Book Review: Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Hitler Youth - Bartoletti

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow

By Susan Campbell Bartoletti

My Rating: 4 Stars

Susan Campbell Bartoletti presents a fascinating look at the Hitler Youth movement in Nazi Germany. This Newbery Honor (2006), Sibert Honor (2006) and YALSA Best Books for Young Adults (Top Ten, 2006), book is written by Bartoletti, who uses a combination of research, various documents and interviews conducted with former Hitler Youth members as well as German youth who resisted against the Nazi movement. In this well written book, Bartoletti presents a riveting and frankly, chilling look at how Hitler and the Third Reich used Germany’s impressionable youth to gain power in Germany and throughout Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s. Estimating that by 1939, more than 7 million boys and girls were participating or had participated in the Hitler Youth Movement. These boys and girls were often used to commit atrocious actions against other youth and were even responsible for turning in their own family members, sometimes their parents to the Nazi’s.

When I finished this book, I will admit I was completely disturbed. I never knew Hitler used young, impressionable minds to further his movement. Some of the histories Bartoletti presents in this book are difficult to hear and frightening. The story of Elisabeth Vetter left a huge impression on me and I couldn’t help but wonder what Vetter thought of herself as she became an adult and had to look back at her actions. As I listened to the actions of the youth in this book, I couldn’t help but wonder if such a thing could happen again. It’s disturbing to consider that something like this was possible and even more disturbing to think what could happen if another leader were to come along and use young minds to further their cause. Bartoletti mentions this very thought at the end of the book and it leaves a chilling feeling that is sure to stay with you after you have finished the book.

In Hitler Youth, Bartoletti also focuses on what the Hitler Youth had to face in the aftermath of the War. How, when faced with continuing to fight or allowing themselves to be captured brought out the child in them. It’s interesting to see the change in the children. Because in truth, they were still children. They wanted to be safe and protected. I was shocked, but understood, that American soldiers made Hitler Youth see what they had helped support by taking them to rail cars filled with the dead, and made them witness the atrocities of the concentration camps. Was this harsh or necessary? It’s an interesting question. They called it part of the de-Nazification. I had never heard of this being done, though it makes sense but when implemented with children it seems somehow harsher than it does with adults.

Overall, this was a fascinating read. I listened to the audiobook and then checked out the book at my library so I could see the photos throughout the book. I highly recommend this book. Even if you’ve read many books about WWII and the Nazis, this book is sure to present a fresh new look at a war that changed the world forever and it will most decidedly make you think about how impressionable our youth are and question whether similar events could happen again with another leader.

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