One of the books I read this week was Hitler Youth, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Chronicling the story of several teenagers who became part of the Hitler Youth Party, this informational book gave a very factual account of the people who chose to join the Nazi Party and why. One of the questions that young people (or anyone, for that matter) asks when learning about Hitler’s rise to power and the extermination of so many people is “Why?” This book, while certainly not sympathetic to the Nazi Party, does give a sense of some of the reasons for German people’s willingness to embrace this terrible ideology. There are photos of healthy looking teenage girls throwing javelins at Hitler youth camps, groups of kindergarten girls with floral wreaths raising their hands in the Heil Hitler salute along with their sweet looking teachers and young boys tromping through the meadows looking for all intents and purposes like clean cut Boy Scouts who just happen to be waving flags with swastikas. Sections of the book in which some of these former Hitler youth are interviewed are very illuminating. One man explained that the Hitler youth rallies were very mindless and didn’t allow for a person to have his own thoughts (110). Another man recounts that he truly believed the teaching that the war was “… a necessary cleaning process for the human race” (73). Photographs and maps help to give a context to these stories that are difficult to wrap our minds around. The tone of the book was not judgmental, but factual, leaving it to the reader to come up with their own opinions, which is the goal of informational literature.
This book was of course troubling. Being on the other side of WWII and realizing the horror and insanity that marked Hitler’s regime makes viewing some of these photos like watching a car accident. Seeing these young people, many of them who seem to be just regular children who were caught up in something that was far beyond their capability of understanding. The photos of some of the ‘wholesome’ and ‘fun’ activities in which Hitler Youth participated gave a context as to why young people joined this group by the thousands. I was left with a feeling of greater understanding as to why young Germans felt that joining this party was the correct choice while also feeling incredibly sad to see the faces of these people who probably went through the rest of their lives with unbearable feelings of remorse.
I would use this book as part of a display for Holocaust Remembrance Week. The content is too upsetting and controversial to be a part of a reading group, and the book relies so much on the photos that this book is best read by oneself with plenty of space and time to process the text and images.
Bartoletti, Susan Campbell (2005) Hitler Youth. New York, Scholastic.
Bartoletti (Kids on Strike!) offers a unique and riveting perspective on WWII by focusing on the young people who followed Hitler from 1933-1945. The narrative primarily focuses on members of the Hitler Youth, but also profiles some of the group’s dissidents and its Jewish targets. Hitler began his quest for dominance with young people, recognizing them as “a powerful political force” and claiming, “With them I can make a new world.” Bartoletti describes how the propaganda of the Hitler Youth attracted children: “The overnight camping trips, campfires, and parades sounded like a great deal of fun,” said one 12-year-old. But the organization also emphasized loyalty to the Third Reich above all (including family-one eight-year-old, Elisabeth Vetter, turned in her parents to the Nazis). The author personalizes the war by placing identifiable individuals at the center of the events, such as Sophie Scholl, who moved away from Nazi ideas as a teen and in college joined the “White Rose” group that published pamphlets detailing Nazi evils and urging resistance-a crime for which she and others were executed. Powerful black-and-white photographs testify to the lure and also the cruelty of the Nazis. Bartoletti’s portrait of individuals within the Hitler Youth who failed to realize that they served “a mass murderer” is convincing, and while it does not excuse the atrocities, it certainly will allow readers to comprehend the circumstances that led to the formation of Hitler’s youngest zealots.
(2005) Booklist Review [Review of the book Hitler Youth]. Retreived from http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hitler-youth-growing-up-in-hitlers-shadow-susan-campbell-bartoletti/1012576667?ean=9780439353793
Hitler’s plans for the futre of Germany relied significantly on its young people, and this excellend history shows how he attempted to carry out his mission with the establishment of the Hitler Youth, or Hitlerjugend, in 1926. With a focus on the years between 1933 and the end of the war in 1945, Bartoletti explains the roles that millions of boys and girls unwittingly played in the horrors of the Third Reich. The book is structured around 12 young individuals and their experiences, which clearly demonstrate how they were vistms of leaders who took advnatage of their innocence and enthusiasm for evil means. Their stories evolve from patriotic devotion to Hitler and zeal to joi, to doubt, confusion and disillusion. (An epilogue adds a powerful what-became-of-them relevance.) The large period photographs are a primary component and they include Nzi propaganda shoing happy and healthy teens as well as the reality of concentration camps and young people with large guns. The final chapter superbly summarizes the weighty significance of this part of the 20th century and challenges young readers to prevent history from repeating itself. Bartoletti lets many of the subjects’ words, emotions and deeds speak fo themselves, bringing them together clearly to tell this story unlike anyone else has.
Medlar, Andrew (2005) School Library Journal [Review of the book Hitler Youth]. Retreived from http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hitler-youth-growing-up-in-hitlers-shadow-susan-campbell-bartoletti/1012576667?ean=9780439353793