World War II

Read Feed

World War II

War through film, art, observation, sacrifice and heroism

There are many books published about World War II, but these five amazing books bring the war to life in unique ways. Travel back and experience the war through film, art, observation, sacrifice and heroism.

Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War by Lynne Olson
As the Nazi war machine rolled across Europe, the governments in its path had a difficult decision to make: to stay and fight, or to leave their country and continue the fight elsewhere. For those that fled, Britain became Last Hope Island, the lone European democracy still standing up to Hitler. Many nations set up their "government in exile" there. Both King Haakon of Norway and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands became heroes to their people, Haakon for his resistance, and Wilhelmina for her feisty radio broadcasts from London. Most of these nations brought money, natural resources and intelligence information with them to England. The representative from one country, however, brought only himself: Charles de Gaulle had become Undersecretary of War 8 days before his dramatic departure from France, and he was the only French official willing to abandon his home country and continue the fight against Hitler in England. I highly recommend this title, and Lynne Olson is a local author.

The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War by Lynn H. Nicholas  
With the rise of the Third Reich in Germany, other nations began to worry about their valuable art and artifacts. Both Hitler and Goering were art collectors, and would do anything to obtain the works they coveted. In anticipation of invasion, many countries either hid or relocated their priceless works. One of the most moving sections, to me, was the removal of art treasures from the Louvre; many, including the Mona Lisa, were sent to the chateau at Chambord. As news of the declaration of war reached the staff of the Louvre on Sept. 3, 1939, they were gathered around the statue Winged Victory of Samothrace, about to move it: all the most important works had to be removed by that night. "Monsieur Michon, then curator of...Greek and Roman antiquities...gave the order for the removal. The statue rocked onto an inclined wooden ramp, held back by two groups of men, who controlled her descent with ropes stretched to either side...We were all terrified, and the silence was total as the Victory rolled slowly forward, her stone wings trembling slightly."

The American Home Front: 1941-1942 by Alistair Cooke
For many years, Cooke was the host of a Sunday night PBS series called Masterpiece Theatre. What many might not know is that Cooke was born and raised in England, becoming a naturalized American citizen on the eve of the United States' entry into World War II. He wanted his former countrymen to know more about their new allies, his new countrymen, so he traveled around the US, even receiving clearance from the US government to visit areas not open to the general public. His travels were broadcast on BBC and he recorded his observations in a manuscript, which was forgotten after the war. Rediscovered before he died in 2004, The American Home Front is a wonderful time capsule into the US as it was then, warts and all. Underneath the enthusiasm and "over there" attitude, he witnesses Jim Crow in the South and visits Manzanar, one of the Japanese-American internment camps. And he did this all before the modern, interstate highway era had arrived.

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-torn Skies of World War II by Adam Makos
German fighter pilot Franz Stigler and American bomber pilot Charlie Brown shared an unlikely encounter over the skies of northern Germany in late 1943. Brown, the pilot of a B-17, was on his second combat run over Germany when his plane was hit near Bremen. As his crippled plane flew toward the North Sea and German coastline defenses, they saw a German 109 fighter coming at them. Franz Stigler was about to fire when he noticed the bomber's desperate situation, wondering how this plane was still flying. He flew up alongside the bomber, escorting it through the German defenses and out over the North Sea. Not knowing whether either had survived the war, they found each other 45 years later. In addition to an inspiring conclusion, this title gives a fascinating picture of what was happening in Germany during the war, something we Americans rarely see.

Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris 
Five of Hollywood's most famous directors - John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra and George Stevens - were active in World War II, wanting to do their part to help the war effort. John Ford made documentaries for the Navy. As a commander, he filmed the Japanese attack on Midway, earning two Oscars for his war work. Wyler was a major in the Air Force, flying on actual bombing missions to film documentaries. One of these raids damaged his hearing so badly he wasn't sure he would ever work again, but he did, making The Best Years of Our Lives on his return from the war. John Huston was a captain in the Army and made films for the Army Signal Corps. Capra, an Italian-American, was eager to prove his patriotism to his adopted home, making a series of films for the American soldiers entering the conflict called Why We Fight. And George Stevens, as part of the army Signal Corps, shot the only color footage of D-Day, was with the French troops as they liberated Paris, and was there to witness the horrific scenes at Dachau concentration camp.