Saturday, November 29, 2014

Hitler in Paris: How a Photograph Shocked a World at War by Don Nardo

Even before he seized power and became the chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hitler had done two things that most people seeking political office rarely did at that time - first was that he used a private plane with his own pilot to campaign quickly all over Germany.  The plane was so much faster than a train or car, and much less tiring.  The second thing he did was to have a personal photographer to record his every move.  That photographer was Heinrich Hoffmann.

You probably know, if only from reading The Extra by Kathryn Lasky, that Leni Riefenstahl made several propaganda films, but her most famous film of all was Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens) documenting the 1934 Nuremberg Rally and showcasing Hitler.  She was a talented and innovative filmmaker, and a good friend of Hitler's (despite later denials of not knowing anything about was was happening in Nazi Germany and the occupied countries), but for still photography, it was Heinrich Hoffmann that Hitler wanted.

Hoffman was a very talented photographer, who loved to take pictures of people in moments when their guard was down, and recording their spontaneous actions/reactions.  But he was also gifted at the posed photograph and the iconic June 1940 photograph he took of Hitler standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, flanked on one side by Albert Speer and on the other by Arno Breker, is the one that Don Nardo has chosen to focus on in his book Hitler in Paris.  It is this photograph that best represents Hitler's dominance in Europe.  Standing at the Eiffel Tower, in a now defeated France, and with conquered countries to the North, South and East of France, Hitler's sights are now to the West and Britain.  One can only imagine how people must have felt when they saw this photo.  But what brought Hitler and Hoffmann to this point?

Nardo gives the reader a parallel history of each man early life - both middle class, but with very different family circumstances.  Events in Hitler's early life, a cruel father with whom he often fought, held feed his anger and hate at those more fortunate, and was later spurred on and fueled by Germany's defeat in World War I, for which he desperately wanted to seek revenge.

Hoffmann, by contrast, was taken under his father's wing and taught the art of photography.  Nardo describes Hoffmann as a very likable man, who claimed (like Riefenstahl) that he was not political, his relationship with Hitler was strictly personal and he had no knowledge of what was happening around him.  Eva Braun worked in his photography studio and it was Hoffmann who introduced her to Hitler (you may recall that from reading Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman).

Taken on the same trip to Paris by
This is a short, 64 page book that is filled with information and photographs, all taken by Hoffmann.
 Nardo has done a pretty good job at presenting these two men with objectivity and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions about them and the circumstances depicted in the book.

Nardo also used lots of primary and secondary sources to write Hitler in Paris, giving the book a real sense of time an place, as well bringing these two controversial figures to life.  Additionally, he has included a useful timeline, a glossary, a list of additional resources, source notes and a selected bibliography.  There are also copious photographs of Hoffmann's, which are all now in the public domain.

Hitler in Paris: How a Photograph Shocked a Word at War will probably have great appeal to history buffs interested in the 20th century, WWII, and/or Nazi Germany.  But it will also appeal to serious serious budding photographers and even to those who are more experienced as a study in how one emblematic photograph can convey so much.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sunday Funnies #19: Thanksgiving Day Edition

I have a lot to be thankful for this year.  First, my Kiddo is happy and healthy and living in California with her new husband and I will be seeing them at Christmas when they come to visit.

I'm thankful for my friends and family, even if I don't get to see them very often.  And I am thankful for my online friends, even though I haven't met many of them.  One of the things I love about blogging is getting to know so many people all over the world, an opportunity that can be found in few other ways.   Thank you to all my followers and readers.  Your presence on my blog is much appreciated.

Thanksgiving was hit hard in WWII because of rationing and it wasn't lost on the people who drew comic strips for the newspapers, as you can see:

November 25, 1943 Rationing on the Home Front:

November 25, 1943 Rations on the Front Lines:

I wish everyone a happy and bountiful Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Tattered Prayer Book by Ellen Bari, illustrated by Avi Katz

When young Ruthie finds a tattered prayer book in a box of old photographs marked Germany in her grandmother's house, she gets quite a surprise.  The prayer book in written in Hebrew and German and had apparently been burned.  Even more surprising - her grandmother tells Ruthie that the book came from Germany and it belongs to her father.

When Ruthie asks her dad about it, he tells her that he was born and lived a happy life in Hamburg with his family, and with lots of cousins and friends.  But, when the Nazis took over the government in 1933, all that changed.  Soon, Jews weren't allowed in restaurants, movie theaters, libraries, schools.  Old friends became instant bullies.

