Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Woman in Berlin

Although the name of the woman who wrote this book has never been revealed, it doesn't diminish the power of her story.

Set in Berlin just as the Russians invaded the city, A Woman in Berlin is one woman's diary of the events surrounding the fall of Berlin in 1945.

Once you read the first page of this woman's story, it's nearly impossible to put down. The book was first published in the 1950's, but garnered criticism from many since the author frankly describes the rape of women, something not openly discussed in the '50's. She decreed that she didn't want it to be republished until after her death, and her request was honored.

Her description of life around her - from rushing to the basement bomb shelter as bombs scream overhead, to sitting around the living room talking with the "Ivans" - i.e. Russian soldiers - to scrambling for food - is so vivid and detailed that you almost feel as though you're reading a novel. But it is not - it is the truth - every painful, shattering shard. This woman wrote this diary while living through these events, and it is evident she used it to cope with the horrors around her.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

65th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

The Pearl Harbor Survivors Project offers you the chance to read (or view) stories by those who experienced and survived Pearl Harbor. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Take a moment to remember this day that will always "live in infamy."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

New Release: The Rising Tide

Noted historical novelist Jeff Shaara has just released his latest epic, The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II. Focusing specifically on the European Theater - including North Africa, Sicily, and Italy - The Rising Tide takes you deep into the heart of Rommel, Churchill, and Eisenhower, as well as the ordinary soldier on the battlefield.

The Rising Tide is the first in a trilogy of World War II. With Shaara's excellent track record writing historical fiction, this is his latest contribution to his ongoing legacy as one of the world's premiere novelists.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veteran's Day: Please Thank a Veteran

In the midst of the weekend activities, the sales, and the football games, don't forget who made it possible for you to enjoy all these freedoms. And make no mistake about it - they are freedoms.

Thank the veteran in your life today. Thank the veteran you see on the street. Remember those who did not return, but sacrificed their life for your freedom.

To the vets in my life: my father, my husband, my great-uncles, and all the veterans I've known throughout the years, to all the veterans I will never meet:

Thank You.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

As Time Goes By

This three-CD collection captures some of the best-loved songs of World War II. Best of all, they are done by the original artists.

With such hits as Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy by the Andrews Sisters, and Sentimental Journey the the Les Brown Orchestra, you'll be swept away to the 1940's. Don't miss this collection!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Swing Shift

Starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Swing Shift is a fun, light-hearted look at the American homefront during World War II. Goldie plays Kay, a sailor's wife who goes to work at an airplane factory in California. Along with her friends Hazel and Lucky (Kurt Russell), she begins to find there's a whole lot more to life than being a housewife.

The strongest point of this film, besides the wonderful costumes and well-acted roles, is the focus on discrimination of women in the workplace. Even though the government urged women to go to work in the factories, they faced criticism, sexual harrassment, and rudeness on the job from other men. Worse, they were forced to quit their jobs when the war was over and told to go back home where they belonged - as housewives and mothers.

At the heart of this movie, though, is also the way war plays on human emotions. Affairs were not uncommon on the homefront between married women and single men, just as they were not uncommon for men overseas with foreign women. Kay must take a good look at what she wants out of life when her husband, Jack (Ed O'Neill) finds out she's having an affair with Lucky. Will she choose Lucky, the happy-go-lucky trumpet player or Jack, her faithful and brave husband? The answer just might surprise you.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Charlotte Gray: The Movie

Starring Cate Blanchett and Billy Crudup, Charlotte Gray is based on the novel by the same name by Sebastian Faulks. Unfortunately, I tried to read the novel and didn't have much success. I found the writing stilted and the character motivations a little unbelievable.

Fortunately, the movie was none of these things. And in poking around the novel a bit further, the movie deviated from it quite a bit. But isn't that always the case? Hollywood likes to chop the pieces of the book that they like the most and form it into something much more Hollywood-ish. But in this case, I can honestly say that I liked the movie much better than the book.

En route to London, Charlotte Gray is approached by Richard Cannerly who believes her French-speaking skills and time spent in France would be a great asset for Britain. Charlotte mulls over his proposition. At a party, she meets Peter Gregory, an RAF pilot. The two fall madly in love. While Peter is away, Charlotte decides to train to become a courier in France. It is while she is in the midst of training that she learns of Peter's plane going down in France. She immediately volunteers to go on a mission into Vichy France, thinking that she might have an opportunity to rescue him.

