True Stories of World War Two


This is an elective class, and is taught each nine weeks.

There are three primary goals of the class:
     1. to guide students in improving their reading skills and strategies,
     2. to help students understand the causes and consequences of Nazi Germany's policies, and
     3. to help students appreciate the power of personal choices.

I have worked hard to find age-appropriate materials for this class.  To help families understand the the class content, I am including information on this page about the materials we will use.  I read reviews for approximately 100 books and actually read part or all of over 20 different books before finding the two books which I felt would be great matches for this course.  Both of the books I chose are true stories of young people who survived WWII in Nazi-controlled areas of Europe.

In addition to the books, I will include some materials about the Hitler Youth Movement.  This material should help students understand how idealistic young people were manipulated by a power-hungry leader.

I will also use two and possibly three DVDs of true stories from Europe during WW2.

Information on the books and on the DVDs are towards the bottom of this page.

HOMEWORK:  Most (if not all) reading and related work will be done in class time, since this is not a core class.
GRADES will be based on participation, written work, and on quizzes. 

Please contact me at the school by phone or by e-mail with questions, comments, or any helpful ideas you might have for this class.

Janet Hall
BMS: 787-3240
e-mail link:

We will start with a book about life in Nazi-occupied France

For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy starts just as the Nazi forces invade France, and when the main character, Suzanne, is 13 years old.   She is eventually recruited to help the French Resistance movement, a role which places her and her entire family in great danger.

As I mentioned in the introduction, this is based on the true story.  After the war, Suzanne married a U.S. soldier and moved to the United States.   Her story was eventually turned into a book and published in 2003.

This is an amazing story of youthful confidence as well as of amazing courage.

More information about this book is available at at this link.

Here are some reviews of For Freedom.

From School Library Journal 
Grades 6-8
Life for Suzanne David, a 13-year-old French schoolgirl and music apprentice, dramatically changes in May, 1940, when she and her best friend witness the brutal death of a neighbor when a bomb drops directly in front of them. Soon the Germans take over Cherbourg, and the Davids are forced from their home into poverty. Then Suzanne is given the opportunity to help the Allies. Bravely, she risks her life, family, and singing career in order to spy for the Resistance. The pace of this suspenseful story, told in first person and based on a true story, moves swiftly into action within the first chapter, showing the young heroine as strong, courageous, and clever. Filled, but not laden, with the events of the war, and peppered with French language and the culture of music, this book will appeal to readers who enjoy history and espionage.
Kimberly Monaghan, Vernon Area Public Library, IL
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. 
From Booklist 
Grades 6-12
Teenage Suzanne David is so focused on her dreams of becoming an opera star that she barely notices the growing Nazi presence in her French hometown of Cherbourg, until an air raid in 1940 literally puts the death and devastation at her feet. Her innocent appearance, iron will, and schedule as a singer-performer attract the attention of a local Resistance leader, who recruits her to become a spy and entrusts her to transport encoded Allied messages. Based on interviews with the real Suzanne David (who married an American soldier in 1945 and moved to Tennessee), this taut, engrossing World War II novel instantly immerses readers in the horrors faced by everyday citizens during the Nazi Occupation. The real focus, however, is the skin-crawling suspense story about one of France's youngest spies. Each chapter brings new intrigue and often shocking revelations, made all the more intense by the facts about codes and disguises and the fast-paced, first-person narration. There aren't many accounts for young readers about the French Resistance, and from setup to conclusion, this one resonates with authenticity, excitement, and heart. The teenage hero who must keep her spying a secret, even from her parents, will thrill historical fiction fans. Roger Leslie
Copyright © American Library Association.

Our second book is Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps

If you know anything about the Nazi Holocaust, you know that it is a time that was filled with gruesome and traumatic events.  In looking for book about this side of World War II, age-appropriateness was a very high priority to me.
You can see and read some of this book on at
This book does a wonderful job of communicating the horror of Hitler's policies without becoming overly-graphic or explicit, which would overwhelm many young readers.  The personality and outlook of the main character, Jack Mandelbaum, shine through in this book.  His hopefulness and focus on the positive is clearly what carried him through this horrendous experience.

If anything, this account errs on the side of being too superficial in addressing the horrors.  But my attitude is that students have several more years of school in which to study the events of Nazi Germany in more detail.  This class is open to students 6th-8th grades, so I choose to approach the subject rather conservatively.

