Books for European History 1900-1945

Query From Ginger S. Frost 04 May 1998

I am now immersed in ordering books for the Fall 1998 semester. I am teaching, for the first time, a class called "Europe in Two World Wars, 1900-45." I would like to include some works by and about women in the class, of course, but these must be (1)fairly short (not over 300 pages); (2) in print in English in paperback.

My preliminary attempts to find such works have been frustrating. Louise Bryant's account _Six Red Months in Moscow_ is in print only in hardback. Maria Botchkareva's memoir of her time in the Women's Battalion of Death is not in print. Vera Brittain's _Testament of Youth_ is available, but is 672 pp. long. [I do not object to making students read alot of pages, but I would rather these be a large variety of books than fewer long ones.]

So, here is my request to the list:
(1) What works *by* women (which meet the criteria) do you use in similar classes? What would you recommend? Are there women's accounts of the European depression, e.g., that match those of George Orwell for England or Hans Fallada for Germany? Or of the Spanish Civil War? Of the Popular Front? Of Italian Facisim? Of World War II/Holocaust?

(2) What historical accounts of women during that time work the best with undergraduates? What works would list members consider essential in such a class?

Keep in mind this is a junior/senior level class (no grad students) and is purely European history. Please no U.S. history--there is a separate class for that. Thanks in advance.


05 May 1998

I have a few suggestions for you. I warn you in advance that my selection is skewed towards my specialty, German history.

The best fit for your criteria that I can think of off the top of my head is:

Maria Sophia Quine, Population Politics in Twentieth-Century Europe (London and New York: Routledge, 1996) 152 pp. ISBN: 0-415-08069-X. Call Number: HB 3599 Q46

Quine's book has the great advantage of being brief enough for an undergraduate class (it was certainly written for this audience), but comprehensive enough to provide a good comparative perspective (she covers France, Germany and Italy in separate chapters). The subject of population politics is extremely important for women's history in Europe as it centres on reproductive policies and related ideologies. I believe that Quine is a specialist in Italian history, but I was impressed with her balanced presentation of the German case. (My dissertation deals with population politics in Germany.) The book is certainly in print -- I just ordered it for a course on European Gender History.

There are also many appropriate books by women about women in Germany. On the Holocaust: I'm sure at least one of Lucy Dawidowicz's books are in print. I don't believe that she focuses on women (though her memoir might be worth looking at) but her books meet your other criteria. More on topic, though a little long, would be

Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Woman, the Family, and Nazi Politics (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981) ISBN: 0-312-02256-5 (00023195) Call number: HQ 1623 K66 1987

This is a very frequently used and useful book about which much could be said. If it is too long for your purposes, you might consider Koonz's condensations of her argument in the following (both of which are in print):

Claudia Koonz, "The Fascist Solution to the Woman Question in Italy and Germany," in Becoming Visible: Women in European History, eds. Renate Bridenthal, Claudia Koonz, and Susan Stuard (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), pp. 499-533

Claudia Koonz, "Mothers in the Fatherland," in The Nazi Revolution: Hitler's Dictatorship and the German Nation, ed. Allan Mitchell (Lexington, Mass: D.C. Heath, 1990) only a few pages

Finally, if you have some time to spend on Nazism and would like to include an oral history perspective, you might consider using some or all of:

Alison Owings, Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich. 2nd ed. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1993) 494 pp. ISBN: 0-14-023733-X Call Number: D 811.5 O885 1993

Owings is a journalist. The book contains her accounts of interviews with a range of women who lived through fascism in Germany: from "normal" women relating their everyday life experiences, to the wife of a prominent resister and a female concentration camp guard. Each story is emotionally powerful and provides much fuel for discussion.