Then, in November 1938, Nazis began a night of destruction, Kristallnacht, destroying Jewish business and synagogues, setting them on fire.  When Ruthie's dad saw what was left of his synagogue, he also saw burnt prayer books all over.  He reached for one and hid it in his coat - a reminder of the place where he had once been so happy.

One day, while he and his father were in a shop, Nazis came down the road probably to arrest the men.  Ruthie's Grandpa slipped out the back door, while her dad ran home to tell his mother what happened.  Days later, Grandpa came back home and told his family he had to leave, sailing for America with his son Fred.

Every night, her dad opened his burnt, tattered prayer book and prayed.  Finally, in June 1939, visas arrived for Ruthie's dad, mother and brother Sid.  Other friends and family members were leaving Germany, too, for Argentina and Israel.  Others, sadly, had to remain in Germany.

On board the ship, after the Sabbath candles were lit, Ruthie's dad showed the prayer book to his mother, expecting her to be angry, but she wanted it to be a reminder of the good life they had had in Germany and a source of strength for the future.

Recalling what happened so long ago in his life in Germany, after making such an effort to forget it all, Ruthie's father realizes how important that burnt, tattered prayer book had been to him and how much what it symbolized is an important part of himself.

The burnt prayer book is a symbol of both the happy, good life Ruthie's dad and his family shared before the Nazis came to power, and at the same time, the terrible years that followed.

Often, when we talk about the Holocaust, it is about the mass roundups of Jews, the death camps they were sent to, and the attempt to systematically destroy an entire race of people.  But nothing happens in a vacuum and neither did the Holocaust.  Between the years 1933 and 1938, Jews were subject to all kinds of degrading treatment by Hitler's henchman in the SA and the SS, and by ordinary citizens who turned their backs on friends overnight.

In The Tattered Prayer Book, Ellen Bari has written an informative, but gentle picture book for older readers (age 7+) about those deplorable years in a way that kids will definitely understand.  It is an ideal book for parents who wish to introduce their children about the Holocaust themselves before they learn about it in school.  Teachers, however, will also find it to be an excellent book for teaching the Holocaust, as well.

The illustrations by Avi Katz are done in sepia-tones that are reminiscent of old photographs and burnt paper, again reflecting that balance of good and bad times that the prayer book represents.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was sent to me by the publisher

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

This novel opens on October 27, 1942.  Helmuth Hübener, 17, has been imprisoned on death row in Plotzensee Prison, Berlin, charged with high treason against the Third Reich.  He had hoped the court would show lenicency because of his age, but that hope was now gone.  Sentenced to death, Helmuth recalls, in a series of flashbacks, the events in his life that led him to this day.

As a young child living in Hamburg, Helmuth hears his grandparents talk about their dislike of the Nazis and their leader, Adolf Hitler and Opa's predictions that Hitler wants war.  But Helmuth likes playing with his toy soldiers and thinks maybe he will be a soldier when he is old enough to fight.

But when Hitler seizes power in 1933, Helmuth sees everything around him change.  Teachers and schoolmates show their support for the new chancellor and begin harassing the Jewish students, Germans are told to boycott Jewish stores, enforced by SS and SA destroying their businesses.  Un-German books and movies are forbidden, and Helmuth is afraid that means Karl May's beloved stories about America's wild west, until his brother Gerhard tells him they are Hitler's favorites, too.

In 1935, Helmuth's mother begins seeing a Nazi named Hugo Hübener.  Hugo changes everything in their home and after the two marry, moves the family away from Opa and Oma.

In 1938, at age 12, Helmuth begins a new school, where he is immediately labelled a troublemaker by his teacher, a Nazi.  He is punished by having to write an essay with the title "Adolf Hitler: Savior of the Fatherland."  Helmuth knows he must bite the bullet and write the essay his teacher expects and in the end, even his teacher has to admit that he is a talented writer.  Helmuth is also required to join the Jungvolk, the younger version of the Hitler Youth.

When his older brother Gerhard is inducted into the army in 1939, he is sent to Paris for training.  Once the war begins, Helmuth suspects that the Reich's radio is not giving the German people the truth about what is going on.  When Gerhard returns from France, he bring a new forbidden short wave radio back with him., but hides it and tells Helmuth to leave it alone.  At first, Helmuth resists the temptation to listen to it, but after a while he can't resist any longer and each night, sets up the radio to hear the BBC broadcasts done in German.  And just as he suspected, the German people are indeed being lied to about German successes in the war.

