This selection of websites and books have been useful in my research.
History Learning. Good for 20th century history. Includes the Great War, the Weimar Republic, Nazism and The Second World War
Beachy, Robert, 2015, Gay Berlin. Birthplace of A Modern Identity (Vintage, New York). A comprehensive history of the development of the acceptance of homosexuality as normal sexual expression. It includes royal gay scandals and those of the Nazi years. Beachy also provides an interesting insight of the times.
Boyd, Julia, 2017, Travellers in the Third Reich. The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People (London: Elliott and Thompson).
The story of how Germany’s transformation from the chaos after the Great War to the chaos of the end of World War Two told through the eyes of international visitors in intense detail and engaging prose. I recommend this to anyone interested in Germany between the wars. It doesn't deliver on the sub-title – 'everyday people' are few and far between. But the accounts of American and English diplomats, socialites and journalists are insightful.
Evans, Richard J, 2003, Coming Of The Third Reich (London: Allen Lane). The first of a trilogy. The Third Reich In Power, 1933–1939 and The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis Led Germany from Conquest to Disaster. Evans argues the rise of the Nazis can be traced to the development of German society in the nineteenth century. It was not inevitable but one of many possibilities.
Fritzsche, Peter, 1999, Germans into Nazis (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts). Historians and other writers say there were three reasons the Nazis came to power. Germany lost the Great War. The Allies forced the country to pay repressive reparations and the Great Depression. Fritzsche disagrees. He says they were factors but not the main reasons. He believes the Nazis provided a vehicle for the working and middle class to express their nationalism and demand a less rigid society. When the German government declared war in August 1914, hundreds of thousands of people showed their support in the streets of cities and towns throughout the country. Fritzsche argues it’s a landmark in German history because classes and occupations united in their public expression for the first time. Nazi policies didn’t differ to other far right parties. The quest for national unity, national pride and a new society set the party apart from others. Non-political party organisations formed after the Great War provided a vehicle for the expression of middle class and working class demands. They wanted to restore national pride, a less rigid society and a hopeful future. The Nazis tapped the sentiment. The Great Depression and ill-feeling about the Great War defeat helped but weren't the main causes of the Nazi's rise. This well-written and accessible book provides a convincing argument. It is also an enlightening introduction to the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism.
Friedländer, Saul, 1998, Nazi Germany and the Jews. The Years of Persecution 1933-39 (Phoenix Giant, London). The story of the persecution of innocent people by the state. Rich in detail and facts. Helpful for anyone seeking an understanding about what it was like to be Jewish in Nazi Germany.
Hancock, Eleanor, 2008, Ernst Röhm. Hitler's Chief of Staff (Palgrave Macmillan, New York). A readable scholarly biography that provides a detailed account of the Nazi's life. How the gay stormtrooper leader managed to ascend to a powerful role within the Nazi party is explored, along with his role in making Hilter Chancellor of Germany.
Liang, Hsi-huey, 1970, The Berlin Police Force in the Weimar Republic (University of California Press). This is a well-researched account of the Berlin police in the 1920s and early 1930s. The author interviewed many of the police serving during that period. Details about the structure, work and events during the period are well covered.
von der Goltz, Anna, 2009, Hindenburg. Power, Myth and the Rise of the Nazis (Oxford University Press, Oxford). The only elected president in Germany's history was instrumental in the Nazis gaining power in 1933. Von der Goltz executes a compelling argument that Hindenburg's power came from the hero worship of the German people because of his leadership in winning the Battle of Tannenberg in the Great War. The legendary image was cultivated, nurtured and propagated from the time the battle ended. Hindenburg himself suggested the battle's name to the Kaiser. Hindenburg's image was that of a selfless, devoted patriot who always put his country before himself. The facts presented in this book suggest otherwise.
Kershaw, Ian, 1998, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris (WW Norton, London). Another eminent historian who is considered an international expert on the German dictator. This volume is the first of two. The other is Hitler, 1936-1945: Nemesis.
Kessler, Harry, 1999, Berlin in Lights. The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler 1918-1937 (Grover Press, New York). A great primary source on the Weimar and Nazi period. The main political and society characters are all here. The first entries are written in the days just before the November 1918 revolution. Kessler was an aristocrat, art collector, publisher and diplomat. His writing is entertaining and there’s abundant information about the period. His alarm is evident as the Nazis get closer to and then attain power.
Levenda, Peter, 2002 2nd ed., Unholy Alliance. A History of Nazi Involvement With the Occult (Bloomsberry, London and New York). Nazism is known for its crazy vision for the world. This book confirms the madness, including Himmler’s obsession with the Holy Grail. There are also less well-known claims, such as Hitler contemplating suicide in 1932.
