Book Review: The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler

The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler by James Giblin 223p.

Giblin’s middle grade biography traces Hitler’s life from nearly homeless artist to ruthless dictator.

The first chapter is short and sets up the story with what kids will know about Adolph Hitler: he once ruled Germany and he’s dead. Giblin explains that while young people might not know exactly who he was or what he did, they have older family members who were influenced by Hitler’s actions. Questions that kids might ask about Hitler, such as why didn’t people stop him sooner, are posed and the author promises to explore them in the book.

adolf hitler

Adolph Hitler as a baby

Giblin’s straightforward storytelling of Hitler’s childhood makes him, at least at this point, more relatable to young people. For example, kids that tried out and didn’t make a sports team could understand Hitler’s disappointment when he didn’t get accepted to art school. Any one who has lost a family member can understand why Hitler didn’t want to accept his mother’s cancer diagnosis.

The book goes on to explain Hitler’s crushing disappointment after World War I. He had nearly gone blind trying to defend his country, but Germany lost anyway. Like other German soldiers, Hitler resented the Versailles Treaty which made Germany pay nations like Britain and France for the cost of the war. When the German army needed instructors to teach the evils of Communism and the importance of nationalism to the troops, they had little idea that they were helping to launch the career of a dictator. Through his speeches Hitler learned that he had the power to persuade audiences–a skill he would use again and again in the coming years.

Unlike other biographers, Giblin does not pretend to have all the answers. For example, while other biographers have speculated that Hitler may have disliked Jews because his mother’s doctor was a Jew, Giblin points out that Hitler only had kind words for the doctor. Giblin comes to the conclusion that there is no obvious reason for Hitler’s feelings but that hating Jews was a main feature of Hitler’s life from 1919 until his death.

The book points out why the Nazi party was popular with some Germans during the Great Depression. Hitler’s rise to power coincided with an increase in jobs and better working conditions. People were healthier, too. Hitler even suggested that an affordable car called the Volkswagen (the people’s car) be produced so that the middle class could drive around town and go on vacations. Though the lives of Jewish people were increasingly restricted, Hitler often didn’t emphasize his anti-Semitic beliefs in his pre-World War II speeches.

As Giblin explains, World War II came about because of serious misunderstandings between Hitler and the British and French. Britain and France didn’t want another war, so they stood by while Hitler took over territories like Austria and Czechoslovakia for Germany. Britain warned that it would stand by Poland, however. Hitler thought the British were bluffing and proceeded with his invasion only to find himself at war with Britain, France, and eventually the Soviet Union and U.S.

Although Giblin does talk about the Holocaust, his coverage of the extermination of the Jews is somewhat brief, perhaps because Hitler delegated the working of concentration camps to other Nazi officials. The book does quote Hitler’s book Mein Kampf which outlined his hatred for Jews. It also covers the laws restricting Jewish participation in society in the 1930s.

Giblin does a good job of incorporating stories from and about young people. He includes  members of the Hitler Youth, a group that indoctrinated young people in the policies of the Nazi Party. Hitler’s troubled relationship with his niece Geli and his odd romance with the young Eva Braun are explored. In addition, Giblin includes stories of young people like Sophie Scholl and her brother who bravely opposed Hitler’s political agenda.

Extensive photos help Giblin’s gifted storytelling come to life. Included are rare photos of Hitler in private, family photos and paintings, and photos of Hitler’s Nazi followers.

Readers would have benefited from short summaries of important people in Hitler’s political life. It can be hard for young readers to keep track of people with similar names, such as Himmler and Heydrich.

The book ends with a cautionary note: leaders like Hitler can still come to power under the right conditions, but hopefully future generations will use their knowledge of others’ mistakes to prevent such an event.

Overall, The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler provides young people with a solid introduction to the career of one of the most infamous men in history.

World War II Begins as Germany Invades Poland

When Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, he felt sure of two things. First, he believed that Germany’s attack on Poland would be swift and successful. Second, he thought Britain and France would not respond to the attack with force. Only one of Hitler’s assumptions proved correct.

The attack was quick and it was a success. German air and armed forces were much more advanced than their Polish counterparts. Poland possessed 600 tanks to Germany’s 3,200. Unlike the Germans, the Poles still had cavalry as part of their army divisions.

