Paul Ritter is under intense pressure; his friends, classmates, and teachers are pressuring him to join the newly organized Hitler Youth. They say terrible things about the Jews, denigrating their characters, mocking their facial features, and promulgating stereotypes that shock and horrify Paul. He knows these allegations cannot be true; his Jewish friend, Analia, does not fit this description at all. Paul likes Analia — more than likes. In truth, he cares for her deeply.
Nevertheless, teachers and powerful bullies among his schoolmates hold great sway, and they are backed up by newly enacted laws. Paul begins to feel as if he has no choice but to participate. He is worried about what may happen to his family if he continues to refuse. He has seen a classmate turn his own parents in to Hitler’s henchmen for refusing to parrot the Nazi party line, and he wants to protect his own parents from a similar fate. He tentatively joins Hitler Youth, hoping to participate as little as possible.
Then Paul meets a group of young people, called the Edelweiss Pirates, who are resisting the Nazi regime, and he feels moved to join in their activities. Their mission is to protest and disrupt the Nazis’ actions in any way they possibly can. When he glimpses Analia and her family being forced to scrub the pavement amid a jeering group of spectators and sees the look in her eyes when she takes note of his Hitler Youth uniform, his resolve to resist grows even stronger. Paul joins the Edelweiss Pirates and accompanies the group on their missions of sabotage. When an opportunity comes to hide Analia, Paul and his family bravely risk their lives. The dangers they face are extreme, but Paul knows he is doing what is right.
An author’s note explains that the story’s characters are fictional, but the events depicted are very real. She summarizes the history of the time in a manner the reader can understand, focusing on such issues as Nazi propaganda, the Hitler Youth, and the Edelweiss Pirates, including a black-and-white photograph of the real Edelweiss Pirates and another picture of one of their members who was hanged in 1944 for participating in a plot to blow up Gestapo headquarters.
The author, noted for her many books for children about the Holocaust, has once again edified and enlightened today’s youth about the events of the time and their implications for today.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.