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Telling Her Story: 30 Books for Adult Readers About Women Heroes of WWII

The best biographies, memoirs, and historical fiction for adults about heroic women of World War II.

Women have always served their countries in many ways during wartime, but the sheer scope of World War II demanded more of them than ever — and they answered the call. Around the world, women served as military nurses, pilots, codebreakers, spies, and in other roles. For decades, their stories were little known. Sometimes, details were classified so women couldn't tell anyone, even their families, about the work they had done during the war. Other times, they hesitated to share their experiences, often because they humbly believed that their contributions were "ordinary." And, in some cases, their work was left out of histories because society did not recognize that women could be veterans, and that an Army nurse or a WASP pilot or an SOE spy deserved just as much celebration for her heroism as any soldier.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the historic D-Day invasion, we're sharing books for adult readers that bring these untold stories of women's courage and patriotism to light! We've selected well-researched and absorbingly written biographies, which show that truth is sometimes just as exciting as fiction, as well as some of our favorite historical fiction novels that incorporate characters inspired by these daring women. Thrilling and inspiring, these books will bring an important new dimension to your understanding of World War II and the critical and myriad roles that women played in it.

Biographies and Memoirs About Women of World War II

Women Heroes of World War II

32 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue

Women Heroes of World War II

32 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue

Written by: Kathryn J. Atwood
Recommended Age: 12 and up

During World War II, women around the world stood up to protect those they could, doing everything from transmitting radio messages from occupied France, to hiding Jewish families or smuggling them out of dangerous territory, to conducting sabotage missions throughout Europe. Kathryn J. Atwood tells some of their stories in this book, showing how these women, from many nations and backgrounds, each took tremendous risks to fight the battles that they were not permitted to fight on the front. A companion book, Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater, tells the stories of women's contributions in China, Japan, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines.

A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II

A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II

Written by: Elizabeth Wein
Recommended Age: 14 and up

In the midst of World War II, Josef Stalin made the Soviet Union the first country in the world that allowed female pilots to fly in combat. Three regiments of women, led by Marina Raskova, took to the skies, including the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, which would be nicknamed the "night witches." But facing the horrors of war and discrimination and pressure on the ground wasn't easy for these pilots, many of whom were still in their teens. Elizabeth Wein, the author of the best-selling historical fiction novel Code Name Verity, sets her sights on non-fiction in this compelling story about these daring pilots and the sisterhood they formed as they changed the world.

Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto

Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto

Written by: Tilar J. Mazzeo
Recommended Age: Adults

In 1942, a young social worker named Irena Sendler received permission to access the Warsaw Ghetto as a public health specialist, arguing that it was critical to prevent diseases from spreading to the rest of the city. Her real purpose there, though, was very different: Sendler wanted to smuggle as many children as she could out of the walled ghetto, and place them with families and orphanages who would conceal their true identities. Sendler would rescue over 2,500 children and save their names on secret lists, buried in jars, in hopes of reuniting them with their families after the war. Author Tilar Mazzeo tells Sendler's compelling story in this adult biography; this title is also available in a Young Readers edition that is suitable for age 10 to 14.

A Woman Of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
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A Woman Of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
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Written by: Sonia Purnell
Recommended Age: Adults

In 1942 France, a mysterious spy known as the "Limping Lady" was a linchpin for the French Resistance – the Gestapo called her "the most dangerous of all Allied spies." Her name, unknown to the Germans, was Virginia Hall. She was the daughter of a well-off Baltimore family turned Special Operations Executive agent, and her distinctive limp was from a prosthetic leg that most people believed would trap her behind a secretary's desk. Author Sonia Purnell explores the full story behind Hall's life, illuminating her determination and her wartime heroism. Fast-paced, thrilling, and meticulously researched, this biography of Hall is better than any fictional spy story. For another fascinating biography of Hall, check out The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy.

Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope

Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope

Written by: Wendy Holden
Recommended Age: Adults

In 1944, three women in Eastern Europe were transported to Auschwitz — while in the early stages of pregnancy. Rachel, Priska, and Anka found themselves in one of the most notorious concentration camps of World War II with their families dead except for their unborn children. To keep these precious children, the women would have to hide the evidence of their pregnancies from the SS and infamous Nazi medical experimenter Dr. Josef Mengele; keep themselves alive despite brutal work and starvation; and then, once they had birthed the children, hope for a miracle to see them all out of captivity. This remarkable story about love in the midst of horror and misery captures the incredible power of the human spirit.