Lovell, Mary S, 2008, The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family (Little, Brown Book Group, London). This well-written biography proves fact is stranger than fiction. Mary Lovell skilfully manages her eight main characters (including parents Sydney and David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford, the second Baron Redesdale). Unity was in love with Hitler; Berlin was a home away from home. Diana caused a scandal by leaving her husband for the British fascist leader Walter Mosely who was also married and had children. At times I was thinking I was reading fiction, so extraordinary is this family’s story. But it’s much more than that. It’s also a history of the 20th century that includes the enormous changes in society brought about by the decline of the English upper class and the rise of Nazism to name a few.
Marhoffer, Lauirie, 2015, Sex and the Weimar Republic. German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Buffalo, London). A well-researched book that covers the history of sexual attitudes in Germany. During the liberal Weimar Republic era legislators in 1929 seriously considered decriminalising homosexuality. The Nazis came to power in early 1933 and began the systematic and incremental deprivation of rights, including those of gay people.
Metaxas, 2009, Eric, Bonhoeffer. Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. (Thomas Nelson, Nashville). An inspiring, insightful and enlightening biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the courageous opponent of the Nazis. This 190k-word biography is a detailed chronological account. There's a lot more than a well-written biography. The Protestant churches' response to the Nazis is covered well as is the assassination attempts on Hitler. Recommended for anyone interested in the Weimar and Nazi era.
McDonough, Frank, 2015, The Gestapo. The Myth and Reality of Hitler’s Secret Police (Hodder and Stroughton, London). Inside the Gestapo. An interesting insight that will surprise; the organisation was not nearly as ubiquitous as you may think.
Ohler, Norman, 2016, UK, USA, Blitzed. The German army’s invasion of western Europe in May and June 1940 was astonishing. Never before had a conquering army covered so much ground in such a short time. Norman Ohler provides a possible explanation: amphetamines. He argues front-line troops in the army and airforce were fuelled by 35-mg tablets of Pervitin, amphetamine. Ian Kershaw, the British historian and one of the world’s leading authorites on Hitler and Nazi Germany, has described Blitzed as “a serious piece of scholarship”. Ohler claims Hitler was addicted to a variety of drugs and most of the German population were regular users during the war. Another eminent historian, Richard Evans, is critical of the book. He says there is a lack of evidence for many of the claims.
Rees, Laurence, 2006, The Nazis: A Warning from History (Penguin, London). The BBC documentary film-maker has written humorous books about the Third Reich. His informal conversational writing style is engaging.
Shirer, William, L, 1998, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Arrow, London). First published in 1961. Shirer was an American journalist based in Germany from 1934 to 1940. They say news reporting is the first draft of history. Shirer wrote many: he saw the Nazi party’s 1934 Nuremberg, Hitler’s announcement of the German march into the Rhineland in 1936, the German takeover of Austria in 1938, the invasion of Poland in September, 1939 and he was with the German armies as they conquered France in 1940. His reporting of the 1936 Berlin Olympics was publicly condemned by the Propaganda Ministry for exposing anti-Semitism. His journalistic style is easy to read but historians have been critical for his lack of academic rigour. Gay activist Peter Tatchell has criticised omission of the Nazi’s persecution of gay people.
Taylor, AJP, 1961, The Origins of the Second World War (Penguin, London). The eminent historian has written extensively on the subject. This is an excellent place to start.
Von Oven, Wilfred, 2010, Hitler’s Storm Troopers: A History of the SA. The Memoirs of Wilfred van von Oven (Frontline Books, London). The author is a Nazi apologist who knew Göbbels so there’s nothing here that reflects badly on the storm troopers. But it is a useful primary resource especially for the storm trooper’s activities in Berlin which were more violent than other parts of the country.
Walton-Kerr, Philip St C, 1996, Gestapo. The History of the German Secret Service. (Robert Hale, London). This book was first published in 1939 and this edition isn't updated. It was written before the Second World War started and so provides an account of the times.
Weitz, Eric, 2007, Weimar Germany. Promise and Tragedy. (Princeton University Press, New Jersey). Weitz paints a colourful picture of a colourful period. Big department stores, the movie industry, cutting-edge art and architecture; its all here contrasting with the chaos from which there were times of respite. Good content.
Winterbotham, F.W., 1978, The Nazi Connection (Harper and Row, New York). An excellent first-hand story of a British spy working in the early years of the Nazi era.
Boyne, John, 2006, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (Random House, London).