In the early morning of September 1, German aircraft bombed Warsaw. Meanwhile, the German army invaded Poland from the north and south. During multiple air raids, the Germans targeted railroads, roads, and Polish troops. Villages were also bombed in order to terrify civilians. Hitler wanted the civilians to attempt to escape and thus block Polish reinforcements from using the remaining roads.

German troops breaking border barrier

German troops breaking border barrier in Polish town. September 1, 1939

Though he successfully conquered Poland a few weeks later, Hitler miscalculated British and French attitudes to his takeover. He knew that Britain and France had agreed to aid Poland in the spring of 1939 if she came under attack. Still, Hitler wasn’t very worried about a military response from either country.

To avoid war with Germany in previous years, Britain and France had already granted Hitler’s demands for German rearmament. They also allowed him to make Austria and Czechoslovakia part of the Third Reich. He thought a takeover of Poland would be followed by more peace talks, not war. Yet leaders in Britain and France had already concluded that Hitler’s demands might never end unless they threatened war.

On the evening of September 1, Poland asked Britain and France to honor their promise to defend Poland. That same day, British Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain delivered a speech to the House of Commons. He said, “Eighteen months ago in this House I prayed that the responsibility might not fall upon me to ask this country to accept the awful arbitrament of war. I fear that I may not be able to avoid that responsibility.” On September 3rd, Britain’s ambassador to Germany delivered an ultimatum stating that if Germany did not stop its attack on Poland by 11 AM, Britain would go to war with Germany. Germany did not respond, and Britain’s Prime Minster made an announcement on the radio that the country was at war with Germany.

Raoul Wallenberg and the Rescue of Jews During World War II

As a young man growing up in Sweden, Raoul Wallenberg couldn’t figure out what he wanted to do with his life. His family expected him to become a banker, but his grandfather also wanted him to travel Europe. Wallenberg thought traveling to foreign countries was exciting, so with his grandfather’s blessing he worked for a branch of the family’s bank in Haifa, Palestine. Since he arrived in Palestine during the 1930s, the boarding house where he stayed at night was filled with Jewish families who recently fled Germany. Adolf Hitler was in power and the Nazi party placed harsh penalties on the Jews, making it difficult for them to earn a living or even walk the streets without fear of being beaten.

 Traveling Europe after World War II

Bored with his work, Wallenberg left the bank. After World War II began, he met a Jewish businessman named Koloman Lauer from Hungary. Wallenberg’s home country stayed neutral during the war, but Hungary’s alliance with Germany made it impossible for native Jewish businessmen to travel in Europe. Instead, Lauer hired Wallenberg to travel on his behalf. Though Wallenberg enjoyed traveling, what he saw in Nazi-occupied territories like Hungary disturbed him. He encountered Nazis beating Jews in the streets and saw families rounded up and sent to so-called labor camps where they seemed to disappear. Wallenberg’s family was Jewish and he wanted to do something help, but he didn’t know what he could do.

 Wallenberg’s Assignment

Finally, in 1944, Wallenberg received the opportunity to aid Europe’s Jews. The United States had just formed the War Refugee Board, which was designed to provide rescue and relief programs for European Jews. The Board’s representative in Sweden needed a Swedish diplomat who could travel to Budapest, Hungary and rescue Jews there. Wallenberg’s boss mentioned his name to the WRB representative in Sweden, Iver Olsen. Olsen met with Wallenberg and warned him of the dangers of his mission. Wallenberg didn’t care about himself—he just wanted to do something to stop the Nazis.

 Efforts to Protect Hungarian Jews

When he arrived in Hungary, Wallenberg decided the best way to protect Jews was to provide them with Swedish identification badges. The badges proved that these Jews had ties to the neutral country of Sweden and therefore could not be deported by the Nazis. When Wallenberg ran out of official badges, he printed his own. Approximately 7,000 Hungarians received protective badges. Wallenberg also turned large houses in Budapest into Swedish safe houses and allowed Jewish people to live in them. Each house flew the Swedish flag, signifying neutral territory. The badges and safe houses all served the purpose of protecting Jews from deportation to concentration camps where Jews were killed. With the help of a Jewish staff, Wallenberg also worked on other projects, like setting up hospitals and soup kitchens for needy Jews.


