Thursday, March 31, 2011

Women Heroes of WWII

March 31 - Today's post provided by The Children's War

           When I was 10 years old, I decided to dress up as my mother for Halloween.  My costume was simple: shoes, dress, a church hat and a big old purse she no longer used.    Nothing really fit, but I didn’t care.  Why my mother?  Well, as a World War II nurse, she was my hero, the first in what was to become a long list of women heroes who have served as historical mentors in my life.  So, when I think of this year’s theme for Women’s History Month, Our History Is Our Strength, I know exactly what that means. 
            Now Kathryn Atwood has written a very moving account of 26 strong, courageous women who stood up and said no to the Nazi scourge at great risk to their lives.  Some of these women joined underground resistance movements in Nazi-occupied countries, others rescued Jews and Allied soldiers caught behind enemy lines, and still others worked as spies, mingling with the enemy to gather useful information.  Some of these women were quite young.  In Poland, 19-year-old Irene Gut worked for a high ranking German officer in his villa.  She was able to hide 12 Jews in the basement of the house, right under his nose.  When he found out, he gave Irene a choice: become his mistress or he would turn them all over to the Gestapo.  She made the first choice, never told anyone about it and eventually Irene was able to lead these Jews into the forest, where they were liberated.
Sophie Scholl
            Sophie Scholl, a college student in Munich, Germany wasn’t much older than Irene when she began her Resistance activities.  Along with 10 others including her brother Hans, Sophie belonged to the White Rose (die weiße Rose.)  The group wrote and distributed six extensive anti-Nazi leaflets urging people to denounce Hitler’s government in word and deed.  Anti-Nazi behavior was considered treason, punishable by death.  Sophie and Hans were arrested, and later tried and executed on the same day. In a country where people no longer had any civil liberties, her actions were courageous and heroic.  Silence, I believe, is a sign of acceptance, and these students refused to accept what the Nazis were doing in their beloved country.
Josephine Baker
            Other women in Women Heroes of World War II were surprises to me, for example, Josephine Baker and Marlene Dietrich.  Josephine Baker, an African-American, had lived in Paris for many years after leaving the US in part because of the racism she encountered here.  As an entertainer, Josephine had the perfect cover for a spying.  Before France fell to the Nazis, Josephine did some espionage working for the Deuxième Bureau, a French intelligence agency.  Her celebrity status allowed her to mingle at parties where she would listen in on conversations and acquire much need information.  Later, when France was occupied by the Germans, Josephine retired to her chateau.  Her chateau was then used as a stop-off for resistance workers, a safe house for refugees, and storage space for weapons.  Later, Josephine toured Spain, Portugal and North Africa, again partying in order to gather information. 
Marlene Dieetrich
          Marlene Dietrich, though German born, was an American citizen who worked against the Nazis and volunteered to entertain troops for the USO, often at great risk to herself.  Sometimes, she was so close to the front lines, she could hear gunfire and bombs going off.  When she started to use her signature song, Lilie Marlene, in English for the troops, the Nazis were livid, that had been their World War I song.  But she also sang it in German for the Soldatensender West, an Allied radio program broadcast in German and directed at Hitler’s soldiers, along with other anti-Nazi propaganda.  It turned out, German soldiers has listened to Soldatensender West, even though it was forbidden.  
            These are just a few examples of the lives of the extraordinary women who risked everything to help others in very dangerous situations that are included in this book.  Though every story is different, the women were motivated by the same thing: when the time came, they did what they felt was right.  Later, many received awards and medals for they work and some were even awarded the title “Righteous among Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the Holocaust, for the Jews they saved.
            Women Heroes of World War II is a well written, well researched book.  Ms. Atwood profiles the resistance activities of women from eight countries: Germany, Poland, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain and the United States.  There is a brief summary of the way in which each country entered World War II.  This information really helps the reader appreciate the dangers and obstacles these woman faced.  Each woman’s story is also supplemented with additional material, for example, passages from the leaflets written by Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, or the edict issued when Denmark was forced to surrender to the Germans.  At the end of every woman’s story is a list of resources where the reader can go to find more information about her.  The beauty of the organization of this book is that it can be read from cover to cover, as I did, or in parts.  Each narrative stands on it own.  This makes it ideal as a teaching tool and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
            Out of curiosity I asked Ms. Atwood what made her decide to write Women Heroes of World War II.  She said that her dad had been a young tail gunner in Europe during World War II (tail gunner, I have learned, was a very lonely, dangerous position) and she was always fascinated by his war stories.  Another parental hero!
            Because of her Dutch heritage, Ms. Atwood was also familiar with women resistance workers in the Netherlands, such as Corrie ten Boom and Diet Eman, both included in her book, and both amazing women.

Women Heroes of World War II is recommended for readers age 12 and up.
This book was purchased for my personal library.
For an interesting story about how Kathryn Atwood touched history while writing Women Heroes of World War II, please visit to read her story.

            For the last 30 days, I have been introduced to and celebrated a wide variety of other incredibly strong, brave, daring women.  Among their accomplishments, they are trailblazers who broke barriers, crossed lines, saved lives and gave us beautiful music.  These women certainly embody the theme “Our History Is Our Strength.” They all refused to live in the margins of their time, and we are women who refuse to let they live in the margins of history.  And now we have come to the last day of celebrating Women’s History Month and since I can’t say let the celebrations begin, I will say

                                       Let the Celebrations Continue!

Editor's Note: 
Watch for a final wrap-up post tomorrow from organizers Margo and Lisa!  


  1. What a great final note. They all refused to live in the margins of their time--perfect.

    I know Margo and Lisa will be wrapping up tomorrow, but I wanted to chime in with thanks now--for all the effort that went into this project. It's been absolutely fascinating to read, and so wonderful to learn about all these delicious books--new and older--that we can all go sink our teeth into. Thank you so very much!

  2. Audrey with She Loved Baseball has nailed it.
    (or made the home run).
    A huge debt of gratitude from the book loving world to Margo & Lisa. So many titles were new to me & the essays were of such depth, I feel I've been attending a wonderful symposium. Many thanks as this winds down. So grateful that it'll be online as a reference for always.

  3. “Our History Is Our Strength.” - Love that

    I've just added Women Heroes of WWII to my library queue. Thanks so for including the link, it makes me want to read the book even more.

    Ditto on the thank you, to Margo and Lisa. Your hardwork is much appreicated.

  4. What a fascinating post! and I'm really interested in your WWII blog. I've loved reading all of the posts this month, and am happy to have been part of such a worthwhile endeavor. I've learned about some intriguing new books and found some new blogs to follow. Thanks, Margo and Lisa!

  5. I wanted to add my thanks as well to Margo, Lisa and all the contributors for a fascinating month of posts. It was a pleasure to read them and an honor to participate!