John Boyne’s book is one of the best I’ve read about the horrific consequences of the Nazi’s abhorrent racial policies. It’s not surprising it has sold more than 2.5 million. The young adult novel, which is just as appealing to adults, is an ingenious take on the Holocaust told through the eyes of nine-year-old Bruno who makes you laugh and cry. His father, an ambitious Nazi, is promoted to run a death camp. Bruno is lonely and looks for playmates. The characterisation is strong and believable. By the end, you may be surprised for whom you feel sympathy. An eponymous movie is true to the book but does not include everything because of the medium’s constraints. This is a must-read not just for people interested in the Second World War, but for all everyone.
Clements, Rory, 2017 Corpus (Zaffre Publishing, London).
The daughter of an upper class Englishman is found dead; a presumed drug overdose. Nancy Hereward's family and friends are shocked but not surprised. They knew she was a user. Uncrowned King Edward VIII wants to marry the woman he loves. His family and friends are shocked. The King marrying a twice-married divorcee was out of the question. But not for some. There were people who wanted him to stay on the throne and were prepared to go to murder to achieve it. The connection between these two events in 1936 are tenuous. But Rory Clements has weaved a complex tapestry that explains it and a lot more. Cambridge University history professor Thomas Wilde is determined to uncover the truth. Historians are investigators, looking for evidence to create a narrative that explains events. Wilde specialises in the Elizabethan era and the present. His involvement in the investigation of Nancy's death draws him into a web of intrigue. Despite the lack of evidence, he doesn't give up. His task is complicated by the people with whom he deals not being what they seem. The Russian who has a huge amount of gold, the Times journalist whose media work isn't his only job and the handsome one-time German lover of Nancy all have their own agendas. Corpus is the skilful combination of mystery and history. Mystery/thriller fans and people interested in the 1930s will love it.
Colley, Rupert, 2017, The Sixth Man (Kindle).
Everyone has secrets. Everyone makes choices that often cannot be changed. This tense and dramatic novel takes the reader from the darkness of a prison cell in Occupied France into the darkness of the six characters: a soldier, policeman, postman, teacher, doctor and priest. We first meet them on the eve of their release. Their high spirits are dashed when they are told about a change of plan. All but one will be executed. They have to decide who will live. Colley uses this imaginative vehicle for exploring motivation and consequences. To help make the decision about who will live, they agree to talk about the worst thing they have done. Their stories reveal greed, selfishness and dishonesty. The novel made me think about motivation and the lengths to which people will go to get what they want. It made me think about things I have done and the consequences. I thought I had the ending picked but I was wrong. Thought-provoking, tense and well-written, The Sixth Man is a riveting read.
Follett, Ken, 2012, Winter of the World (Penguin, London).
Historical epic, second in a trilogy, sweeping, history lesson, page turning, romance, thriller. Research exceptional. Number One New York Times bestseller.
Faulks, Sebastian, 1998, Charlotte Gray (Hutchison, London).
This novel has it all: mesmerising writing, a cracking story and surprises. The characterisation is exceptional. Faulks weaves magic in this story of a British woman spying in Occupied France. There is a lot more going on, unbeknownst to her. Critics say the battle scenes are among the best written. It’s the last of a trilogy but is can be read as a stand-alone. The first two are The Girl at the Lion d’Or and Birdsong.
Harris, Robert, 2017, Munich (Penguin, London).
This is one of the best books I’ve read. Munich is about the peace conference held in the southern German city in 1938. The price of what turned out to be a temporary peace was high. Germany, Britain and France carved up Czechoslovakia but the country were deprived of representation at the conference. Its delegates were locked in a nearby room. Harris skilfully mingles fact with the fiction of two Oxford friends, working for England and Germany respectively. Munich is a brilliant fly-on-the-wall account of the conference. The writing’s strength is such that I felt I was there, a few steps behind the main characters. Even if you’re not a history buff or interested in the period, this novel’s great writing, suspense and strong characters will have you turning the pages, not wanting it to end.
Kerr, Philip, 2009, If The Dead Rise Not (Penguin, London)
A great story with exceptional detail.