But nothing goes right when she arrives. Her contact is arrested almost immediately and Charlotte is forced to seek help with the local Resistance fighter, Julian. Before long, she finds herself caught up in the Resistance and taking care of two Jewish boys whose parents have already been deported.

Perhaps Charlotte Gray is more Hollywood than history, but in this case, it manages to bring out a few issues pertaining to Vichy France. A scene in particular struck me. A Vichy French official said that the highest form of patriotism was collaboration. Definitely a quote to ponder.

Even though this didn't garner much attention when it was released, I certainly think Charlotte Gray is worthy of a place in your DVD collection.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Good German

When is it justice and when it is vengeance? Joseph Kanon tackles this moral question in his stunning novel, The Good German.

Set in postwar Berlin, Jake Geismar is a newspaper reporter who returns to Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference and to find the German woman he left behind. But while he searches for her, he stumbles upon the dead body of an American soldier that just happens to surface during the Potsdam Conference. Geismar smells a rat and begins making enquiries, eventually leading him to a traitorous mix of Russians, Americans, and Germans.

Kanon briliantly examines the question of justice in this book - from those who committed war crimes and to those who stood by and did nothing. Are they just as guilty? And how much should a people be punished before it turns into nothing more than cold-blooded revenge? Kanon leave the answer up to you.

A fast-paced read and brimming with details of post-war Berlin, The Good German is a must for any World War II enthusiast.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Berlin Diaires: 1940-1945 by Marie Vassiltchikov

I'm only a quarter into reading this book, but already it's captured my attention. Marie Vassiltchikov was a White Russian princess living in Germany during World War II. Most notably, she worked in the German Foreign Office from 1940 to 1944.

Her diary entries are informal, yet able to capture a moment in time that the war destroyed forever. From the endless rounds of parties to bombing raids and late nights at work, Marie or "Missie" as she was more well known, shares a little-known part of German history. We come to know her family, her friends, and her co-workers. A keen observer, Missie documented much of what went on around her in the context of what was happening in the war. This gives us a perceptive and startling glimpse into the everyday lives of those living in Berlin. As the war stretches through the years, so, too, do Missie's diary entries become lengthier, as if trying to fully understand the devastation of Hitler's mad ambition.

Highly readable and entertaining, Berlin Diaires: 1940-1945 will be a welcome addition to any World War II collection.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Black Cross by Greg Iles

If you want to read a book that will keep you up until all hours of the night because you cannot wait to see what happens next, then pick up a copy of Greg Iles' World War II thriller Black Cross.

The Nazis are creating a deadly nerve gas in a concentration camp that might possibly be used on the Allies at D-Day. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill asks Dr. Mac McConnell and a Zionist named Jonas Stern to execute a daring plan to convince the Germans that the Allies also have the deadly gas.

Tightly written and full of fascinating history and facts, Black Cross is one of those books you'll remember long after you've finished it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Memphis Belle

I guess you could say that the movie Memphis Belle started my fascination with World War II. Released in 1990, it had an all-star cast including Matthew Modine, D.B. Sweeney, Eric Stoltz, Harry Connick Jr., Sean Astin, and the relatively unknown Billy Zane.

Inspired by the real-life Memphis Belle airplane, this movie portrays the 25th and final mission of the Memphis Belle crew when they flew over Bremen, Germany. Although the special affects are a bit lacking in places, the actors' performances are superb, portraying the gritty realism of ordinary airmen in the midst of war.

This is an excellent movie on every level. Highly recommended!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Roosevelt's Secret War

Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage by Joseph E. Persico.

This New York Times bestseller has it all - secret meetings, late night chats, spies, traitors, presidents, and prime ministers. Persico argues that "no American president was better suited for secret warfare than FDR."* Did FDR know about the bombing of Pearl Harbor before it happened? Persico addresses this question- and the answer may surprise you.

"Explores—with judicious historical zest and a fine eye for detail—the hallucinatory world of snooping, concealments, betrayals and confidence games played for world-history stakes."—Time

*From the back cover of the book.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Band of Brothers

If you haven't had a chance to catch this ten-part HBO miniseries on the Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, U.S. 101st Airborne Division, get thee to a video store. (Or wait for it to come on the History Channel again.)

