Local historian Kathy Atwood used to watch the British documentary series World at War with her father during the 1970s. “He was a B-26 Bombadier tailgunner with U.S. Army Air Corps in Europe,” she explained.
“I think he spent the rest of his adult life trying to wrap his brain around the fact that he’d been part of a struggle between good and evil that had literally reached global proportions.”Ê
But it was another ’70s film, The Hiding Place, about Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch woman who hid Jews in her home that made Forest Parker Atwood identify with how ordinary people experienced wartime. It touched a personal nerve with her, partly because of her Dutch ancestry.
“[Ten Boom’s] story left a permanent question for me: What kind of character would you need to stand up to a repressive regime, where disobeying the smallest law can lead to being shot dead?” she asked.
Ten Boom and 25 other women of the World War II resistance are featured in Atwood’s first book, Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue, published by Chicago Review Press. The book, written for young adults – but accessible to anyone – is the story of ordinary women in extraordinary times.
These women, like Special Operations Executive spy and resistance heroine Pearl Witherington, took advantage of their ability to move more freely than men in Nazi-occupied France. Some, like Countess Maria Van Moltzen eavesdropped at evening parties with Nazi commanders. “Of course I left out thousands of other women who were part of the Resistance. Their stories will never be known,” said Atwood.
Atwood worked hard to acquire photos of every heroine she wrote about, contacting families and museums, which she described as “an electrifyingly exciting experience, a history geek’s heaven, a living connection to history,” in her blog.
The American Library Association just put Atwood’s book on the “Amelia Bloomer List” of recommended titles for inspiring books for and about women, named after Amelia Earhardt. The first hardcover run sold out within a year, and a second printing is being published, which will be followed by a paperback.
Atwood presented the book in March at Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park, where copies are available.
It’s Atwood’s first book but already she’s got two others in the works. The first is a translation from French and transcription of Pearl Witherington’s memoir, Pauline, which Atwood said she first read with the help of her Francophone husband John. The second is a book of heroic women during WWI.
“I learned so much writing the book,” she said. The experience has propelled her into a possible career as a working historian.
“The past was once someone’s living, breathing present, in vibrant color,” she writes in her blog.
As she uncovers their stories, she tries to answer that permanent question brought up by a film long ago, examining women whose lives were filled with “hopes and fears, convictions, and choices.”