This historical fiction book by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is published by Scholastic Press, Inc. and is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
A fictionalized version of a true story. Helmuth Hübener, a young man, boldly disagrees with the tactics of Hitler and the Nazis during their rise to power. At the book's start, Helmuth is on death row, awaiting the executioner. Then in flashback format, the events that led him there are revealed. During Helmuth's middle-school years, he joined the Hitler Youth after being stirred by the future führer's persuasive speeches, but he can not accept Hitler's actions against the Jews. Knowing that his freedom is at stake, Helmuth listens to BBC radio broadcasts from which he learns the implications of Hitler's war strategies, and he feels a moral obligation to inform his fellow German citizens. He and his friends write, print and secretively distribute leaflets that reveal the truth. When their work is discovered, they are charged and tried as traitors to the German cause. Though these events lead to Helmuth's death, he heroically takes all the blame and in doing so is able to spare his friends' lives.
When Helmuth's mother and grandparents back Hitler, believing that he will restore their national honor and strengthen the faltering economy, Helmuth continues to respect them despite his questioning of Hitler's motives. Herr Vinke, Helmuth's middle-school teacher, is outspoken in his support of Hitler. Helmuth first internalizes Herr Vinke's comments, hoping to be seen as loyal, but he later questions the teacher, and this leads to Helmuth being perceived as a troublemaker. When Helmuth's mother dates and eventually marries Hugo, a highly regarded SS officer, Helmuth thinks Hugo is morally corrupt, but he maintains a respectful attitude toward his stepfather. He eventually is adopted by Hugo and even takes his surname. When Helmuth and his friends are interrogated for their alleged distribution of propaganda, Helmuth willingly cooperates with the SS, although he tries his best to avoid implicating his friends.
Other Belief Systems
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Helmuth, his family and friends refer to their Mormon beliefs (nothing overt). Because the story is set during World War II and the years leading up to it, readers learn many details of German nationalism and the worldview of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. In addition, references to Jews who were persecuted for their beliefs and exterminated by the Nazis are included.
While there is no profanity, the descriptions of Nazi torture and imprisonment are graphic. Realistic details may be too intense for younger readers.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- After Hitler was sworn in as chancellor of the Reich, he began to malign the Jews as enemies of Germany, and Helmuth witnesses the subsequent persecution of many of his Jewish acquaintances.
Do you think it was right for of Helmuth to stand up for the Jews?
- What do you think of Helmuth's belief that the Jews are God's chosen people, and that people should be able to worship God however they want?
- When Helmuth chooses to continue reading the banned Karl May western novels, he and his brother, Gerhard, engage in a lengthy discussion about their beliefs and whether God's laws are higher than man's.
How would you respond to Helmuth's question about whether there is ever a reason for breaking the law?
- Would you agree with Gerhard's claim that "if you choose to break the law to help someone else or keep someone from harm, then it's justified"?
Why or why not?
- Helmuth disobeys the law when he obtains and listens to a nonsanctioned radio. As a result of the British broadcasts he heard, he becomes convinced that it is necessary to write and distribute leaflets to inform German citizens of their government's atrocities.
How would you classify Helmuth's actions?
- What would you do if you were faced with a similar situation?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.