The Plot To Kill Hitler – by Patricia McCormick (2016)

The Plot To Kill Hitler

As I was browsing through a Scholastic flier last month, I came across this book. It’s a biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor-turned-conspirator during World War II. At a time when many just went with the tide, Bonhoeffer had the courage to say the dictator was wrong. In addition, he tried to rally others to take a stand, and eventually was willing to be part of a plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer did what he could to help save the lives of Jewish people and others who were being targeted. Why did he get involved, when he could have had a quiet, comfortable life in safety? This excerpt from the book gives the answer:

Dietrich had seen the effects of “separate but equal” in the United States, and even though he was just a junior lecturer at Berlin University, he knew he had to speak out. The rest of the country might have fallen under Hitler’s spell, but Bonhoeffer thought that the clergy, men who had taken solemn vows to love and care for their fellow man, would take a stand against such blatant injustice. This, after all, was why he had become a minister, as he’d told his brothers back when he was thirteen – not to retreat from the issues of the day but to affect them…

The church, he said, has an obligation to “assist the victims” of government wrongdoing – “even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” He didn’t say so, but everyone knew he was talking about the Jews. At that, some of the ministers in the meeting got up and walked out.

But Bonhoeffer had more to say. It was not enough to simply “bandage the victims under the wheel” of the government, he said. The church had a duty to jam a stick in the wheel itself. He was calling on his fellow pastors to stop Hitler in his tracks.

(pages 56-57)

This was an excellent summary of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is also a good book to introduce kids to the resistance movement during World War II, as it is not terribly graphic. I would highly recommend this book to anyone ages 10 and up.

 

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When Books Went To War – by Molly Guptill Manning (2014)

When Books Went To War

Did you know that during World War II, Europe lost approximately 100,000,000 printed books? It began with Hitler’s followers conducting book-burning events, targeting books by Jewish authors and books that held views different from their own. Then lists were made for the general public, advising them that they might not want to be caught during a home inspection with such books. The lists grew longer. Fear built up, and people began burning any of their own books that were deemed objectionable. As the Nazis bombed country after country, entire libraries were obliterated.

Adolph Hitler was an evil man, but he was not stupid. He realized the power of written words to motivate people, to educate and inform them, to influence the masses, and to lift discouraged spirits. Taking away books was just one of the ways he used to control and intimidate the conquered.

Then the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, and was pulled into the war. As ordinary Americans were drafted and sent for training to become soldiers, librarians across the country came up with a brilliant idea. They wanted to supply all the troops with books to keep their morale up, and to give them a diversion from the horrors of war. Publishers, librarians, Congress and ordinary citizens all worked together to supply soldiers with books, and later to help bring books to Europe.

I absolutely loved this book! It’s rare now to find people that impassioned about books and reading (which is sad).  The letters that the soldiers wrote home, describing the relief that the books brought, were heart-warming. For many, it was a life-line that helped them keep their sanity. Men who had never had an interest in reading were totally hooked on reading by the end of the war. Of all the non-fiction books I have read this past year, this was among my favorite.

 

All The Light We Cannot See – by Anthony Doerr (2014)

All The Light We Cannot See

I waited a long time to get a copy of this novel at my local library. It seemed that everyone and his brother was trying to read it. After all, it had been on the New York Times best-sellers list for over a year, and had won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction as well as the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal For Excellence In Fiction.

The story spans from 1934 to 1974, following the lives of Werner and Marie-Laure from childhood to adulthood. Marie-Laure is the only child of a widowed master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. She becomes blind at a young age, and her father builds her a model of their French village so that she can “see” it with her fingers. She learns to maneuver around town because she has memorized everything from the model.

Werner is a poor German boy being raised, along with his sister, in a charity house. He has a brilliant mind, and teaches himself all about radio technology. At 16 he is forced to join the Hitler Youth. When his superiors find out how great he is at understanding and repairing radios, they put him in a special unit that seeks out and confiscates them. It is supposed to be an honor to be in this special division, but he and his bunk-mate Frederick dislike the increasing brutality they see. There seems to be no way to get out; they are reluctant participants in a war neither one of them wants to be in.

The book oscillates back and forth from Marie-Laure to Werner, and back again. Each one has a part to play in the war, but they are on opposite sides. They are enemies, yet when they finally meet (more than 400 pages into the book) they are not enemies.

“All The Light We Cannot See” is a well-written story with a minimal amount of wartime horror spelled out. Still, it conveys the fear and uncertainty and darkness that most people felt during that time in history. Even those who survived physically carried the emotional scars the rest of their lives.

 
Excerpt #1:

(Part of a conversation when Werner and Frederick are on leave from training camp)

“Do you ever wish,” whispers Werner, “that you didn’t have to go back?”

“Father needs me to be at Schulpforta. Mother too. It doesn’t matter what I want.”

“Of course it matters. I want to be an engineer. And you want to study birds. Be like that American painter in the swamps. Why else do any of this if not to become who we want to be?”

A stillness in the room. Out there in the trees beyond Frederick’s window hangs an alien light.

“Your problem, Werner,” says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your life.”

 
Excerpt #2:

It was hard to live through the early 1940s in France and not have the war be the center from which the rest of your life spiraled. Marie-Laure still cannot wear shoes that are too large, or smell a boiled turnip, without experiencing revulsion. Neither can she listen to lists of names. Soccer team rosters, citations at the end of journals, introductions at faculty meetings – always they seem to her some vestige of the prison lists that never contained her father’s name.