In chapter one of Max, we are introduced to a male fetus created through the Nazi Lebensborn program. Through the protagonist’s carefully curated blue eyes, we learn how the program breeds children to embody traits of the ideal Aryan race — “I must be blond. I must have blue eyes. I must be sharp. Lean. Hard. Tough. Made of Krupp Steel” — and quickly takes them from their birth mothers’ arms to be raised by the Reich.
Max rises to the head of his litter in physical perfection and Draufgängertum, the desired quality of “a go-getter, daredevil.” As he grows, Max is found to be singularly exceptional at helping various temporary caretakers — doctors, sisters, SS officers — lure fair-haired, blue eyed, Polish children from their families to be Germanized to bring more children into the Aryan race. Max revels in his role helping the Führer, and he wants for nothing more. When at six he meets Lukas, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jew, who is afraid of nothing, their friendship throws everything Max has believed into question.
Like so many stories to which we are asked to bear witness, this is not always a pleasant tale. It depicts childhoods filled to the brim with war, and spares no horrific detail. While the descriptions of teens plotting murders and girls forced at the hands of soldiers may not be for all, the brutality of hearing this story through the first-person narration of a child highlights the task we are asked to perform as listeners. As a rescue worker encourages Max when the war is done but the deeds are still fresh: “here the children are not punished for the sins of the father.” Recommended for ages 15 and up.