Helmuth, who is a devout Mormon and who practices his faith throughout, convinces his two best friends from church, Rudi Wobbe and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, to help him create leaflets transcribing the BBC broadcasts to be distributed all over Hamburg.

Helmuth, Rudi and Karl are turned into the Gestapo by a supposed friend, put on trial and sentenced. Helmuth is the only one sentenced to death for high treason.  He had promised Rudi and Karl he would  take full responsibility, so they were only sentenced to imprisonment for a few years (which were shortened more when Germany lost the war).

It is through the flashbacks, that Bartoletti skillfully shows us Helmuth's development from a child who enthusiastically  supports the Nazis to an adolescent who critically questions what he sees going on around him to a courageous young man willing to risk death in order to tell people the truth about Hitler and the Nazis.  It makes for a very powerful story.

The Boy Who Dared is historical fiction based on a true story and is one of the reasons why Helmuth's story is so compelling.  I think that it is important for today's readers to understand that not everyone in Germany supported Hitler and his politics, but so many chose to remain silence about their feelings, like Helmuth's mother who told him that silence is how people get on sometimes. (pg 95)  In fact, we never really know how Helmuth's mother really feels.  She married a Nazi, but her family was basically against Hitler.

At the back of the novel, there are photographs of Helmuth, his friends and family, as well as an extensive, not to be skipped over Author's Note explaining how Bartoletti researched the novel and the people she interviewed.

Helmuth was the youngest resister of the Third Reich to be executed.  His story really makes you stop
Helmuth, age 16
and think about whether or not you might have had the kind of courage of your convictions that Helmuth had.  Did his actions impact anyone who knew him or read the leaflets he wrote?  Except for his stepfather, Hugo, who did become a changed man after Helmuth's execution,we will never know, but hopefully Helmuth's story will inspire others to find courage within themselves to speak out against injustice and lies regardless.

If you are moved by The Boy Who Dared, and would like to know more about what life was like for young people like Helmeth during the Third Reich, then be sure to look at Susan Campbell Bartoletti's excellent nonfiction book Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow. 

Scholastic offers an extensive lesson plan/discussion guide for readers of The Boy Who Dared which you can find HERE 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Craig Orback

Gifts from the Enemy is based on Alter Wiener's book From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor's Autobiography. 

It is many years after the Holocaust and Atler begins his personal story of survival by telling the reader that he was an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.

Alter was only 13 when the Nazis invaded Poland, including his small village of Chrzanów.  Up until the invasion on September 1, 1939, the Wiener family, Papa, Mama, and brother Schmuel and Hirsch had lived a comfortable happy life.  His mother was a generous woman and every Shabbath she made sure there was enough food to share with the homeless and less fortunate.

But soon after the Nazis arrived, Jews no longer had any rights - they could not go to school, the park, to the synagogue, and a curfew was imposed making all Jews prisoners in their own homes.  Before long, the Nazis came for Alter's father, killing him.  A year later, they came for his brother Schmuel.

When Alter was 15, the Nazis came for him in the middle of the night.  He never saw any of his family again. Atler was sent to a prison labor camp, where he and the other prisoners were always cold and hungry, and forced to work long hard hours.

While working in a German factory, a German worker caught his attention and pointed to a box.  Later, Alter went to see what she was pointing at.  Underneath a box was a bread and cheese sandwich.  This went on for 30 day and Atler believes that this woman not only helped to save his life, but taught him the valuable lesson that "there are the kind and the cruel in every group of people."

After the Russian Army liberated the camp Alter was in, he tried to find the woman who had shown him some kindness at a time when kindness towards Jews was forbidden.   He never did discover who she was, but he has never forgotten her.

Trudy Ludwig has taken the adult version of Alter Wiener's story and simplified it for younger readers, yet it never sounds condescending or patronizing.  The book is written from Alter's point of view, and as he recounts his experiences, Ludwig is able to include a lot of historical information in his narrative about the Nazi occupation of Poland and about the horror that was the Holocaust without overwhelming or frightening the reader.

Gifts from the Enemy was illustrated by Craig Orback.  His realistic oil paintings are light in times of freedom, happiness or hope and appropriately dark during the days of Alter's imprisonment by the Nazis.

