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



Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Hitler Youth: growing up in Hitler’s Shadow. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2005. ISBN 0439353793

Plot Summary

This book follows the lives of a group of young people in Germany from the time just before Adolf Hitler rose to power through the end of World War II. Susan Campbell Bartoletti tells the story of the Holocaust through the experiences and memories of children and teenagers who were members of the Hitler Youth organization and some who spoke out against the atrocities being committed.

Critical Analysis

Susan Campbell Bartoletti has published a number of informational books that have been well-reviewed and well-received and Hitler Youth is no exception. There is no doubt that Bartoletti’s account of a handful of youth in Hitler’s Germany is accurate. At the end of the book, there is an author’s note that explains Bartoletti’s two year research journey that spanned two continents. She began in Washington D.C. in the National Archives, Library of Congress, and the Holocaust Museum. She then traveled to Germany where she visited several different cities and sites relevant to the Nazi reign. Bartoletti sought out former Hitler Youth and Jewish people who were children and teens during the time period. She conducted interviews in person, over the phone, and through e-mail. Bartoletti also collected photographs from her research in government archives and from the personal albums of people with whom she met. All of these sources and photographs are meticulously documented at the end of the book and are referenced within the text. Every quote in the text is referenced and cited in the volume. Bartoletti does an excellent job of presenting the facts without bias. She states the opinions and views of the people she writes about, but there is always a source material to back up these views. In the few instances where Bartoletti shares the general opinion of the public at that time in history, she takes care to advise the reader that it is an opinion. The audio version of this book includes the author’s note in which she explains her research process but lacks the quote sources section and the bibliography section. The listener can still deduce though that Bartoletti’s work is accurate.

This book about the youth of Germany and the Hitler Youth organization follows the development of the organization and the progression of the war and the acts of violence in chronological order. It begins with a foreword explaining the fact that the book is not about Adolf Hitler, but about the youth in Germany during his reign. Each subsequent chapter deals with a different period of growth and action for the Hitler Youth organization. A table of contents is present at the beginning of the book and is very easy to read and understand. There are also clearly marked page numbers throughout the book to make it easier on readers to find the information they need. There are clear titles and labels at the beginning of each chapter as well. At the end of the book, there is a complete index and a timeline of the Hitler Youth to assist readers and enhance the reading experience. The audio version of this book lacks the assistance of the table of contents, index, timeline, and page numbers, but is still organized in a logical manner and flows well.

The book itself is a little physically daunting, measuring an approximate ten and a half inches square and close to one inch thick with one hundred seventy-six pages. The generous interspersing of photographs and maps throughout the text however, make it accessible. A photograph on the cover grabs readers’ interest from the start. A young boy with flawless alabaster skin stares into the camera as strong hands grasp his shoulders. The reader cannot see the entire face that belongs to those hands, but the tell-tale mustache says it all: Hitler. Each photograph contained in the book evokes the same deep, raw emotions and enhances the stories of the characters shared in the book. The pictures and their accompanying captions are present on almost every page, but are never intrusive or overwhelming. Bartoletti strikes an elegant balance between text and photograph that conveys the seriousness of the subject matter as well as the reality that her characters were merely children while taking part in the horrible atrocities being committed. The audio version of the book is very intoxicating to listen to. The narrator has the hint of a German accent and pronounces names, places, and German words flawlessly.

Accounts of the Holocaust are often hard to read, and while there is definitely a somber mood throughout Bartoletti’s book, she tells the stories of these twelve young people in such a beautiful way that the reader begins to identify with parts of them and begins to feel sorry for them. By the end of the book, the reader has spent so much time with these twelve, it feels like parting ways with family. Through the author’s note and through the text of the book itself, Bartoletti makes it clear that she is passionate about sharing the lives and stories of the young people of Hitler’s Germany. This fresh look at the Holocaust and Nazi Germany shares a wealth of information without inundating the reader all while encouraging the reader to look at this time in history from a different perspective. The reader is left to ponder the culpability of the Hitler Youth and to ache over the innocence lost. Bartoletti’s words also make the reader want to learn more about each young person and their activities during the war, especially the resistance movement of two siblings in the group.

Hitler Youth is a deeply interesting account of twelve young people and their role in the Holocaust. The people Bartoletti chose to write about are intriguing personalities and the author does a great job of helping her reader to identify with them. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audio version of this book, but I was also glad that I checked out the print version so that I could take advantage of all the access features and enjoy the photographs.

Review Excerpts

Parents’ Choice Gold Seal Award

( WON AWARD in 2005 )

School Library Journal Best Books of the Year

( WON AWARD in 2005 )

American Library Association Notable Books for Children

( WON AWARD in 2006 )

NCTE Orbis Pictus Award


Carolyn W. Field Award (Pennsylvania Library Association)

( WON AWARD in 2006 )

Virginia Reader’s Choice Awards


Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award


Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award


Great Lakes’ Great Books Award


Newbery Medal


Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award


“The large period photographs are a primary component and they include Nazi propaganda showing happy and healthy teens as well as the reality of concentration camps and young people with large guns. The final chapter superbly summarizes the weighty significance of this part of the 20th century and challenges young readers to prevent history from repeating itself. 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.” –Andrew Medlar, Chicago Public Library, IL in School Library Journal, June 2005

“Narrator Kathrin Kana possesses an excellent German pronunciation, which emphasizes the authenticity of people and places for listeners… In addition, Bartoletti reads a foreword and an author’s note about her work.” — Publisher’s Weekly, March 2007 (about audio version)

“The handsome book design, with black-and-white historical photos on every double-page spread, will draw in readers and help spark deep discussion, which will extend beyond the Holocaust curriculum. The extensive back matter is a part of the gripping narrative.” — Booklist, April 2005

“While many books for the young have chronicled the experiences of Hitler’s victims, far fewer have looked at the impact of Nazi ideology on those who subscribed to it. As Bartoletti writes in the preface to this provocative account, “”Hitler counted on Germany’s boys and girls.”” — Horn Book Magazine, May 2005


Play the audio version of the book and have students follow along in the print edition. Get as many copies as possible and have students share books where necessary.

Pair with a historical fiction book by Bartoletti which takes a closer look at one of the young men in this book:

         -The Boy Who Dared, ISBN 9780439680134

Use the book A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika by Alfons Heck, one of the Hitler Youth members in Bartoletti’s book. While this is an adult book, excerpts from it can be used to highlight sections of Bartoletti’s title that feature Heck.

Take students to a Holocaust museum, if you are in an area that has one.

Locate a local Holocaust survivor, or former Hitler Youth member to come and speak.

Show excerpts from the documentary, “Heil Hitler: Confessions of a Hitler Youth”, which can be found on youTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJ6umV7CVY8

Have students pick one of the young people in the book and create a collage or a facebook page based on what they have learned about that person.

Image from Amazon.com, accessed March 22, 2015. Cover art property of Scholastic, Inc.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s