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany

Recommended Age: Adults

Marthe Cohn's French Jewish family sheltered those who were fleeing the rise of the Nazis, including children sent away by their parents. And then suddenly, they too were at risk: Germany invaded, her sister was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, and the rest of her family was forced to flee. Marthe, however, used her perfect German accent and blonde hair to serve the intelligence service of the French First Army, playing the role of a German nurse looking for her fiance — and funneling what sympathetic soldiers told her back to Allied commanders. This remarkable memoir details her story — which not even her children knew until she was awarded the Médaille Militaire at the age of 80 — and how an ordinary young woman became a hero.

Code Name: Lise

The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII's Most Highly Decorated Spy

Code Name: Lise

The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII's Most Highly Decorated Spy

Written by: Larry Loftis
Recommended Age: Adults

After Odette Sansom decides to become an SOE agent in the midst of World War II, she parachutes into occupied France and meets her commanding officer, Captain Peter Churchill. The indomitable pair discover soul mates in one another, falling in love as they race to evade Hugo Bleicher, the German secret police sergeant who pursues them at every turn. When Bleicher finally captures them, they face prison in Paris, then torture in concentration camps in Germany, but their courage — and love — sustains them through seemingly unbeatable horror. Full of thrilling twists and turns and a heart-pounding romance, Sansom's true story is a tribute to the human capacity to overcome.

The Leper Spy: The Story of an Unlikely Hero of World War II

The Leper Spy: The Story of an Unlikely Hero of World War II

Written by: Ben Montgomery
Recommended Age: Adults

In the midst of World War II, a young Filipina woman used a disease that was destroying her to become one of America's top spies. Josefina Guerrero had leprosy, a condition so horrifying to Japanese sentries that they would let her pass without searching her. As a result, she was able to spy and sabotage across enemy lines. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom, but after the war found herself consigned to a miserable leper colony, where she protested the unsanitary and cruel conditions. Yet even after she was successfully treated in America, she found her notoriety hard to manage, and eventually changed her name so she could live without scrutiny. This intriguing portrait of a little-known hero celebrates her courage while acknowledging the complexity of her feelings about her past.

Nancy Wake: SOE's Greatest Heroine

Nancy Wake: SOE's Greatest Heroine

Written by: Russell Braddon
Recommended Age: Adults

From the moment the German army invaded France in World War II, Nancy Wake was part of the resistance movement. By 1943, she was on the Gestapo’s most wanted list, nicknamed the White Mouse for how easily she evaded their traps. And when she was forced to flee France for safety in Britain, she immediately joined the British Special Operations Executive’s elite group of female agents, soon to be parachuted back into France to lead a 7,000 member branch of the Maquis fighting force. This thrilling true story of one of World War II’s most remarkable heroines will top any fictional spy story!

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Written by: Liza Mundy
Recommended Age: Adults

In the midst of World War II, over ten thousand women were recruited for an important but secret mission: being trained as codebreakers. In Washington, they learned to decipher messages that would shorten the war and save the lives of countless people. They also gained access to a new realm of career advancement that had previously been closed to women. But after the war, with their vow of secrecy still in place, their stories were nearly lost. Author Liza Mundy dug deep into newly released files and interviewed surviving "code girls" to create this fascinating history of the women whose work made a significant but hidden contribution to America's war effort. This book is also available in a Young Readers edition for ages 10 to 14.

Madame Fourcade's Secret War
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The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

Madame Fourcade's Secret War
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The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

Written by: Lynne Olson
Recommended Age: Adults

In 1941, 31-year-old Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, a young, privileged mother of two, was also the head of a critical French spy network, Alliance. It seemed like a role she was born to play: she was notoriously strong-willed and rebellious, willing to defy her country's patriarchal rules before the war — and the Nazi occupiers during it. Fourcade would be the war's only female chef de résistance; she held together thousands of agents despite relentless pursuit by the Gestapo. Thanks to her ferocious conviction, Alliance became the longest-lasting resistance network in France, supplying key information, including an enormous map of the beaches where the Allies landed on D-Day. This tale of a courageous woman who refused to give in is suspenseful and thrilling.