Berlin, 1934, is one of the characters in this gripping thriller. The city is here in exquisite and exceptional detail. The incremental Nazi oppression and the horror that went with it. Gunther is a tough, cynical and wise-cracking ex-homicide detective. He’s the detective at one of Berlin and Europe’s most prestigious hotels, the Adlon. There’s been a murder but the police stop investigating when they find out the victim is Jewish. Gunther continued the quest to find out what happened which leads to an intriguing chain of events that has many twists and turns. US journalist Noreen Charalambides is in Berlin to research a story about Nazi hypocrisy of promoting the forthcoming Olympic games but banning Jews from competing. She helps Gunther uncover the truth about the murder. But just as Gunther connects the pieces of the puzzle, he is kidnapped. He survives – how he gets out of that jam is a surprise but believable. The second part of the novel is set in Cuba in 1954. Kerr uses his forensic observational skill to great effect. Pre-revolution Cuba run by gangs of organised criminals is portrayed where violence and fear abound. Noreen is there but no longer Mrs Charalambides which isn’t the only difference. When a gang leader is murdered, Gunther is hired. The surprises continue right up to the last page. Aficionados of Weimar Berlin will enjoy this well-written thriller that deceives you; just when you think you’ve got it worked out, there’s a surprise to keep you guessing.
Bernie Gunther is in many of Kerr's books set in the Weimar and World War II period. Like If the Dead Rise Not, they're detail-rich, unpredictable and skilfully plotted.
Pieper, Liam, 2016, The Toy Maker (Penguin, Melbourne).
There are three things a book needs to be great: exceptional writing, a gripping story and characters that evoke an emotional response. This has them all. It is one of the best books I’ve read. The writing is clear, concise and has that magical element that carries you through the story. And what a story. It moves from the present to the Auschwitz death camp. There are plenty of edge-of-your-seat moments in the death camp scenes that informs our understanding of the toy maker. An emotional response is guaranteed.
Serraillier, Ian, 1956, The Silver Sword (Penguin, London).
This is the book that began my interest in the Nazi period. The novel was first published in 1956 and made into a BBC television series in 1957 and again in 1971. It is the story of the Balicki family who escape from Warsaw in 1940. Josef, a headmaster, is arrested for turning a photo of Hitler around to face the wall. He is taken away to a prison camp. Left behind are his wife, Margrit, and their three children, Ruth nearly 13, Edek 11, and Bronia, three. The family had promised that if anything happened to them they would meet in Switzerland. The novel is the story of their trials and tribulations fulfilling that promise.
Snowden, Jim, 2013, The Summer of the Long Knives (Booktrope, Seattle).
Brave middle-ranking policeman Rolf Wundt struggles with the changes Nazism has brought to the administration of justice. He is torn between fulfilling the wishes of his wife, Klara, who wants to leave, and staying to see that those guilty of a murder he is investigating are brought to justice. Snowden sweeps you along with a strong plot and sub-plot. Events did not turn out the way I thought they would.
Zusak, Markus, 2012, The Book Thief (Picador, Sydney).
Another Young Adult fable that tells a multi-layered story with an appeal beyond its target audience. The narrator is Death who tells the story of Liesel Meminger whose father has been imprisoned by the Nazis because he is a Communist. Liesel is fostered with the kind and loving Hans and his difficult wife Rosa. When 24-year-old Jewish boxer Max Vandenburg turns up the action gets going. This novel, resplendent with metaphors, is essentially one of hope.
Part memoir, part novel, this series provides an excellent first-hand insight into life in Nazi Germany and towards the end of the war. There’s plenty of suspense as the hero, Karl Veth, born in Berlin in 1930, and his friend, Harold, navigate the unpredictable and dangerous terrain of Nazi Germany.
2013, Children to a Degree. Growing Up Under the Third Reich [ebook]
2014, Loyal to a Degree [ebook]
2013, Trust to a Degree [ebook]
2014, Partners to a Degree [ebook]
A trilogy about love and resistance in Germany during the Nazi era. The books are based on the lives of the author’s grandparents. These books are moving; they’ll bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart. For aficionados of the period, they open the door on the lives of ordinary Germans.
Love and Resistance series
2016, Unrelenting (Kindle, also paperback).
A scientist with a secret. A woman estranged from her father. Neither looking for love. Unrelenting is the story of Doctor Wilhelm Quedlin, aka Q, and Hilde Dremmer and how they navigated the challenging terrain of the Nazi regime.
The story begins with Q's arrest. Q and Hilde are likeable characters who face obstacles from those close to them and the Nazi state. Kummerow portrays the regime's idiocy well. An underlying threat of danger permeates the story.
2016, Unyielding (Kindle, also paperback).