Beginning with the company's training and their participation in D-Day to the end of the war, Band of Brothers is wonderfully acted. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, it is a hauntingly vivid portrait of the true face of war.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Remember D-Day

Take a close look at this picture. Put yourself in the photographer's shoes. You look out of the troop transport vehicle and see hundreds of your comrades wading through the water, en route to the beach. Shells burst overhead. Guns fire. Men are screaming. Yelling. Dying. It's hell on earth. And you're right in the midst of it.

Today is the anniversary of the Normandy Invasion - D-Day, June 6, 1944. Sixty-two years ago, the Allies lost many brave men.
Remember those men today, and remember the sacrifice they made.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Guns of Navarone

Based on Alistair MacLean's novel of the same name, The Guns of Navarone is a thrilling adventure that was nominated for 7 Oscars, including Best Picture.

Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and David Niven are members of a special team recruited to take out the guns on the German-occupied Greek island of Navarone to save over 2,000 British soldiers stranded on the nearby Kiros. If the guns are not taken out, naval destroyers will be blown to bits in their rescue attempts.

Peck does a wonderful job portraying a leader who never hesitates to make the decision that will most benefit the mission, often putting him at odds with David Niven's Cpl. Miller. Anthony Quinn plays an embittered, determined Greek avenging the death of his family.

An excellent World War II movie, splendidly portraying the human side of war.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

Remember those who fought...

Remember those who died...

Freedom is not free.

Dedicated to all the brave men and women of our armed forces, both past and present. Thank you for your sacrifice, for your courage, and for your bravery.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's World War II Weekend

If you're around Reading, Pennsylvania, the weekend of June 2-4, 2006, make sure you catch the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's World War II Weekend!

Entertainers, special guests, vendors, airshows, and much more are part of this event, which is in its 16th year. I've never been there before, but it looks like a fabulous time!

Check out their website to learn more - and look for me there next year!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Perilous Fight: World War II in Color

Even though I was exhausted last night, I stayed up to watch Pacific War: They Filmed the War in Color on PBS. I had a late morning today, but it was worth it. World War II in color somehow makes it all seem more "real" than in black and white.

I had never before seen pictures of the battles of Okinawa or Midway. Watching the kamikaze's diving into aircraft carriers was a sobering sight. But I think the scene that got to me the most was of the stacks and stacks of helmuts sitting on some beach in the Pacific - helmuts that belonged to dead U.S. soldiers.

In my studies, I've tended to focus on the European theater. Nazism and Germany are two of the main topics I handled in graduate school, but I did happen to take a History of Japan class, as well. It was very eye-opening and helped me to understand, if just a little, why the Japanese were so difficult to defeat and felt that there was honor in suicide missions.

But I have a new admiration for the U.S. Marines. They fought not only the Japanese, but malaria, heat, humidity, bugs, rain, and loneliness. Guerilla warfare was a different kind of war - and fighting an enemy that refused to surrender no matter how bad their position was only intensified the marines' experience. I remember listening to a veteran who was a marine in the Pacific recounting his experiences. He wept when he said, "It was not for a marine to question why - it was for us to do or die." That memory has stuck with me for years, and I doubt it will ever lose its power.

Tonight there is a different series on - The Perilous Fight: America's World War II in Color. Check your local PBS stations for the time.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Devil's Brigade

On a whim, I bought this movie over the weekend. I rarely buy a movie on DVD that I haven't viewed before, but this one looked good enough to take a risk. And I was right.

Loosely based on the real Devil's Brigade officially activated in July of 1942 as a joint U.S. - Canadian effort- the First Special Service Force - The Devil's Brigade is the story of how the Americans and Canadians put aside their differences to become one of the most legendary commando units of World War II.

While the movie is not entirely historically accurate - for example, the U.S. forces were not made up of "jailbirds" and "misfits" as portrayed in the movie - it does portray the determination and dedication of this special fighting force, especially the camraderie between the Canadians and Americans.

William Holden does a terrific job as Lt. Colonel Robert T. Frederick. There are also some terrific performances by character actor Robert Jaeckel and Claude Akins.

Great battle sequences and interactions between the men, but if you're looking for a historically accurate portrayal of the real Devil's Brigade, this doesn't quite fit the bill. But it's entertaining, nevertheless, and worth watching.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Entertaining the Troops! (Or in this case, the POWs!)