D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II
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D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II
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Written by: Sarah Rose
Recommended Age: Adults

In the midst of World War II, it appeared that the Nazis were unstoppable — especially with almost every man in England already fighting on the front. So the Special Operations Executive took a bold step and recruited women as spies. Thirty-nine women answered their call, including Andrée Borrel, Odette Sansom, and Lise de Baissac. In D-Day Girls author Sarah Rose draws on recently declassified documents, diaries, and more to create a compelling portrait of these three women and their motivations for risking everything in order to make the D-Day invasion possible — and pave the way for the Allied victory.

The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport

A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival

The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport

A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival

Recommended Age: Adults

As the Nazi regime rose — and people began to suspect its aims — one program, the Kindertransport, brought 10,000 children into the United Kingdom for safety. Lisa Jura was a 14-year-old musical prodigy whose parents were offered the chance to send one of their three children to safety; they chose her. In a home for refugee children, she yearned for her family and dreaded what news might come. At the same time, her music offered hope to both her and many around her in the midst of the war. This book captures the pain caused by the war — even for those who didn't live through its horrors directly — and the power of music to grant peace. This book is also available in a Young Readers edition for ages 8 to 12.

The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place

Recommended Age: Adults

Corrie ten Boom was an ordinary person — a Dutch watchmaker — from an ordinary family when their values and courage were tested by the Nazi invasion. As Christians, they were safe, but around them, they could see their Jewish neighbors and friends were at tremendous risk. So together, the family risked their own lives in an effort to save as many people as they could. In this riveting account, ten Boom tells the story of how she and her family became heroes of the Resistance — and then faced their own horrors in the Nazi death camps. The sole survivor of her family, ten Boom has ensured that her book is a powerful testimonial to the power of faith and compassion. Ten Boom's story is also told in the documentary Corrie ten Boom: A Faith Undefeated.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies

Written by: Jason Fagone
Recommended Age: Adults

Elizebeth Smith was an expert in Shakespeare when a 1916 job changed the course of her life — and American intelligence history. Smith's boss, a tycoon with connections to the US government, turned her language skills to code cracking. Along the way, she would meet groundbreaking cryptologist William Friedman, her future husband, and the couple would be critical to the development of the NSA. Smith would help catch gangsters during Prohibition, expose Nazi spy rings in South America, and help crack multiple versions of the German Enigma machine. This intriguing story explores the development of modern intelligence through the life of one unforgettable woman.

We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of the American Women Trapped on Bataan

We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of the American Women Trapped on Bataan

Written by: Elizabeth Norman
Recommended Age: Adults

A position in the Philippines was a chance for adventure and excitement for most Army and Navy nurses: easy duties, a beautiful setting, and a whirl of social engagements with attentive soldiers. But on December 8, 1941, with America and Japan now at war, everything changed. The nurses were caught, first in a raging battle that brought waves of brutal casualties to their wards, and then in internment camps where they were forced to survive on as little as 700 calories a day. When they returned home, they were celebrated — but denied veterans benefits and recognition that they deserved. This riveting story about the Angels of Bataan is a moving tale of women in war, and and afterwards.

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

Written by: Denise Kiernan
Recommended Age: Adults

In Oak Ridge, Tennessee, at the height of World War II, nearly 75,000 people had no idea that their real purpose there was to create an atomic bomb. These people, many of them women from small towns, were recruited with promises of excellent wages and came to do everything from janitorial work to engineering. With the project shrouded in secrecy, though, it wasn’t until years later that they understood the part they had played in history. Author Denise Kiernan talks to 10 different women who worked in Oak Ridge to capture the strange contrast of the city: dances and rations side by side with uranium and fission.

A Train In Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France

A Train In Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France

Written by: Caroline Moorehead
Recommended Age: Adults

In January of 1943, 230 women of the French Resistance were sent to concentration camps by the occupying German authorities. Author Caroline Moorehead tells the story of how these women, unknown to each other before their capture and ranging from a 16-year-old schoolgirl to a farmer’s wife in her sixties, developed an unexpected bond in the midst of horror. Only 49 of the women would return home after the war, but the story of those who survived — and those who didn’t — is an inspiring look at the power of courage, defiance, and friendship.