I hope this is helpful!
Annette F. Timm
PhD Candidate, Dept. of History, University of Chicago Sessional Instructor, Dept. of History, University of British Columbia

Try Virginia Woolf's Three Guineas for a work by a woman between the wars.Deals with feminism and fascism, is short, and in paper. Jenny Lloyd
SUNY College at Brockport

Some suggestions for texts by and about women for Europe in Two World Wars:

Irene Rathbone's _We That Were Young_ and Helen Zenna Smith's _Not So Quiet . . . Stepdaughters of War_ are both novels about British women in WWI published in the 1930s and relatively recently reissued by Feminist Press and Virago - the Rathbone is over 300 but much shorter than Vera Brittain; both are also at least as much texts about the interwar period, when they were written, as about the war years themselves.

Rebecca West's novel _The Return of the Soldier_ (1918) deals gender and class in wartime England.

if you are interested in poetry, women's poetry of war has been anthologized (though, unfortunately, usually separately from men's) - Catherine Reilly has done both _Scars upon my heart: Women's poetry and verse of the first world war_ and a similar book for WWII, I think called _Chaos of the Night_.

Virginia Woolf is of course always a good choice - _Three Guineas_, _A Room of One's Own_, or _Mrs. Dalloway_, for example.

Olive Schreiner's _Woman and Labour_ (1911) might be interesting as well - not about the wars, obviously - but very much about the position of women in early 20th century society.

You might also want to take a look at some of Elizabeth Bowen's novels about Britain in WWII.

As for secondary literature, I think that is more complicated - there is quite a bit, but much of it may be too specific for the scope of your course, and much of it may also be too sophisticated for undergraduates. You might want to take a look at some of the essays in Higonnet, et al., Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars (Yale, 1987); Cooke and Woollacott, Gendering War Talk (Princeton, 1993); and the new (1998) Melman, _Borderlines: Genders and Identities in War and Peace. This are obviously skewed toward Britain and WWI, as that is what I know best - hope it helps.

Janet Watson
Dept of History
Univ. of Connecticut
241 Glenbrook Rd
Storrs, CT 06269
860-486-2360, 486-3722
fax: 860-486-0641

Two paperbacks that you might take a look at are Emilie Carles' wonderful _A Life of Her Own_ (Penguin), and Bonnie Smith's _Confessions of a Concierge_ (Yale). There are also deBeauvoir's memoirs, and many French women have left memoirs of varying importance.

Your msg suggests you seek only primary sources: if you are also looking for secondary sources on how the wars impacted women, gender, etc, please let me know....

For example, Lou (Mary Louise) Roberts Civilization Without Sexes is a great read. Jay Winter, _Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning_.... there is an awful lot being produced on this period right now....

Bud Burkhard
Morgan State U

  1. There is a terrific WWI reader with home front and women's coverage, called *World War I and European Society: A Sourcebook* eds. Coetzee and Shevin-Coetzee.
  2. There is a SHORT book I believe still in Penguin paperback called *Mischling Second Degree* by Ilse Koehn that is a girl's experience in Nazi Germany.
  3. A bit longer is Marianne MacKinnon, who grew up under Nazism at first accepting it, but I don't have the title handy. Carole Adams <>)

Have you looked at the book: _Wartime women : An Anthology of women's Wartime Writing for Mass-Observation, 1937-45_? It was edited by Dorothy Sheridan and published in 1990 by Heinemann. It is available in paperback. It tells the story of women in Great Britain during World War II through journals kept by the women during the period for a government-sponsored project.

Jill Hanson
Historian, National Park Service

I think Kollontai's short story about the worker bee is fantastic, but I don't think it's in print. Anna Akhmatova's poetry should be included too -- Requiem. For WWI, I have taught Helen Zinnia Smith's Not So Quiet (Feminist Press) which is very powerful; Gerda Klein's memoir All But My Life, and Mine Okubo's memoir of Japanese American internment Citizen 13660. Mary Lee Settle's All the Brave Promises is really powerful, and I think there are terrific excerpts from Stein, Wars I Have Seen. Martha Gellhorn, any novel of WWII.

