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Celebrate Anne Frank's birthday with these overlooked WWII memoirs


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Today marks what would have been Anne Frank's 89th birthday, had she not been captured by the Nazis and died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen aged just 15. To commemorate Anne's life, here at The National Student, we've decided to share some lesser known WWII memoirs for you to read, ones that have flown more under the radar than Elie Wiesel's Night or Anne Frank's Diary.

1. Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of The Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII-Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila

I had no idea about the Navajo Code Talkers until I listened to a podcast episode from Stuff You Missed In History Class about codebreaking in WWII, and they talked a bit about US codebreaking methods in WWII. The Navajo Code Talkers worked in the marines and passed messages from command to the rest of the soldiers in the Pacific Theater, and it was basically unbreakable because Navajo is unintelligible to anyone who is not a native speaker and has not had training it. Chester Naz was the last living Navajo Code Talker, and he died in 2014, so this book is the last source of information about the Navajo Code Talkers that comes directly from one of them.

2. The Hiding Place: The Triumphant Story of Corrie Ten Boom-Corrie Ten Boom, John Sherrill, Elizabeth Sherrill

Corrie Ten Boom and her family were leaders in the Dutch Underground in WWII: they hid Jews in their home and helped them escape from Nazi Germany. All but Corrie were killed in concentration camps during the war. The Hiding Place tells Corrie and her family's war story.

3. Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent-Pearl Witherington Cornioley

Pearl Witherington was a Special Agent in the French branch of the Special Operations Executive, the spy network set up by Winston Churchill in WWII, first as an undercover courier and then the leader of a group of 3,500 men, and she was integral in many acts of sabotage committed by the SOE during the war.

4. Arise To Conquer-Ian Gleed

Gleed's memoir was actually written during WWII; an account of his service during the Battle of Britain, from his first mission in 1939 to recieving the Distinguished Flying Cross. Gleed died in 1943, having been shot down in his plane over Tunisia.

5. The Last Jew of Treblinka-Chil Rajchman

Rajchman's memoir is the only survivor's record of Treblinka, so definitely an important one to read to understand from a firsthand perspective what went on at that camp. The book was originally published in 1944, in Yiddish, but has subsequently been translated into English.

6. An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew In Nazi Berlin-Gad Beck

Gad Beck's memoir talks about his life being gay and a Jew and a teenage leader in the Resistance in WWII. It's quite frankly amazing that he managed to stay out of the Concentration camps, let alone survived the war! Given that it's currently Pride Month, Gad Beck's memoir would be the perfect book to read if you want both a taste of WWII, and to read something written by a gay man.

7. Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945-Leo Marks

Leo Marks was head of Communications of the SOE, and invented lot of the codes used by the British in WWII. When it comes to British cryptography, we tend to think immediately of Alan Turing and the codebreakers and Bletchley Park, but Marks' work with the SOE was just as integral to the war effort. Marks was also a playwright and screenwriter, and he has a very humourous and engaging writing style as well as writing about a fascinating subject.

8. The Boy On The Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible....on Schindler's List-Leon Leyson

Leon Leyson is the only Schindler's List child to have written a memoir - he was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family were forced into the Krakow ghetto. The book Schindler's List follows the life of Oskar Schindler, the man who saved many Jews' lives by employing them in his factory, but that is a fictional novel, so if you want a historical account from someone who was actually on Schindler's list, then this might be a good place to start.

9. Barefoot Gen-Keiji Nakazawa

Barefoot Gen is a ten part Japanese manga series, which, although slightly fictionalised and not a completely direct account like some of the memoirs in this list, is a semi-autobiographical account of the author's experiences of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the aftermath. Hiroshima is an event that tends to be overlooked in WWII writing, and this being a graphic novel, it's an accessible way of learning about the horrific bombing.

10. Diary of A Young Girl-Anne Frank

I couldn't finish off this list without including the book that inspired it, Anne Frank's diary. Anne Frank's story is such a tragic one, but what is amazing about Anne Frank's diary is how much hope she had, even in the darkest period of her short life.


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