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose

Recommended Age: Adults

Sophie Scholl was a model member of the girls' wing of the Hitler Youth as a teen, but as a college student, she began to see through Nazi propaganda. With her brother, Hans, and her friends, she founded the White Rose, a student resistance movement that published anonymous letters and pamphlets urging people to stand up against the regime. But publishing and distributing such materials was treason, and when Scholl was caught, she was interrogated, tried, and executed — all within a few days. This carefully researched book is written in a tense narrative that makes it feel like a suspenseful novel. It serves as a unique look at one group's response to life in tyranny, and a celebration of resilience and courage. To learn more about Scholl's life and to discover books about her for readers of all ages, visit our blog post Sophie Scholl: The German Student Activist Executed at 21 For Her Anti-Nazi Resistance.

Women Of Valor: Polish Resisters to the Third Reich

Women Of Valor: Polish Resisters to the Third Reich

Written by: Joanne D. Gilbert
Recommended Age: Adults

From the moment that Nazi Germany invaded Poland, people — including many young women — found ways to resist. Those of them who survived the horrors of the Holocaust have much to teach us about the importance of fighting for human rights. Author Joanne D. Gilbert collected the stories of four Polish women — both Jewish and Gentile — to create this compelling story about courage and resistance. An in-depth introduction, both to the years leading up to the invasion and war and to the roots of Polish resistance, provides key historical background and impresses on the reader just what these women risked in standing up for justice.

Suzanne's Children: A Daring Rescue in Nazi Paris

Suzanne's Children: A Daring Rescue in Nazi Paris

Written by: Anne Nelson
Recommended Age: Adults

In the late 1930s, Suzanne Spaak, a child of Belgium's leading political family, discovered a new purpose: helping people escape from the Nazi regime. When Paris fell, she used her wealth and connections for the Resistance, arranging for thousands of children to be "kidnapped" out from under the Gestapo's nose. As liberating armies approached Paris, Spaak was caught in a Gestapo dragnet... and executed for her "crimes" against the Nazi regime, shortly before Paris was freed. This meticulously researched biography reads like a thriller, full of suspenseful twists — and starring a daring woman who gave her life to protect World War II Europe's most vulnerable people.

Underground In Berlin: A Young Woman's Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany

Underground In Berlin: A Young Woman's Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany

Written by: Marie Jalowicz Simon
Recommended Age: Adults

In 1941 Berlin, Jews were being faced with deportation, forced labor, and worse — and 19-year-old Marie Jalowicz Simon made a daring choice. She removed the yellow star from her jacket, walked away from the Jewish community, and began a new life under an assumed name in the heart of the Nazi regime. She had to conceal her true identity from everyone, even as she moved between safe-houses and other places of refuge. She even lived with committed Nazis, depending on good fortune to prevent her secret from being revealed. This pulse-pounding story of life underground during World War II shares a previously undiscovered story of the will to survive.

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II
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Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II
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Written by: Robert Matzen
Recommended Age: Adults

Audrey Hepburn is known as both a glamorous movie star and a compassionate humanitarian — and according to her son, Luca Dotti, "The war made my mother who she was." In this fascinating book, author Robert Matzen draws on interviews, personal reminiscences, wartime diaries, and more to capture Hepburn's life-changing experiences during the Nazi occupation of Holland. The war brought violence, including the execution of her uncle, near starvation during the infamous Hunger Winter, and dangerous roles working with the Dutch Resistance. But there were triumphs as well, including newfound fame as a ballerina. Intimate and intense, this powerful story illuminates the childhood that drove Hepburn's incredible contributions to the world.

Historical Fiction About Women of World War II

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity

Written by: Elizabeth Wein
Recommended Age: 13 and up

In World War II England, two young women become unlikely friends. One is a pilot, a new member of Britain's Air Transport Auxiliary; one is a spy, destined to assist the resistance in France. When one woman has to eject from their malfunctioning plane and is captured by the Gestapo, she steels herself for the brutality of an interrogation. But do they have the pilot, or the spy? And will Verity manage to keep Britain's secrets, or does her capture risk everything? Readers will devour this suspenseful and richly detailed book... and then go back to the beginning to look for the hints and clues they missed on the first read. Fans of this book will want to check out the companion novel, Rose Under Fire, and the prequel, The Pearl Thief.

