Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s The Boy Who Dared, published in 2008 by Scholastic Press, recounts an episode taken from her 2005 book Hitler Youth. The Boy Who Dared is a historical novel based on a real person named Helmut Hübener.
The novel takes place in Nazi Germany just after it has formed. Hitler rises to power by promising to help Germany recover from its nationwide economic depression. He offers hopeful ideas for an impoverished country after the defeat of World War I. He promises, “No more unemployment! No more inflation!" But part of the Third Reich’s message is a call for its youth to participate in the rebuilding of the country. Helmut Hübener, a teenager at the time, hears the call and enters the Hitler Youth program.
Some Germans think Hitler is a madman, but others find reasons to support him. Hübener struggles with reconciling Nazi propaganda with his education as a Mormon. He does not understand why the Third Reich invades other countries or spreads anti-Semitic messages. Over time, Hübener watches a Jewish classmate be beaten and sees a Jewish neighbor taken away by Nazi soldiers. He also cannot understand why other Germans do not oppose such violent acts.
Growing more and more suspicious of Third Reich propaganda, Hübener comes to rely on the BBC's news because it announces German as well as British losses in the war. Using an old typewriter, he begins to develop a newsletter with information that he gathers from BBC reports over illegal radio waves. In the middle of the night, he hands out flyers denouncing Hitler in his town. Soon he is arrested, beaten, and tortured.
By 1942, Hübener is on death row—the point at which the novel opens. Largely told in flashbacks, the narrative begins on day 264 of his imprisonment. As he waits for his execution, Hübener reflects on his life and remembers his mother, Mutti, and his older half brothers, Gerhard and Hans.
Bartoletti’s portrayal of Helmut Hübener's life is at once educational, entertaining, and sobering. It presents a view of Germany from the inside, from a teenager who grows up watching the horrible drama of the Third Reich unfold.