The personal and political clash in this Nazi-era story of love and resistance. It is the second novel in Marion Kumerrow's trilogy based on her grandparents' lives. Dr Wilhelm Quedlin and the love of his life, Hilde, who met in Unrelenting, are happily married and have two sons. Wilhelm, known as Q, works for Loewe Radio Technologies that supplies the Wehrmacht with equipment. He works with an old friend from their days at university when they were committed Communists. They haven't changed and together they do what that can to fight the good fight. But it's not enough for Q; he wants to have a bigger impact than causing delays by sabotaging equipment. And he has another struggle: his desire to undermine the regime and the desire to protect his family. The former wins. He and his co-conspirators come up with an audacious plan to assassinate a leading Nazi that would have enormous consequences. The characterisation is strong. Q and Hilde are likeable people and I cared about what happens to them. The story's tension comes from Q's struggles. Later in the book his sabotage work causes tension with Hilde but not because she opposes it. The climax is unexpected and will have you reaching for the sequel, Unwavering.
2017, Unwavering (Kindle, also paperback).
The futility of war, the horror of the consequences of extreme right wing politics and a heart-breaking love story are ingredients of this World War II novel. It is based on the true story of the author's grandparents. Unwavering is the third and final in a series that begins when the heroes -- and they are heroes -- Wilhelm and Hilde meet when Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany. Unwavering is set in two prisons. Wilhelm -- Q to his friends -- has been betrayed. His plan to assassinate a leading Nazi is exposed. Hilde is also arrested, torn from her two-year-old and nine-month-old sons. The monotony and stress of jail life is well portrayed as is the way Q and Hilde deal with it. They have the added stress of Hilde's mother, Annie. She is a Nazi supporter and blames Q for her daughter's predicament.
The couple's respective jails are bombed as Germany's defences weaken and the Allies' march to victory strengthens. Unwavering is a sad story that moved me to tears. Q and Hilde's letters are poignant and full of love and yearning. But they maintained their anti-Nazi ideals throughout their ordeals. This story is also one of hope, testament to the strength of the human spirit and a wonderful tribute to the author's brave and indomitable grandparents.
2017, War Girl Ursula (Kindle, also paperback).
The Blond Angel in the Love and Resistance series is back. Ursula helps an English pilot which puts herself and her family at risk of death.
2017, War Girl Lotte (Kindle)
Sister of Ursula, Lotte is a rebellious teenager sent to southern Bavaria in 1943. Her spontanious and impulsive behaviour gets her into trouble.
2017, War Girl Anna
Anna is the eldest sister of Lotte and Ursula. She pays a horrifying price to save Lotte. Her courage and strength are tested to the extreme as she works for the Nazis.
I’ve read three of the six-book series set in Occupied France. They are entertaining and insightful thrillers.
2010, The Cyclist (Fingerpress, London) [ebook].
2012, Farewell Bergerac (Fingerpress, London) [ebook].
2012, Francesca Pascal (Fingerpress, London) [ebook]
Jane is a former Daily Telegraph journalist. Her heroine, Carla Vine, is an actress who wants to become a screen star. She abandons the future her upper class English parents had planned for her and goes to Germany. She meets British undercover agent Leo Quinn. It’s 1933, Hitler has just become Chancellor but Propaganda Minister Josef Göbbels’ insidious invasion of the cinema industry has begun. Carla befriends his wife, Magda. The relationship gives her access to the upper echelons of the Nazi Party. I’ve read two of the four in the series.
2013, Black Roses (Simon & Schuster, UK) [ebook].
Carla becomes an unofficial spy and uncovers a secret that could endanger major players in the Nazi regime.
2014, The Winter Garden (UK) or Woman In The Shadows (US) (Simon & Schuster) [ebook].
It’s 1937 in Berlin. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor visit, the English Mitford sisters are dazzling the social scene. But beneath the glamour, evil lurks. Carla finds out the truth when a friend is murdered.
A trilogy in which Kurt Muller fights the good fight. The first is Black Orchestra set at the start of the Second World War. Committed Nazi and Abwehr signalman Kurt’s life changes forever when he discovers the body of a colleague. Police investigate and conclude the cause was suicide. Kurt isn’t convinced. He starts an investigation of his own that leads him to a horrible truth. As this fast-paced, easy-to-read story unfolds, Kurt is drawn deeper into a mire of danger and intrigue. I was constantly asking: how is he going to get out of this? Kurt is a likeable, a little naïve and well-rounded character. The portrayal of time and place takes the reader there. In the second novel, The Wings of an Eagle, Kurt is working for the British Special Operations Executive. His task seems clear: go to Germany with fellow agent Pilgrim and bring home British-Canadian agent, Erika. They find Erika who refuses to leave. She has discovered the Nazi’s atomic bomb program. The trio face enormous obstacles in their efforts to stop the first test. Kurt’s enemies are not only without. Someone on his side wants him dead. The backdrop to the action, set in 1943, is the horror of the Nazi regime and the futility of war. I haven’t read the third book, Postcard from Hamburg.
The Great War