The Nightingale: A Novel

The Nightingale: A Novel

Written by: Kristin Hannah
Recommended Age: Adults

When Vianne’s husband left for the front, she didn’t believe that the Nazis would invade, but when they do, she finds herself billeting a German officer against her will. Meanwhile, her sister, Isabelle, has gone from a wartime love affair to joining the French Resistance, where she risks her life time and again by helping downed Allied pilots escape occupied France by escorting them over the Pyrenees on foot to neutral Spain. Inspired in part by the story of 19-year-old Belgian Resistance heroine Andrée de Jongh, this work of historical fiction provides a powerful look at the strength of women in wartime.

The Huntress: A Novel
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The Huntress: A Novel
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Written by: Kate Quinn
Recommended Age: Adults

Soviet Night Witch pilot Nina Markova is the only person ever to have escaped a vicious Nazi murderer known as the Huntress. British war correspondent Ian Graham is trying to track the Huntress down, with Nina's help. 17-year-old American would-be photographer Jordan McBride is delighted when her widowed father returns home with a new fiancée — but something seems off about this soft-spoken German woman. As multiple stories intertwine, and deep secrets are brought to light, author Kate Quinn reveals the marks war leaves on lives, and asks what we would give to know the truth.

Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls

Written by: Martha Hall Kelly
Recommended Age: Adults

Caroline Ferriday is a New York socialite; Kasia Kuzmerick is teenage courier for the Polish resistance. The pair are oceans apart, and it seems unlikely they'll ever come together. When Kasia is sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, her life collides with the ambitions of young German doctor Herta Oberheuser, one of the notorious doctors conducting human experimentation at the camp. And when the war ends and Caroline learns about the Polish "Rabbits" of Ravensbrück, she may be able to help Kasia find peace with the horrors she suffered. The stories of three women intersect in a painful and shocking way in this novel about seeking justice for those forgotten from — or obliterated by — history.

The Lost Girls of Paris

The Lost Girls of Paris

Written by: Pam Jenoff
Recommended Age: Adults

When Grace Healey finds a suitcase under a bench at Grand Central Terminal, she can't resist peeking inside — and discovers photographs of twelve women. She learns that the suitcase belonged to Eleanor Trigg, leader of a World War II spy network, and the pictures are some of her agents: women who went to Occupied Europe and disappeared. As Grace tries to find out the fates of each of the women depicted, she is particularly drawn to Marie, a young mother whose story captures the courage and sisterhood of these agents who were willing to do whatever it took to end the war. This compelling novel, inspired by many true tales of heroism, celebrates the strength and daring of these little-recognized female spies.

Auschwitz Lullaby

Auschwitz Lullaby

Written by: Mario Escobar
Recommended Age: Adults

When German police arrive at Helene Hannemann's home in 1943, she knows the worst has happened: her children and husband, who have Romani heritage, are to be sent to Auschwitz. Although Helene is German and could stay behind, she refuses to leave her family. In the camp, she fights to protect her children, even once she is forced into service in the camp hospital. Helene detests the notorious Dr. Mengele, but when he invites her to organize a school for Romani children in the camp, she becomes determined to protect the children in her care, no matter the cost. This novelization of Hannemann's true story tells the painful story of how she tried to give children of Auschwitz hope in the darkest times.

Resistance Women: A Novel
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Resistance Women: A Novel
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Written by: Jennifer Chiaverini
Recommended Age: Adults

When Mildred Fish marries German economist Arvid Harnack, their new life in Germany is supposed to be full of friendship and intellectual stimulation. But when Hitler and the Nazi Party rise, the couple and their friends are determined to resist. Together, they gather intelligence from journalists, officers, and officials, and Mildred funnels the information to her American contacts. But when the Harnack resistance cell is detected, the stakes they must pay are brutally high. This exciting novel brings Mildred Harnack, her husband, and their friends to vivid life, capturing the courage and passion that drove them.

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