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Hitler Youth, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

21 Apr

2005, Scholastic, ISBN 0-439-35379-3

Plot Summary: Using photographs and text, Hitler Youth provides a look at Hitler’s Nazi Germany as seen through the eyes of the young people who were swept up into the Hitler Youth movement, and some who opposed him. The book follows historical events from Hitler’s rise to Germany’s defeat and spotlights 12 teenagers who were on both sides of the Hitler Youth movement.

We learn about the brutal practices Hitler youth endured under the guise of “camping”, including forced marches and weapons training; we learn how the Hitler Youth was a breeding ground for the Nazi armed forces, particularly the SS. We read, through teens’ observations, how Hitler twisted his words and used deception so that the children never understood the full scope of what they participated in. When the war was over, the Allied forces took these children and teens to liberated concentration camps in order to view up close what they contributed to.

We also learn about those youth who disagreed with HItler and gave their lives in defiance of his lies: the teen who listened to secret British radio broadcasts and distributed flyers, and the brother and sister team who were part of the White Rose group, another leaflet distrubution organization that called for passive resistance. The book ends with an epilogue that follows the teens profiled and where they are today.

Critical Evaluation: Hitler Youth provides a look at Nazi Germany from a vantage point readers do not normally get: that of the teenagers in the Hitler Youth movement. Providing readers with these teens’ own words brings home the impact and the understanding even more, as modern readers are able to better connect with a teenage mindset. It allows for an understanding of how a nation of children could be swept up in such a movement and take part in such activities even as it illustrates the ways that everyday, ordinary teens of the time found ways to push back against the tide. Photographs from personal collections, the Holocaust Museum and National Archives also provide visual confirmation of the events, creating a stronger ability to identify and process this time in history.

Reviews: Publishers Weekly: “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.”

Children’s Literature: “Bartoletti is quickly becoming a nonfiction writer who tops lists with her engaging writing, viewpoint, obvious dedication to research and knowledge of how important pictures are to the telling for this audience.”

School Library Journal: (starred review) “…Bartoletti explains the roles that millions of boys and girls unwittingly played in the horrors of the Third Reich. Bartoletti lets many of the subjects’ words, emotions, and deeds speak for themselves, bringing them together clearly to tell this story unlike anyone else has.”

 Awards: Newbery Honor (2006); Sibert Honor (2006); Orbis Pictus Honor (2006); Parents Choice Award (Gold Winner, 2006); Carolyn W. Field Award (2006).

Reader’s Annotation: The Hitler Youth movement sought to harness the power of youth in Nazi Germany even as Hitler felt that he could more easily manipulate young minds. These are their stories.

Author Information: Susan Campbell Bartoletti is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction for teens. Her website provides author information, contact information, her blog, and more about her books.

Genre: Nonfiction. Subgenres: World War II, racism, history

Booktalking Ideas: “I begin with the youth,” Hitler said of his Hitler Youth movement. Why do you think he was so focused on German youth, rather than older citizens? Do you think it would be as easy today for something like the Hitler Youth movement to come about? How so or how not? Not every teen was in favor of Hitler’s plans for Germany. Do you think that having modern advancements like the Internet and smartphone technology would help or hurt the Hitler Youth  movement, or an anti-Hitler movement?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12+

Challenge Issues/Defense: Violence, racism. Defense: This is a nonfiction account of the Hitler Youth movement in Nazi Germany. The accounts and photos are neither glorified nor exaggerated; this is part of a continuing mission to put a human face onto the suffering endured by the Jews during World War II, and would complement any unit on this era on the school curriculum.

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?

I had read many good things about this title, and the fact that this story is told from the point of view of the teenagers involved in the movement was intriguing.

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