Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5
Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow was a 2006 Newbery Honor. Its title is fairly self-explanatory. The book draws on the stories of a number of people who were affected by the Hitler Youth; Bartoletti uses individuals to tell the broader story of the major role Hitler Youth played in Hitler’s rise to power and in WWII.
Bartoletti chose a roughly chronological organization, which emphasized the changes Hitler brought to German society. As Hitler consolidated power, Hitler Youth became first recommended and then required, with a corresponding repression of all other youth organizations. The attendant brainwashing was greatly beneficial, as you saw children reporting their parents to authorities and a tightening of control over society.
Following the declaration of war, Hitler Youth and the girls’ BDM were set to taking over much home front labor to free up troops for combat duty. They dug trenches, provided additional labor on farms and in nurseries, and much more. Later on, the troop age was lowered further and further, with elite units of Hitler Youth serving as shock troops; because of their ideological devotion, many continued fighting even when it was clear that they had lost.
One thing that struck me while reading this was how well the author explored the motivations individuals had for their actions, even delving into the emotions behind some of their choices. The need for belonging was a primary motivator for those who became involved with Hitler Youth. Her inclusion of people who opposed Hitler, like Sophie Scholl, as well as those who changed their minds later, created a fuller picture of the youth landscape in Germany.
The author drew on both previously published accounts and personal interviews with those participants who were still alive. This story-driven narrative made for interesting (in a good way) reading, even for someone like myself who is fairly well versed in this epoch in history. Hitler Youth is recommended for Grades 2-5. I believe that students on the older end of that range, more like Grades 4-6, would get the most out of this. The language is a bit challenging for the younger end of the age range and the subject matter, by its nature, on the moderately disturbing side. While Bartoletti doesn’t use overly-graphic narration, she does describe the films and inmates which the Hitler Youth were forced to view and work with after they lost the war, as part of the attempt to undo their brainwashing. This book is a great teaching tool and a perfect addition to the collection of anyone who enjoys learning about WWII.