Kay Boyle's short story "Defeat" is fantastic, as if Dorothy Parker's "Lovely Leave." re Spain: Muriel Rukeyser's poetry including "Mediterranean", Dorothy Parker's short story "Soldiers of the Republic." These are some suggestions, and there is Klein's 1977 collection Beyond the Home Front (NYU) which contains women's autobiographical writing -- don't know if it's in paper.

Some ideas on women in war:

Winter, J.M. "Catastrophe and Culture: Recent Trends in the Historiography of the First World War." Journal of Modern History 64 (Sept. 1992): 525-32.

A good starting point, perhaps, in that Winter discusses the incorporation of gender into WWI studies. One often cited book that he mentions is

Margaret Higgonet, et al. _Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars_. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1987.

I haven't looked at it myself but it may be usable. Another book I am familiar with and that was not translated when Winter wrote his piece is

Daniel, Ute. _The War From Within: German Working-Class Women in the First World War_. Translated by Margaret Ries. New York: Berg, 1997.

Daniel's argument is pretty important to work on WWI in Germany in that she counters the notion that the war experience ultimately improved working women's roles. I read this in a mixed grad/undergrad class on Germany. It worked OK, but I found (as a grad student) the translation difficult to understand.

Another idea about Germany in WWII may be Alison Owings' _Frauen_. (I don't have the cite on this one.) She interviewed several German women

Tania M. Di Lisi
American University
Washington, DC

In response to Ginger Frost's question about paperbacks by women, the following are my favorites for the Second World War:

  1. Joyce Storey, Joyce's War 1939-1945 (Virago 1992);
  2. Mary Lee Settle, All The Brave Promises (Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1995).

Joyce's War deals with the experiences of a married working-class British woman during the war and my students liked it.

All The Brave Promises is actually the memoir of an American born woman who was in the Royal Air Force's women's auxiliary in the Second World War. It is funny in places, good on class distinctions [between women as well as men], very well written, and useful if you wish to focus on the way the war threatened to change gender roles - i.e., women in the military.

Hal Smith
University of Houston-Victoria

I would like to suggest "The Past is Myself," Christabel Bielenberg. It is the autobiography of an upper-class English woman who was married to a German during WWII. It's a personal account of life in Nazi Germany. I believe there was a PBS serialization of the book. I'm sorry, I do not know if it is out-of-print.

There are so many excellent memoirs by women Holocaust survivors. Might I suggest "From Ashes to Life" Mercury House. 1994 by Lucille Eichengreen. She has participated in our annual Holocaust Lecture Series and the book is very well-written.

Myrna Goodman
Director, Holocaust Study Center
Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park, Ca 94928

Outwitting the Gestapo by Lucie Aubrac is a great book, but I don't know if it's in paperback. (trans. Konrad Bieber, Uni. of Nebraska Press,1985)

Gael Graham
History Dep't
Western Carolina University

From Irene Guenther 06 May 1998

I just taught a 400 level undergraduate course on Women, World War II and the Home Front: we covered Italy, France (Vichy), Germany, and the Concentration Camps. The students were always asked after each section what they felt worked best (I combined scholarly essays with autobiographical writings so that they could get a sense of each). For France, I assigned Code Name Christiane Clouet (by Claire Chevrillon) and it worked better than Aubrac's Outwitting the Gestapo (which I used last year). For Germany, Christabel Bielenberg's memoirs have worked well, but this year I used Berlin Diaries, 1940-1945, by Marie Vassiltchikov (many of her friends were involved in the July 20th affair). The students got much from this book, and the footnotes are very informative and helpful. For Italy, I assigned War in Val D'Orcia, an Italian War Diary 1943-1944, by Iris Origo. It's the best autobiographical book by a woman in wartime Italy that I've come across (that is readily available through David Godine Publishers in Boston). For the concentration camp section, you should certainly assign Sybil Milton's essay, "Women and the Holocaust: The Case of German and German-Jewish Women," in When Biology Became Destiny. For the autobiographical assignment, the class read Gerda Weissmann Klein's All But My Life. There are others, equally moving and filled with information, but not readily available in paperback.

