No horror story matches that of the German and Soviet attempts at ethnic cleansing that occurred during World War 2. The attempt to control the lives of the innocent citizens continued well into the Cold War. These are some of the best written recreations of what happened during that time.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1998)
Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, is Jewish and Denmark is under invasion by the Germans. The Rosens must act quickly or risk being deported to a concentration camp. Annemarie’s family devises a plan to disguise Ellen as a family member and send both girls to relatives in Sweden. If the plan works, they will save Ellen. If not, Annemarie’s family will face dire consequences.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (2006)
Bruno’s father has just received a promotion to oversee Auschwitz. Soon after they move in, Bruno goes exploring and discovers a large fence with a boy his age sitting on the other side. Bruno has no idea what is really going on. The two boys become friends and begin meeting at the fence every day. Tragedy strikes when Bruno decides to cross the fence.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (2005)
Liesel is an orphan living in Germany during WW2. Her foster father teaches her to read and when she attends a book burning she steals a book. From there she begins to “borrow” books from a wealthy family when she delivers their laundry. More dangerous than that, her foster father decides to repay a debt by harboring a Jewish man who saved his life. The most heart wrenching part of the book is the narration by death as he comments on the tragedy of war.
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli (2003)
As the book opens, we meet a young boy in Warsaw who knows nothing about himself. He is picked up by a band of orphans who survive by stealing food. One orphan takes him under his wing and names him Misha. As the story continues, the humiliation of the Jews begins and eventually the evacuation to the infamous Warsaw ghetto. Misha is a very naïve boy, but manages to avoid the deportation to the concentration camps. Describes the struggle for basic survival within the locked gates of the ghetto.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2011)
Lina is a Lithuanian during World War 2. The Russians are carrying out their own ethnic cleansing and ship Lina and her family to labor camps in Siberia. After surviving a grueling transport in a cattle car, they are forced to live in huts with no heat and must work hard labor for meager food rations. When the time comes for transport to another camp, Lina’s family have high hopes for something better. Instead, they are moved further north where it’s even colder and there is less food.
My Brother’s Secret by Dan Smith (2014)
Karl is a 12-year-old German boy who is proud of his accomplishments in the Deutsches Jungvolk or German Youngsters. He can’t wait to be old enough to join the Hitler Youth. His older brother, Stefan, will never join the Hitler Youth. He is against Hitler and his plan for Germany. When their father dies fighting the Russians, reality slowly begins to reveal itself to Karl until eventually he wants nothing more than to switch allegiance and join the anti- Hitler Youth group, Edelweiss Pirates, like his brother.
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (2008)
Helmut is a German boy when Hitler comes to power. As Hitler’s power grows, he sees a country being torn apart. Though forced to join the Hitler Youth and cover up his true feelings, his anxiety is reaching critical mass. He steals his brother’s radio and begins listening to the forbidden British war updates. His moral compass demands that he do something, so he begins secretly distributing pamphlets around town to inform his fellow Germans of the truth.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2015)
Ada is an abused girl with a clubfoot living in London during World War II. With the threat of a German air raid looming, children are sent to live with strangers in the countryside. Ada and her brother run away to join the children. They are reluctantly taken in by a kind older woman named Susan. With the abuse gone from Ada’s life, she blossoms. Hence, the war saved her life. This is a different account of the war from the English point of view.
Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Lida is a Ukrainian orphan kidnapped and imprisoned in a German work camp. Russian prisoners are only one step above the Jews in the way they are treated. Lida works as a seamstress in the laundry building and gets caught stealing clothing for the girls in her barracks. As punishment they are all sent to the bomb making facility to help the German war effort.