Jack Mandelbaum was liberated from Dornhau Concentration Camp in May 1945. He eventually traveled together to American in June 1946 and ended up living in Kansas City.  He rarely spoke about the Holocaust until 1975, when a neighbor asked him what sports he played in the concentration camp. Jack then realized that many people knew nothing of what happened in the Holocaust.

In 1993, he and Isak Federman founded the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education in Overland Park, Kansas.

Here are some reviews of the book, Surviving Hitler.

School Library Journa
Grades 5-8
Through the words and memories of Jack Mandelbaum, Warren presents a harrowing account of a Jewish boy's experience in Nazi prison camps. Mandelbaum had lived a comfortable life with his family in Gdynia, Poland, until the German invasion forced them to flee to a relative's village in 1939. Later, when the Jews were sent to concentration camps, the 12-year-old became separated from the rest of his family and wound up in the Blechhammer camp. By describing events through the boy's voice, the author does an excellent job of letting his words carry the power of the story. She avoids historical analysis, sticking to Mandelbaum's experiences, and brings readers into the nightmarish world of the concentration camp with a strong feeling of immediacy. As with many stories of great suffering, some of the minor details, such as risking death to steal a jar of marmalade, deliver the most impact. Besides the physical hardship, Warren conveys how frustrating and confusing it was for a child in such an environment. Once liberated, the young man learned the sad fate of his family and as he ironically observed, had he known his parents and siblings would not survive, he might not have struggled so hard to live himself. Black-and-white contemporary photographs illustrate the book. This story works as an introduction to the Holocaust and will also interest readers of Lila Perl's Four Perfect Pebbles (Greenwillow, 1996), Anne Frank's diary, and other works on the period.
Steven Engelfried, Deschutes County Library, Bend, OR
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist
Grades 5-10
Simply told, Warren's powerful story blends the personal testimony of Holocaust survivor Jack Mandelbaum with the history of his time, documented by stirring photos from the archives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Mandelbaum was 12 when the Nazis came to Poland in 1939. At first the thought of war was "thrilling." Then he saw his prosperous, happy home torn apart, and he spent three years as a teenager in the death camps in Germany, where he survived by a combination of courage, friendship, and luck. Warren, who never knew any Jews when she was growing up in a small Nebraska town, brings both passion and the distance of the outsider to the story. True to Mandelbaum's youthful viewpoint, she lets the story unfold slowly so readers don't know until the end what happened to Jack's mother and brother after they were separated, or whether his friends survived. The combination of Mandelbaum's experience and Warren's reporting of the whole picture makes this an excellent introduction for readers who don't know much about the history. There's only one false note. Unlike Anita Lobel's No Pretty Pictures (1998) and many other personal accounts, there's a radiant innocence here: everything "before" was blissful ("It was a lovely life"), and, even in the camps, Jack never has an ugly thought. The design is open and inviting with clear type, many photos, and an excellent multimedia bibliography. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved



The film Miracle at Moreaux, set in World War II France, is based on actual events.  It deals with a group of Christian students who have the reality of the Holocaust thrust upon them when three Jewish children appear at their boarding school.   While trying to escape from the Nazis, their adult guide has been killed.  The children have nowhere to turn.  The nun who runs the school must deal with the danger of the situation while the students must confront their own cultural prejudices towards Jews. 

Originally made for T.V., this film provides a great opportunity for students to learn more about World War II, prejudice, and decision making in the fact of peer pressure and danger.

Silent Night, a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, is also based on a true story.  In 1944, a German mother and her 12-year-old son fled their bombed-out city and moved into a hunting cabin in the Ardennes Forest.  As Allied troops advanced, a snowstom left some lost in the forest and separated from their unit. They found the cabin and demanded shelter.  Some German soldiers, also lost, came upon the cabin while the Americans were still there.  The mother, through motherly authority, determination, and a bit of trickery, keeps all of the soldiers' weapons out of her home while letting the soldiers in.  They end up celebrating Christmas Even and having Christmas dinner together.  After the snowstorm clears, but groups head out to look for their respective units.

The boy, Fritz Vincken, eventually moved to Hawaii. As an adult, he referred to that Christmas as "the night God came to dinner."