The debate surrounding German women in the Third Reich is heated and long-standing. To get a sense of the Koonz vs. Gisela Bock controversy, you could assign "Victims or Perpetrators? Controversies about the Role of Women in the Nazi State" by Adelheid von Saldern in David Crew, ed., Nazism and German Society, 1933-1945. For many small autobiographical essays, an anthology just came out in paperback entitled Beyond the Home Front (it has WWI and WWII periods covered).

By the way, all of the books mentioned above are in paperback and fairly inexpensive. Just as important, all of the books mentioned above received high marks of approval from three separate classes of students.

From O. Sarti 06 May 1998

Although the book does not pertain to the wars, per say, it is highly applicable to the time period you will be covering. It is a woman's account of life under the Stalinist terror. It is written by a woman. The title of the book is _Journey into the Whirlwind_ by Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg. It is 416 pages long but reads pretty easily.

If you are assessing a book on the Holocaust as well, you might be able to generate some good discussions comparing life in the various camps in Europe.

From Lee Whitfield stephen whitfield 08 May 1998

Aleksandra Kollantai's _Love of Worker Bees_ and Marguerite Duras' _The War_ from the French "La Douleur" have worked really well in a course I teach on 20th c. Europe. I have the students read Paxton's _Vichy France: Old Guard, New Order_ together with Duras and it works well. There are a number of excellent primary documents to use along with these materials. The films, "Une Affair de Femme" and "Au Revoir les enfants," students find quite troubling and therefore a great provocation device for discussion.

[P.S.]...I forgot to include Lucie Aubrac's _Outwitting the Gestapo_ that includes a thoughtful into. by Margaret Collins Weitz. A personal memoir, this is likely to appeal to students with its account of day to day life under the occupation. The other fictional account that i hope to use in the future would be selections from Ursula Hegge's _Stones From the River,_ a tale revealing the evolution of the grip of Nazism on the daily lives of a small German village.

>From Connie Wawruck-Hemmett 07 May 1998

One book that I think might be very useful is....

_A Revolution of Their Own: Voices of Women in Soviet History_, ed. Barbara Alpern Engel and Anastasia Posadskaya-Vanderbeck. Westview, 1998.

Eight women's stories, based on interviews; particularly focused on the inter-war period. The format is question/answer, which might or might not be to one's liking; all in all, however, I think this would be an excellent addition to any European women's history course.

Also, there is a book written by a man (a journalist), but also based on interviews with women.....

Bruce Myles. _Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia's Women Pilots in World War II._ Academy Chicago, 1990.

While I'm not overly fond of the style of this one--there is a little too much "Vera said....," "Nadia told me....," etc.-- but there is no doubt that Myles does manage for the most part to retain the women's "voices" by using this technique. I think it would really grip the imagination of most students, as it has mine :-)

As for Ginsburg's _Whirlwind....._, it is absolutely excellent, but very lengthy. Raisa Orlova's _Memoirs_ is not quite so long, but might still be longer than what you want.

From Yvonne Klein 07 May 1998

I posted this earlier, but it hasn't yet shown up; apologies if it does later.
The book mentioned by Irene Guenther, Beyond the Home Front: Women's Autobiographical Writing of the 2 World Wars is mine and was published by Macmillan (UK) and NYU.
I have used with success Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz & After, and can also suggest Triolet, A Fine of Two Hundred Francs; Christa Wolf, A Model Childhood; Marguerite Duras: The War: A memoir. I am not sure if Rathbone's novel We That Were Young is still in print in paper, but that worked very well for home front Britain.

Yvonne M. Klein
English Department, Dawson College
3040 Sherbrooke St W. Que. H3Z 1A6

From Christa Knebel 07 May 1998

I remember reading a book, possibly in journal/diary form, written by a White Russian woman who worked in Berlin during WWII who, as time progressed, became less and less enchanted by the Nazi regime. This was about 9 years ago when I had just finished college so I don't recall the title but I remember being fascinated by it. Does anybody remember the title?

