-Women Heroes of World War II – Kathryn J. Atwood

English review. ( For the Dutch review, click here )
Translation by: Hilde Huisman-Thijs

Women Heroes of World War II
26 stories of espionage, sabotage, Resistance and rescue

Author: Kathryn J.Atwood
Book form: paperback
Pages: 272
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Released: april 2011
ISBN: 9781556529610


Bookreview: The strength of the Nazi regime was in essence based on fear and mistrust among the people. But not everyone allowed that fear to predominate. A number of people in the occupied areas had the courage to turn themselves against the Nazis, either individually or by joining a group. They offered resistance in several manners, by distributing illegal leaflets, rescuing Jews, sabotage, or passing on information to the allies. Work that was certainly not without danger, it required guts. Most of the members of the resistance did not consider themselves courageous at all. But when the Nazi got hold of them, it generally meant death sentence, because the members of the resistance were considered enemies of the state. The resistance movement, however, felt it was their duty to help people and to liberate their fatherland from the Nazi regime, even when this meant taking this large risk. Nevertheless, there were also many women, who joined the resistance. Kathryn J. Atwood has portrayed 26 of these brave women from 8 different countries – Belgium, Denmark, Germany, United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and even the United States – in her book “ Women Heroes of World War II”, which was recently published by the Chicago Review Press.

Kathryn Atwood is a daughter of an American World War II veteran and this is how she became interested in the war. She became fascinated by the resistance as it was offered in all Europe and was wondering why people took such enormous risks in those days, knowing that they were putting their lives at stake. Out of that fascination, Atwood had already published a few articles on Sophie Scholl, the student, who led the resistance group Die Weisse Rose together with her brother, and on Marlène Dietrich. Now this book has appeared, in which, besides Sophie Scholl and Marlène Dietrich, 24 other women are more closely shed light on concerning their resistance activities. They were both well-known and unknown women. Some of them became more widely known after the war due to their resistance work, such as `the girl with the red hair’ Hannie Schaft. But whether they were well-known or not, their commitment to the resistance wasn’t any less. In an easily accessible style Atwood paints a personal portrait of each woman and each chapter has become a very touching story. The book shows that, although they were all aiming at the same goal, their backgrounds differed very much from each other and, displaying these women as an example, Atwood describes a beautifully impressive mixture of the diversity, which generally applied to the women of the resistance. In the concise biographies in “Women Heroes of World War II” for instance, she describes students, a countess, a writer, the owner of a beauty salon, singers, the spouse of a pastor and a teacher.  Their ages also differed considerably, some were only children with their whole lives ahead of them, others were young women in the prime of their lives, none of these women, however, shunned the danger. As for the Polish Zofia Kossak and Wanda Krahelska-Filipowicz, they managed to unite the many groups within the Polish resistance into one group called Zegota. This became the largest organization in occupied Europe and was only engaged in helping the Jews. The students were mostly couriers, such as Hannie Schaft. Later she also committed liquidations. Some of them were spies. In the United Kingdom, for example, Noor Inayat Khan, just like the countess Maria von Maltzan did in Germany, collected information at the Nazi top, which she passed on to the allies. In France Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was asked to set up an underground network of agents to collect information concerning the German troop movements. Help was not only required for Jews, as the Belgian Andrée the Jongh proved. She was one of the founders of the comet line, one of the two escape lines for English and American soldiers.

These examples prove that these women did not avoid difficult tasks, because their sense of justice and charity was stronger than their fear and in the beginning their femininity also seemed to work to their advantage. The German occupier simply did not expect women to be able to cope with dangerous situations, but the Nazi’s soon had to adjust their opinion and the women even commanded respect by their heroic commitment, even when the prosecution of the antifascists did not diminish. Within the resistance the admiration for the female members also grew, because it appeared that women generally got information more easily than the male combatants and therefore their share within the resistance gradually came to be more important. In “Women Heroes of World War II” Kathryn Atwood has saved the brave acts of resistance of these 26 women from oblivion and thus this book has become a beautiful and respectable monument for these 26 women and at the same time for all those other women, who committed themselves to their fellow men in time of war.

The book has a good structure. Besides a general introduction to the history of the Second World War, there is also a short introduction focused on the events in each country that the author discusses. Besides, every portrait is provided with a short reference to more literature in books or on the Internet. “Women Heroes of World War II” is a fascinating and informative book, especially for the younger generation, which offers a pleasant manner to gain an insight  into the lives of extraordinary women in an extraordinary time.
Assessment: X X X X X Excellent