With its message of hope at the end, Gifts from the Enemy is an excellent choice to begin the difficult talking about the Holocaust with children, especially as a read aloud.  And to help do that, Ludwig has included information about hate, the Holocaust, a vocabulary for what might be unfamiliar words for many kids, as well as discussion questions and activities for young readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day 2014

Honor to the soldier and the sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause.  
Abraham Lincoln


It is the Veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the Veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Veteran, who saluted the Flag,
It is the Veteran, who serves under the Flag,
To be buried by the flag
So the protester can burn the flag.

To all Veterans, Thank You for your Service!

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Movie Matinee #6: The Book Thief

I've waited a whole year to watch this movie.  When it opened, I had just reread the novel and wanted to put some distance between the written word and its cinematic representation.  Also, the critics really didn't like this movie.  In his New York Times review of November 7, 2013, Stephen Holden, described The Book Thief as a "shameless piece of Oscar-seeking Holocaust kitsch."    At, critic Godfrey Cheshire echoes this sentiment, writing that there is a distinct air of solipsism in the film, that main character Liesel never undergoes a transformation, so that the actual tragedy [that is the Holocaust] is reduced to the role of kitschy backdrop.

Sounds like a colossal flop, doesn't it?

But, let's not forget that in her March 27, 2006 review for the NY Times Janet Maslin snarkily referred to the novel as "Harry Potter and the Holocaust."  Yet, it has been on the NY Times YA best seller list almost consistently since it come out and almost everyone who reads it, loves it.

OK, back to the movie with a Spoiler Alert Warning

It's  April 1938 and the voice of Death begins to tell the story of young Liesel Meminger, on a train with her mother and brother traveling to their new family.  The children are being taken from their mother because she's a communist.  When Liesel's brother dies on the trip, he's buried by the side of the tracks.  One of the gravedigger's drops his manual and it becomes the first book Liesel steals.

Arriving at the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann on the ironically named Heaven Street, it soon becomes apparent that Liesel can't read and she becomes a target for the class bully, Franz Deutsche.  So, gentle, kind-hearted Hans teaches her how to read in the basement of their home, using chalk to list the words she learns on the walls.  Rosa Huberman appears to be a hard-hearted women who calls every one Saumensch (pig) and takes in the Bürgermeister's laundry to make some money.

Liesel becomes friends with neighbor Rudy, who is immediately smitten with her.  Rudy also admires runner Jesse Owens, and works hard to emulate his skill, which earns him a place in a special Nazi school when he turns 14.

After Kristallnacht in November 1939, Max Vanderburg arrives ill at the Hubermann's home one night seeking refuge.  Max is on the run from the Nazis because he is a Jew, but his father had saved Hans's life in WWI and so the Hubermann's willingly take him in despite the danger to themselves and Liesel if they were to be caught.

During a book burning, Liesel steals another book.  But this time someone sees her and when she next delivers the Bürgermeister's laundry, his wife invites her in to see and use their library to her heart's content.  Unfortunately, when her staunch Nazi husband discovers it, he throws Liesel out and fires Rosa.  Later, when Max becomes very ill, Liesel starts to sneak into the Bürgermeister's library to borrow books to read to him.   Liesel and Max are definitely kindred spirits when it comes to their love of books, reading and words.

Despite living in Nazi Germany, Liesel is surrounded by people who love her and whom she loves.  But Death soon visits again and Liesel loses everyone she loves.  Death also informs us that Liesel grew up, married (not Max), had children and grandchildren, and became a successful writer.

Not everyone disliked this movie as intensely as the two critics above.  And neither did I, although I do think it is a somewhat flawed film.  Cinematically, it is a beautiful film.  It was directed by Brian Percival, whom you might remember directed some of the Downtown Abbey episodes.  And there is a definite Downtown feel to The Book Thief, mostly notably in the cinematic color palette Percival used.  It was done in dark shades of browns, blacks, and red so that the bright red, white and black of the Nazi flag really stands out, as does the fire yellows in the book burning scene.

Living in Nazi Germany meant leaving in constant fear, but I didn't necessarily feel that that in the movie, as much as in the book.  Sure, there were air raids and house searches looking for hidden Jews and constantly being hungry, there was even a scene where Jews were forced to march through the streets in a roundup.  And when Hans stands up for a Jewish acquaintance, he finds himself drafted into the German Army despite his age.  But there was a certain lack of feeling on the part of the characters even while they are endearing themselves to you.

The person I watched the movie with thought it was odd that Liesel and Rudy were both in the Hitler Youth, but they would have had no choice, that was mandatory by then.  Penalties for not letting your children join were harsh and stiff.  But it is clear, even as Germany is losing on the Eastern Front, Liesel believes what she has been told - that Germany is winning the war.

