I was disturbed by this book and immediately started thinking about lessons that we should always keep in mind from the experience of these youth. Then yesterday I heard a news report by Phillip Reeves on National Public Radio describing the “therapy” some children in Gaza are being exposed to as a way to cope with the Israeli missile strikes that have occurred in the last eight days – strikes that have killed many of their friends. The kindergarteners in a school supported by the Fatah are being taught to wave guns and stomp on posters of the Star of David. I was immediately alarmed.
In Hitler’s Youth (winner of the Newbery Honor Award and the Sibert Honor Book Award), Bartoletti describes the depressed economy of Germany in the 1920’s and 1930’s and how the youth of Germany – lacking confidence and hope and means for a decent way of life – joined Hitler’s youth groups. At first they volunteered – by the hundreds. The groups were led by older youth, went camping, did service projects, etc.; these experiences gave the youths a sense of community, identity, agency. These groups were also about conforming – and there were repercussions if you didn’t conform to the ideas of National Socialism. Later, membership in the Hitler Youth was required. Bartoletti makes clear how this organization brainwashed innocent youth into believing that whatever they did for Hitler was an effort to improve their country, their homeland. You can see how teens could be sucked into this kind of thinking, believing, hoping and be blinded to the horrid acts of Hitler and other Nazi leaders.
So what are the lessons learned? This book would be an easy read aloud at the middle school level and even better for a nonfiction literature circle text. Pair it with the 4 minute NPR report by Reeves and you might be hosting an amazing discussion.