From Reina Pennington RPennington@InfoAve.Net 11 May 1998

At 12:14 AM -0400 5/8/98, Connie Wawruck-Hemmett <> wrote:
>In answer to Ginger's request . . .
>Also, there is a book written by a man (a journalist), but also based on >interviews with women.....
>Bruce Myles. _Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia's Women Pilots >in World War II._ Academy Chicago, 1990.

DO NOT rely on the Bruce Myles book for anything more than entertainment value. I've interviewed many of the same women and spent seven years researching this topic. Myles is full of errors; he mixed up stories with the wrong names, and other parts of the book seem to be sheer invention. He caught the color of the stories, but unfortunately, not the facts.

The best published substitute is Anne Noggle's book: Noggle, Anne. A DANCE WITH DEATH: SOVIET AIRWOMEN IN WORLD WAR II. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1994. (interviews with veterans)

Another excellent source with many interviews is this one:

Alexiyevich, Svetlana. _War's Unwomanly Face_. [U voiny -- ne zhenskoe litso ...] Trans. Keith Hammond and Lyudmila Lezhneva. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1988.

Other good sources in English on Soviet women in the war:

Cottam, K. Jean. SOVIET AIRWOMEN IN COMBAT IN WORLD WAR II. Manhattan, Kansas: Sunflower University Press, 1983.

Cottam, K. Jean, Ed. IN THE SKY ABOVE THE FRONT: A COLLECTION OF MEMOIRS OF SOVIET AIR WOMEN PARTICIPANTS IN THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR. Manhattan, Kansas: Sunflower University Press, 1984. (translation of a collection of Soviet memoirs)

Pennington, Reina. "WINGS, WOMEN AND WAR: SOVIET WOMEN'S MILITARY AVIATION REGIMENTS IN THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR." Master's thesis. University of South Carolina, 1993 (you can get this from Interlibrary Loan; it's also been accepted for publication by University Press of Kansas but won't be out until 1999)

MILITARY WOMEN WORLDWIDE: A BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY, Reina Pennington, editor; Robin Higham, advisory editor. Greenwood Press (in progress, 1999).

Smirnova-Medvedeva, Z. M. _On the Road to Stalingrad: Memoirs of a Woman Machine Gunner_. Trans. Kazimiera J. Cottam. Nepean, Ontario: New Military Publishing, 1997.

Cottam is in the process of reprinting some of her stuff; you can contact her at:

New Military Publishing
83-21 Midland Crescent
Nepean, ON K2H 8P6 Canada

From Carole Gallucci 11 May 1998

In response to the query of books for Europe, you may also consult the anthology Mothers of Invention: Women, Italian Fascism, and Culture, edited by Robin Pickering-Iazzi (Minnesota, 1995) for compelling analyses of literature, film and the arts produced by Italian women during Fascism (1922-43).

From Connie Wawruck-Hemmett 11 May 1998

Once more I am struck by the very real benefits of being on a list such as this one. Thanks so much to Reina for pointing out the problems with Myles book, and for suggesting alternatives.

And while I'm at it, may I ask for comments on another book which has caught my interest?

Faye Schulman's _A Partisan's Memoir: Woman of the Holocaust_ I am considering it for a Holocaust history syllabus that I have put together.

From Ginger S. Frost 11 May 1998

Thank you to all the people who have given careful and intelligent suggestions for my class on 20th century Europe both on the list and off. I now have the pleasant problem of picking between several good choices during most of the time period.

Some of you asked if I wanted secondary works; I obviously didn't make this clear in my post and I apologize. I did want both primary and secondary works, but please don't feel obligated to write again. On the other hand, I'll still be thrilled to get any and all advice about teaching this period (even books about men!).