Children To A Degree by Horst Christian has a subtitle on the cover which might not attract the general reader. “Growing Up Under the Third Reich,” can evoke a reaction of “ho-hum, another apologetic story of WWII Germany.” Some might think it is a work of complete fiction. As the author points out (turn the page) this work of fiction is based on a true story. I found this on sale at Amazon for USD 0.00 as of 10 December 10, 2017, and was pleased to note this is the first in a series of four about WWII and Germany even though it was published third in the series and subsequently renamed as Book 1. I look forward to reading the remaining three books in the series.
PERSONAL BIAS NOTE: I am a baby boomer born in Germany in 1946 to a mother who had a childhood similar to characters described in this book. This novel explains some of her later life choices with behavior that I can now see came from the very repressed, controlled, situations under which she lived. She was a cold, impersonal, and sometimes terrifying (to a small child) person and only much later in life could I appreciate the depressions she must have dealt with. This novel informed me of different societal practices that combined with a bit of personal reflection impressed me deeply. This was a novel of great value for me, maybe not so much for a general audience although it is a well-told story suitable for all.
Karl and Harold are two main children protagonists. They are best friends, both ten years old, and both think it is the time they enrolled in the Nazi youth movement, a movement with many levels. Throughout this novel, the boys will rise to increasingly higher levels and assume more responsibilities from 1940 to 1945 when the world will crash around them. They are best friends and rarely disagree although there will be some tension as they later attend different schools. Karl will remain the boy who questions everything and tries rationalize Nazi policy changes with the truth. Karl’s dad remains skeptical of the New Order but does not intend to vocally oppose it. Karl’s mom embraces Nazi doctrine and sees it as fitting and appropriate for Germany. Karl’s grandfather (Opa) lets it be known that he has seen it all before in the Great War, the War to End All Wars, WWI. Karl will use every opportunity to question his grandfather in a search for truth.
Harold’s father remains a shadowy character. He coexists with the system; he is a “fixer.” In times of food shortage, Harold’s dad can get food. When there is a shortage of gas masks, Harold’s dad can get one of the needed sizes for Karl’s baby sister. Although Harold seems at times brainwashed, the propaganda efforts of the Reich can go too far and become too absurd for even Harold. There will be a time when even Harold will exploit some of the weaknesses of the totalitarian regime.
In this novel, readers will see the role of women in the Third Reich as opposed to the traditional Prussian cultural role. Women did not work. They were to stay at home and take care of the family. Men who needed the financial help of a working woman should not be married. This would change under Hitler as men disappeared from the workforce into the Army. This became difficult for the society at large to accept. The SS was here to help impose and implement draconian systems of punishment for those who could not adapt. Disappearances into jails, prisons, and camps became more commonplace.
Harold and Karl saw this change immediately with the first appearance of female teachers. Teachers with education degrees had disappeared first, replaced by party loyalists charged with instilling strict discipline in the classroom (Heil Hitler). They disappeared and were replaced by women. In a major gaffe, children had been taught that women who used any form of makeup were prostitutes so when teachers with lipstick showed up, the all-male student body went home to complain to their parents. Plainer-looking teachers replaced them. Then came the ultimate insult, co-educational classes.
Harold and Karl proceed with their education while advancing in the Hitler Youth. Activities required them to go on frequent “camping” trips which were in fact relocation activities to keep children away from areas under Allied Forces bombardment. Karl is the main activity leader while Harold goes off to special schools, some emphasizing English language. During many of Karl’s travels, he is responsible for younger students. At times female teachers defer to him. This is a society that carries Patriarchy to an extreme.
This is a novel to read and reflect upon. Students of propaganda will like this. As the reader progresses through the novel there are many opportunities to question why an intelligent highly educated group of people would allow themselves to become so subjugated by a politically ignorant, narcissistic, misogynistic, racist, out-of-control monster. Luckily for us, all those times are in the past.
I gave this novel five stars on Amazon (note personal bias above). If I weren’t so biased, I would have given it four stars. It is a good story.