Within ‘The Book Thief’ are many real historical facts portrayed in the fictional narration by Death himself. Today’s post is about one of those of those – the Hitler Youth program. When I first read it, I also went and reread Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and also did some further reading about WWII. You can read my review of ‘The Book Thief’ here.
Liesl and Rudy are both members of the Hitler Youth. This was very much a reality in Nazi Germany. The Hitler Youth was a program established by the Nazi Party to educate and train German boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 18 with Nazi values. It was made mandatory after attendance in the program dropped drastically, and all other youth programs were abolished making this the only option for children. For boys, skills taught prepared them for military service and included marching, trench digging, and map reading among others. While girls were taught skills that prepared them for motherhood, they also had to master physical skills including swimming, marching, and running.
Liesl (like many kids at the time) joins the Hitler Youth when she turns 10 as mandated and takes part in meetings and training while Rudy is also a active member of the same. He is ridiculed for his idolization of Jesse Owens and that is one of the turning points for him to understanding the darker truths of the Nazis; while for Liesl, the turning point was the book burning she witnessed point (and am guessing might have been for many at the time of the massive book burning ordered by the Nazis in real life in early 1933).
While many other events and places mentioned have some historical significance, the fictional narrative helped to take readers along a journey into Liesl’s world (both the fictional and real aspects) and to underscore the power of words. One other important aspect of the story was ‘the hiding of Max’ in the Hubberman’s basement – many Jews did hide in someone else’s home or offices, like Anne Frank.