The book burning seems strangely out of place.  Book burning were done in the early 1930s,  In all my research, I don't recall hearing about book burnings happening the late 1930s or early 1940s.  It seems a  plot device to bring Liesel and the Bürgermeister's wife together on a mutual appreciative ground.  Her dead son was also a lover of books and the library that temporarily is made accessible to Liesel belonged to him.

Five years pass during which Liesel lives with the Hubermann's that we see and in all that time, Liesel and Rudy don't get older.  The only concession to time passing this the length of Liesel's hair, but Rudy never matures beyond his original 12 years.

Those are my main gripes about The Book Thief.  On the whole, I did like the film, and thought the acting was excellent.  Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson play the Hubermanns,  Sophie Nélisse plays Liesel and Nico Liersch is Rudy.  Some complaints were made because the characters speaks English with German accents with the occasional German word.  My feeling was that it bridged the fact that I was watching a German story in English and helped to keep the sense of place.

This film is recommended for viewers age 13+
This film was purchased for my personal library

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Two Dog Heroes of WWI

 Rags: Hero Dog of WWI, a true story
written by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Petra Brown

This is the story of a mongrel dog who was surviving by his wits in Paris when he was found by an American soldier named James Donovan during an air raid after the Americans entered WWI.

Private Donovan felt sorry for the hungry, scruffy, scared pup, giving him the very suitable name Rags.  When the air raid was over, Donovan took Rags back to his army base, where he was ordered to pack up this gear so he could leave for the battlefield that night.  And yes, Rags went with him.

It didn't take long for Rags to become a favorite with the soldiers and to adjust to infantry life in the trenches.  He was immediately put to work, chasing mice and rats out of the trench where Donovan was fighting.  Donovan was a radio operator and soon Rags was delivering important messages all up and down the trenches.

It didn't take long for Rags to become quite the hero.  In October 1918, little more than a month before the war ended, Donovan and Rags were both seriously injured in a terrible battle, but not before Rags got a message through that helps the Allies win the battle.  At the army hospital, a kind doctor found Rags and took care of his injuries.  From then on, Rags was blind in one eye, deaf in one ear and walked with a limp.  Sadly, Donovan did not survive his injuries.

Rags: Hero Dog of WWI is really a picture book for older readers, though there are not real resources at the back of the book.  It is well written, but though the story is based on an actual dog, it is really historical fiction.  Still, it is an inspiring work and is sure to please kids who like animal stories.  By the same token, it introduces the reader to some of the horrors of war in a gentle, age appropriate way.

The soft, muted realistic illustrations by Petra Brown are sure to tug at the heartstrings.  I know they did mine.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Stubby the Dog Soldier, World War I Hero
written by Blake Hoena, illustrated by Oliver Hurst

Like Rags, Stubby (named that because of his stubby tail) was also a scruffy stray who began to follow Private J. Robert Conroy around his army base in New Haven, CT after Conroy had given him some leftover food.  Soon, Conroy made a place for Stubby to sleep under his bed and a friendship was born.  It didn't take long for Stubby to become the mascot of the 26th Infantry Division and in August 1917, he sailed to France with the soldiers.

On the battlefield, Stubby's keen sense of smell served as a warning when the enemy starting using mustard gas to attack the soldiers.  The mustard gas would have burned their skin and lungs so they couldn't breath if Stubby hadn't warned them.  Soon, the soldiers learned to follow Stubby's cues.  He sense of hearing warned them when a bomb was coming so they could take cover, and he even helped capture a German soldier crawling over no man's land to drop a grenade in the trenches.

When the war ended, Conroy went to Georgetown Law and Stubby went with him, becoming the football team's mascot.  Stubby died in 1926.

Stubby the Dog Soldier, World War I Hero is a similar story to that of Rags, but for younger readers.  It too is well written and straightforward, with back matter that includes a glossary, books for further reading and even a Critical Thinking using the Common Core section.

Oliver Hurst's oil painted and pencil folk art type illustrations are done in a palette of browns, greens and blues, giving Stubby's story a real feeling of the battlefield, where I don't imagine there were too many bright colors anywhere, since soldiers was to blend in the background.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was received from the publisher

Dogs were not officially used in World War I, but both Rags and Stubby were two of the exceptions.  In fact, each received a write-up in the New York Times when they died.

You can read the obituary for Rags HERE and Stubby's HERE (oddly located at the bottom of the page about the Metropolitian Museum of Art)