I’ve read and read about Nazi Germany, novels, memoirs, history books, seen films and documentaries. Here are a few books that I’d recommend.
The Last Jews in Berlin, by Leonard Gross, published by Simon and Schuster
This very moving book is about Jews in hiding in Berlin, and the people who helped them. It was here that I found out about the activities of the Swedish church.
Kristallnacht, by Martin Gilbert, published by Harper Press
About the pogrom of November 9th, 1938
Defying Hitler, by Sebastian Haffner
An invaluable account of the time when Hitler came to power, it really helps to understand how people react to dictatorship.
In Hitler’s Germany, by Bernt Engelmann, published by Methuen.
Engelmann was part Jewish and his family were socialists. While his father escaped to England, he remained in Germany and helped, even as a young lad, with the resistance to Germany, hiding Jews and helping to smuggle them out. Finally he was found out and sent to concentration camp, to be rescued by Allied soldiers. He mingles his own memories with interviews with other Germans. It’s a riveting, exciting book and without it I couldn’t have written the stories of Effi, Annelie and Pierre inKummersdorf. It’s the only one that I’ve found that really details the resistance of the Left to Hitler. All the other accounts of resistance focus on the army plot which failed in 1944. It was published in England in 1988, and seems still to be available on Amazon.
Nazism, 1919-1945. Edited by J Noakes and G Pridham, published by University of Exeter Press.
This is a collection of documentary history in four volumes. The final one, about the Home Front in World War 2, came out just in time for my final rewrite of Kummersdorf. I used it all the time when I was writing Saving Rafael. These volumes have extracts from first-person accounts as well as reproductions of Nazi laws and ordinances, internal communications, the reports of the secret police, and so on.
The Day the War Ended, by Martin Gilbert, published by HarperCollins.
The title says it all.
The Righteous, by Martin Gilbert, published by Doubleday.
Contains a large section on Germans who helped Jews, including the fascinating story of how Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of German Military Intelligence, saved the lives of fourteen German Jews by sending them to Switzerland as counter-intelligence operatives. Canaris was later executed. There are also many stories of ordinary people’s heroism. It is estimated that between two and five thousand German Jews survived the war in hiding in Berlin and many of those were helped by non Jewish Germans. The penalty for helping Jews was death.
The Fall of Berlin, by Anthony Read and David Fisher, published by Pimlico.
It’s in effect a history of Berlin during the war, fascinating with lots of personal stories and the kind of detail that’s really useful to a novelist.
The Road to Berlin, by John Erickson, published by Phoenix,
This book was useful for tracking troop movements for Kummersdorf.
Berlin, the Downfall, 1945, by Anthony Beevor, published by Viking Penguin
This book came out after I’d finished Kummersdorf, but in time for me to rewrite my account of weather conditions in the battle zone that my characters were struggling through. I haven’t read all of it, but what I have read is excellent.
The Hitler Myth, by Ian Kershaw, published by Oxford University Press
It’s an excellent account of the response of the German people to Hitler, Nazism, and anti-semitism.
For jazz in Last Train from Kummersdorf, I used various sources, but in particular, Swing Under the Nazis, by Mike Zwerin, published by Cooper Square Press
I have read a great deal in the German Historical Institute in London, and am very grateful for this. There was a particularly useful book in German, Berlin im Zweiten Weltkrieg, ( Berlin in World War 2), a collection of diaries and first-hand accounts which gave me a wonderful sense of the texture of life in those days. I bought this book and used it extensively for Saving Rafael I also read the story about the French ‘volunteer’ workers supposedly burgling houses during air-raids, which led to my story of Effi and Pierre’s Robin Hood activities on behalf of hidden Jews, in Kummersdorf.
There was also a book about German jokes during the period, some of which are told by Sperling inKummersdorf, to Hanno and Effi. The following are two that I didn’t use. For the first, you need to know that Hitler was supposed to have chewed the carpet once when he was angry. For the second, you need to know that a ‘Kreisleiter’ was a Nazi official in charge of a district.
Hitler goes to a carpet shop, chooses a fine Persian rug. ‘Thank you, my Führer,’ says the shop owner. ‘Eat in or take away?’
A child goes to school and betrays knowledge of allied positions. ‘How did you know that?’ says the teacher suspiciously. ‘Oh, I had it from my father, he listens to foreign radio stations.’ ‘Well,’ says the teacher, ‘we’ll have to see about that.’ The next day he turns up at the child’s house with a police officer. They kick the door down and search the apartment. No radio at all. The teacher says to the father: ‘But your kid said you listened to foreign radio stations.’ ‘Oh, that,’ says the father. ‘I don’t have a radio, but the Kreisleiter downstairs has his radio on so loud you can hear it through the floor up here.’
The story about the family who are burgled in Saving Rafael came from family sources.
I’m also deeply grateful to the Imperial War Museum library and documents sections, whose staff have been tremendously helpful to me on many occasions. They surpassed themselves when I was writing Kummersdorf, when I was almost chewing the carpet myself because I couldn’t find anything about people crossing the Elbe to get from the Russian sector to the American. They found me several handwritten or typed accounts by ex-POWs who were released by the Russians but then left to wander around unclaimed and the Russians wouldn’t let them across.
One of them, like the Tommy Effi and her friends meet in the book, was given a looted camera by a Russian, and his pictures were in the box with his pencil-written account. This was hugely useful because I could see exactly what everything looked like, and I’ve used many details from this account in the book.
One group of POWs saw some tanks rolling slowly across on the pontoon bridge the Russians had made, and noticed that they cut off the view from the watch-hut, so they just walked across between a couple of tanks that were crossing. Another group were lucky enough to see some French soldiers with a boat, who came over and picked them up. Clearly, for German civilians, especially not for women and girls, these methods weren’t feasible.
Here are some works of fiction for young people that I’d recommend.
Sisterland by Linda Newbery
Hitler’s Canary, by Sandi Toksvig – do note, though, that the amazing rescue
of Denmark’s Jews by the Danes was only made possible by a German, GF
Duckwitz, who warned the Danish Resistance. You can read more about this on the Internet.
A Candle in the Dark, by Adele Geras
Once, by Morris Gleitzman
Emil and Karl, by Yankev Glatschteyn
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
Divided Loyalties, by Dennis Hamley
House of Spies, by Griselda Gifford