Mischling, Second Degree Critical Context - Essay

Ilse Koehn

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

“Mischling,” Second Degree is an excellent book for young adults. The personal experiences of a person of their own age depict the evil inherent in Hitler’s ideology and state more poignantly than a traditional historical text because it is easier to identify with the fate of a single individual than of millions. The strength of Koehn’s work is that it details the horrors of total war for all children, regardless of their nationality, while it paints a vivid picture of daily life in a totalitarian society, both in triumph and under siege. The irony of a youthful Mischling, second degree serving in a leadership capacity for the very state that despises her origins adds both poignancy and an atmosphere of tension to Koehn’s narrative. It is doubtful that any young adult who reads her story will be able to adopt a cynical attitude concerning the Holocaust or to avoid thinking seriously about prejudice, total war, genocide, and the fragile nature of childhood.

In addition to being proclaimed “one of the best books, fictional or autobiographical, about Germany under the Nazi regime” by the bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, “Mischling,” Second Degree won the Boston Globe-Horn’s coveted book award. The book belongs in every junior and senior high-school library.