Literary Criticism and Significance

Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow has enjoyed great success. Bartoletti aimed this work at a young audience, telling the history of World War II as it affected the children of Germany particularly through their education and through the Hitler Youth. Hitler Youth was critically acclaimed and won both the Newbery Honor Award and the Robert F. Sibert Medal.

Critics have responded positively to Bartoletti’s use of the personal experiences that drive her historical study of the Hitler Youth. Hitler Youth relies on the stories and experiences of twelve children, and these recollections provide specific details and reflections about national politics and policies that were all too visible. Bartoletti is quite transparent in her sources, providing not only her sources but also a brief biography of each of the children whose perspectives are used in the book. At the end of Hitler Youth, she discusses what happened to these children after they grew up and how they overcame these traumatic experiences to go on with their lives after the war had ended.

Hitler Youth is highly readable. Bartoletti has a clear writing style that she employs to take her audience through the twelve years of the Third Reich. Additionally, the book contains photographs and maps to help clarify what is being discussed for her young audience. Not surprisingly, Hitler Youth has been used in many schools to explore themes of conformity, peer pressure, and resistance. Perhaps her voice is Bartoletti’s most useful tool in speaking to her young audience. On one hand, Bartoletti adopts an impartial, historian’s voice throughout Hitler Youth, leaving only her Author’s Note to directly state her emotional views of the Hitler Youth. On the other hand, Bartoletti is careful never to lose sight of the humanity of these events and does her best to provide a human context for every event she discusses.

Hitler Youth is not an unusual book within Bartoletti’s body of work. Bartoletti has devoted her writing to children’s literature, both fiction and nonfiction. She often writes about the effects of poverty on children and on society, such as in Growing Up in Coal Country and Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845–1850. Bartoletti has written more about Helmuth Hübener in her novel The Boy Who Dared and has expanded on her exploration of organized hate in They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group.