Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow
Every so often I read a book that hits me so hard I know that I will never see the world the same way again. All good literature changes me to some degree, but then there are those special books whose imprint is so strong that I know I will still be thinking about it years from now. Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s award-winning Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow is one of those. It was a powerful treatment of a weighty subject in such a way that was appropriate for young audiences without undermining the seriousness of it. Within a few pages I was hooked, and I learned so much that it’s all I could talk about for days afterward.
Through intense research and interviews, Bartoletti compiled stories of some of the German youth who were teenagers in the years leading up to WWII and joined (either voluntarily or through compulsion) the Hitler Youth. This group of young people were in some ways Hitler’s first victims as the Nazis brainwashed them, stripped them of rights, and turned them into mindless war machines. They were also one of his greatest weapons as they were used to gain power, terrorize citizens into keeping power, and then became some of Germany’s most intense soldiers in the war.
Some of the teens swallowed the propaganda whole and only years later came to fully understand what they had been a part of. Others quickly became disillusioned and risked everything to resist. Their stories were so inspiring, so heartbreaking, and just so human. Even those who defended Hitler were sympathetic individuals because you could understand how in their need and their youth they were easily vulnerable to a charismatic tyrant.
All of this was depicted in a straightforward and compelling explanation of the events of war and genocide as they unfolded, and how they were specifically experienced by the rising generation, complete with many powerful photos. The book itself is laid out in such a way that it is easy to read, and that heightens its accessibility for readers both young and old. I was so impressed with the content and the way it was presented, that I am sorely tempted to add it to my family’s library. As we get further and further removed from the horrors of the Holocaust and the events of WWII, I think it is vital that we continue to teach our children about those events. I will definitely be using this book as a thorough and thought-provoking introduction to the topic when my children are a little older.