast gardens. She had heard that a war was going on outside, but it was far removed from her peaceful life. Then one day the Russian soldiers pounded on the door and told them that they were “capitalists, enemies of the people”, and that they were to be sent somewhere else to live. That “somewhere else” turned out to be a gypsum mine in Siberia. With her whole family broken up, and little food, can they hope to see anyone in the family make it through alive? This is a fascinating story of how the Russians treated the people they conquered, and what life was like in Siberia at that time.
5. Snow Treasure | Best for: Ages 8 – 15 and above
Norway’s gold bullion is in danger of falling into Nazi hands, and it must be removed as quickly and efficiently as possible. After conferring about the problem, it is decided that the children of the village are the only hope of getting it all to safety. By putting the gold into little sacks, each child could take a sack, sled down to a designated spot close to a hidden fiord where a boat was secretly moored, and then return to make the dangerous journey again. This is a thrilling adventure story, one all children will love to hear—and the best part? At least to some extent, it is founded on fact.
6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: In the Midst of Wickedness | Best for: Ages 12 – 15, Adults
A story written more for young adults than children, this tells about the greatly controversial life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As a child, he thought World War I very exciting, but when the food levels ran low and he had to help scavenge like other children, he realized war wasn’t as glorious as he had thought. Then, in the intervening years between World War I and World War II, he grew up and became a pastor. When Hitler rose to power, he along with his family feared the worst—and, soon, the man’s ideology was controlling all of Germany. Dietrich did his best to help the international community understand what was going on in Germany, and did what he believed was the right course of action as a pastor. He was involved in several unsuccessful assassination attempts, and eventually imprisoned because of his beliefs. This is not a very happy story, for the most part, but it is an amazingly well-told story about how Hitler affected Germany, and what life was like under his ruling. It’s also a great biography of a fascinating man.
7. Jars of Hope | Best for: Ages 5 – 12
Through this book full of beautiful pictures, we get to see a bit of the life of Irena Sendler and her great service to the world during World War II. A social worker in Poland, Irena worked among the 500,000 Jews crammed together into the 2 square miles of the Warsaw Ghetto. Under the guise of giving vaccinations—to “prevent disease spreading to the rest of the city”, she was able to smuggle somewhere around 2,500 children out of the ghetto and give them safe homes. She kept detailed records of their real names and true parents, as well as their assumed names and who now cared for them. You can’t play the game long without being found out—what will happen to those children if the records are discovered?
8. Corrie Ten Boom: World War II Heroine | Best for: Ages 10 – 15 and above
Corrie Ten Boom has always been an inspiration to me. She isn’t perfect—are any of us?—and yet she wholeheartedly served the Lord right where He placed her. Growing up, she was a bit of a prankster—although she always repented afterward. Then as she grew older, and no husband came along, she did work for the Lord that included working with young women and retarded children. She also worked in her father’s watch shop.
When World War II began, and Germany invaded Holland and slowly began rounding up Jews, she realized she had a job to do there, too. Soon, aided by her father “Opa” and sister Betsy, she began working in the Dutch underground—helping Jews find safe hiding places, sourcing and then distributing ration cards, and helping those in need as much as she could. Then someone betrayed them to the Nazis, and they were all taken to prison, Corrie and Betsy later going on to concentration camp. Corrie was eventually freed, and went around the world sharing messages about God’s love and forgiveness. This is a great story to share with your older children, showing how God can use anyone for His work—even a watchmaker and his daughter.
Question: Does your family—or any family friends—have passed-down stories from the war days? What World War II stories would you add to this list?