Despite Wallenberg’s best efforts to protect Hungarian Jews, the Nazis sometimes tried to defy him. On one occasion, he returned to the safe houses and discovered German troops rounding up all the able-bodied Jewish men. When the German patrol refused to leave, Wallenberg said, “As long as I live, none will be taken out of here. First you will have to shoot me.” The Nazis decided against making an enemy out of Sweden by killing Wallenberg, so the patrol left. Unfortunately, they returned later to snatch a handful of Jews and placed them on a train bound for a concentration camp. Undaunted, Wallenberg sped away in his car and caught up with the train. He shouted for the Jews onboard to show their papers, and anyone with Swedish papers returned to the safe houses with him.

Results of Wallenberg’s Work

Wallenberg’s massive efforts helped save tens of thousands of Jews. Though Wallenberg mysteriously disappeared when the Soviet Army arrived in Budapest in 1945, he left a legacy of helping others even when the task endangered his life.

The Importance of Teaching the Holocaust

Though by middle school I knew about the murder of Jewish people and others in the Holocaust during World War II, the topic was not emphasized in my history classes. As a teenager, I watched the movie Schindler’s List at a friend’s house. Seeing this movie was an emotional experience for me, particularly at the end when the main character regrets that he could not save more Jews.

After watching Schindler’s List, I came to the conclusion that the Germans were bad people. The movie’s characters are portrayed as either good or evil. If I had only watched the movie, I would have held on to these assumptions. When I finally took a course on the Holocaust in college, however, I realized that the film stereotyped the behavior of Germans and Jews during the Holocaust. For example, Nazis were not simply fanatical murderers. Many of them were well educated, loved their families, and enjoyed classical music. In fact, classical music helped some Nazis relax after the day’s brutalities. They were not terrible people but rather people who did terrible things. Also, not all Jews were helpless victims. Holocaust survivor Primo Levi said that the history of the concentration camps could not be divided into simple groups of victims and persecutors. He talked about a “gray zone” in which corrupt Jews in positions of authority abused fellow prisoners while some Nazis showed they were human by weeping as they killed people.

In addition to the gray boundaries between victims and persecutors, I learned that the German population as a whole was not made up of monsters. Instead, they were mainly worried about their own well being in wartime. Busy with their own concerns, average Germans reacted with indifference when Jews were excluded from certain professions and public places.

While the German indifference towards the Jews is inexcusable, the amount of knowledge that the German population had about the extermination of the Jews is still debatable. Although their indifference to milder forms of prejudice made it possible for others to contemplate extermination, the majority of Germans had little information about the death camps. As one historian suggested, “the very secrecy of the ‘Final Solution’ [the Nazis’ plan to kill the Jews] demonstrates more clearly than anything else the fact that the Nazi leadership felt it could not rely on popular backing for its extermination policy.”

In fact, if faced with enough problems of our own, Americans might act with indifference toward a persecuted group. This is one of the most important reasons that young adults should study the Holocaust. Although the Holocaust happened years ago, prejudice against others who are different can still lead to serious consequences. The underlying dislike of Jews in the minds of Europeans laid the foundation for a catastrophe, particularly when the Great Depression in the 1930s came and people could not find work. Many European countries were also beaten down after losing World War I.  The majority of Europeans blamed the Jews for their sufferings and looked for a leader who would tell them how great their country would be again.

Of course, some Americans might say that we are not prejudiced against Jews, did not elect Adolf Hitler, and our economy is not as bad as it was in the 1930s. Yet some of the same ingredients for another Holocaust exist in America today. Murders of homosexuals, the isolation of some African-Americans and others in ghettos, as well as racial hate groups are all present in American society. Like the majority of the German population during World War II, most people in America do not condone killing minorities, but some feel uncomfortable helping them or associating with them. If this prejudice spreads and other factors like an economic depression and a persuasive leader are added, the world could witness another Holocaust. Teaching the Holocaust is important because it shows students that we must learn from history so the same event cannot happen again.