This picture was taken at the German POW camp in Fort Robinson, Nebraska, during World War II. The men pictured are POWs who participated in the theater troupe Varista - a contraction of the words Variete im Stacheldraht, or Variety in Barbed Wire. Some of the members had been performing artists back in pre-war Germany, such as Willi Schwind, who had been a trapeze artist, comedian, and professional clown. The hall where Varista performed (shown above) was relatively small, necessitating that the troupe give eighteen performances of the same show in order that all the POWs could attend.

These productions were also shown to the American personnel and even to civilians. One of the most notable productions the troupe performed was the opera Fledermaus. Pictures survive of the variety shows at Fort Robinson, including one with jugglers and costumed POWs. Varista also had a regular segment in the camp newspaper.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sisterhood of Spies

Before Julia Child became a world-famous chef, she worked for the OSS - the Office of Strategic Services - during World War II. Surprised? You shouldn't be.

Intelligence gathering during World War II wasn't just limited to men. Women played a vital role. Whether they were in the office, typing reports and decoding codes or out in the field, risking their lives as undercover agents, women filled a vital link in intelligence operations.

Elizabeth McIntosh's Sisterhood of Spies is a compelling account of these women, including McIntosh herself, that is brimming with details about the OSS. With pictures, first-hand accounts, and little-known facts, Sisterhood of Spies is a brilliant examination of how women bravely met the challenges of war.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Music: Swing Kids soundtrack

If you've never had a chance to watch this powerful film, I highly recommend it. Focusing on 1930s Germany and the Hitler Youth, Swing Kids delivers a powerful view of resistance through music. To read a review of the movie, click here.

The big band "swing" movement exploded in America, but it also made it overseas to the youth of Germany. And they loved it. Many of them grew out their hair, wore their clothes baggy and unkept, and at night, they went and danced.

The soundtrack for this movie is phenomenal. It accurately portrays the mood of the era with fast-paced swing music, guaranteed to put you in the dancing mood. Bill Banks' "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Aint' Got that Swing)" and Benny Goodman's "Swingtime in the Rockies" are only a few of the toe-tapping tunes included. But the soundtrack also includes orchestral sections that delve into the dramatic portions of the movie.

The film delivers a little known slice of pre-World War II history, when Germany stood on the brink of unleashing the worst war the world has ever known. But the soundtrack puts you smack in the middle of that history.

If you're looking for some great WWII era music, the soundtrack to Swing Kids will definitely put you "In the Mood"!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

POWs in Nebraska

It may be hard to believe, but thousands of German prisoners of war were interred on U.S. soil beginning in 1943.

Nearly every state in the United States had a POW camp. Camps were hastily built within a matter of months to prepare for the vast influx of German soldiers, most of them from Rommels' Afrika Korps in Northern Africa.

In Fort Robinson, Nebraska, located in the upper northwest corner of the state, German POWs arrived in June of 1943. They stayed until the camp closed in 1946.
For my MA thesis, I focused on the intellectual diversion program implemented by the Office of the War Department. The War Department wished to "re-educate" the German soldiers in democracy.

Although the success of this program has never been fully known, it is entirely possible that it was not a failure. Germany today has moved far beyond the Nazis rhetoric of the 1930's and 1940's. Is it possible that German POW's found a voice when they returned to their country? Further studies need to be done, but sadly, the opportunity to do such studies is slipping away. As the World War II generation disappears, it becomes even more difficult to discover answers to the past.

For more photos of the German POW camp at Fort Robinson, click here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The World War II Lecture Institute Website

The World War II Lecture Institute's mission is to preserve the legacy of World War II veterans by recording their stories.

This website contains a comprehensive collection of oral histories and narratives from those who experienced World War II.

If you're near Abington, Doylestown or Hershey, Pennsylvania, you can atend the lecture series and hear veterans and others share their stories.

If you know a veteran, ask them their story. Preserve it for future generations. Become a part of the Veterans History Project!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Blood Moon Over Britain

I'm excited to see that the romance genre is taking a chance on books set during World War II, especially since I have developed my own World War II romantic suspense series.

Blood Moon Over Britain is an amazing, fast-paced tale of two lovers caught in the midst of an international spy ring. The period language and descrption is well done, and the suspense is quite believable.

I'm a bit short of time, but wanted to post something, so if you'd like to read a review of this novel, go here: