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.

“Give-’em-hell-Harry” The Presidency of Harry Truman

Future president Harry Truman had a difficult childhood. A kid wearing glasses was a rare thing in the farm town of Independence, Missouri, and his schoolmates teased him. Since he was not very tall, they nicknamed him “little four eyes.”

Young Harry Truman also had different goals than most other children. He loved music and hoped to become a concert pianist. As a result of his father’s bad investments Truman could no longer receive piano lessons or even apply to college. Although he hated it, he worked the family farm until his father died. Truman then tried his hand at various business ventures, all of which failed.

Despite his poor eyesight and the fact that he was past the draft age, Harry managed to serve as a combat artillery captain in World War I. He discovered his ability to lead other people and gained the respect of his men. The experience boosted his confidence. He returned to Missouri as a war hero and married his sweetheart Bess Wallace.

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Official Presidential Portrait of Harry Truman

Truman needed to support his family and had to find work. After another business failure, he decided to try politics. It helped that he had kept in touch with the other veterans he served with during World War I. With the help of his friends and Democratic Party boss Tom Pendergast, Harry got elected first as a judge and later to other county offices. Despite his association with Pendergast, who had criminal ties, Harry became known for his honesty and his desire to help the common man during the Great Depression.

In 1934 Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate. He served as chairman of a committee that uncovered the Defense Department’s wasteful spending. The public found Truman’s honesty and even his swearing so refreshing that they nicknamed him “Give-’em-hell-Harry.”

During the 1944 presidential election Truman was selected as President Franklin Roosevelt’s vice-president. Only a few months after he became vice-president, Roosevelt died and Truman had to take over. At the time he thought, “There must be a million other men more qualified for the presidential task. But the work was mine to do, and I had to do it.”

Chief among Truman’s tasks was to bring World War II to a successful conclusion. Even after Germany surrendered, the fighting with Japan dragged on. Truman believed that if the war in the Pacific continued, up to 100,000 American soldiers could die. He decided that if Japan refused to surrender, he would use the new atomic bomb.

On July 26, 1945, Truman warned Japan that it would be destroyed if it continued to fight. The Japanese Emperor still would not give up. In August, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs, one on the town of Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki. Finally, the Japanese Emperor surrendered and the war was over.

Truman received criticism in later years for using the atomic bombs, which mostly killed Japanese civilians. He never regretted his decision, however. As Truman put it “The greatest part of the president’s job is to make decisions…he can’t pass the buck to anybody.”

After World War II Truman turned his attention to stopping the spread of communism. The start of a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union worried voters, and Truman’s popularity suffered. In 1948 he was probably the only person who thought he would be re-elected president. He took the campaign seriously and made hundreds of speeches throughout the country on his “Whistle-stop campaign” tour. Truman’s confidence proved to be prophetic when he won.

Truman’s second term was dominated by his decision to support South Korea when it was invaded by communist North Korea. He never asked Congress for a declaration of war because he feared the public would be reminded of World War II. As the war went on, Truman’s popularity took a nosedive.

Even though he had a poor approval rating, the public was still shocked when he announced that he didn’t plan to run for president again. He took delight in returning to Missouri and becoming “Mr. Citizen.” Truman lived to see much of his reputation restored. He became known not only for overseeing the end of World War II but also for desegregating the military and banning racial discrimination in the federal government.

 

Before the Great Depression: President Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover was born in Iowa, which made him the first president to be born west of the Mississippi River. Though he was orphaned at age nine, he managed to get a geology degree from Stanford University. When he was evaluating mines in Australia, he sent a telegram with a marriage proposal to his future wife and Stanford graduate Lou. Lou had always wanted to marry someone who appreciated the outdoors, and Hoover did. Even as president he took time to go fishing.

During World War I, Hoover headed a relief effort for starving Belgian citizens. In Europe he was known as “the food czar.” Back in the states he also organized a relief effort after a massive flood along the Mississippi River. As secretary of commerce under Harding and Coolidge, he opened up new markets for business and helped standardize products like car tires.

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Official Presidential Portrait of Herbert Hoover

Hoover was so popular that he easily won the presidential election in 1928. Even he seemed to realize the possible dangers of people viewing him as “some kind of superman”, however. He worried that some catastrophe would occur during his time in office. When the stock market crashed and left many Americans unemployed and hungry, Hoover had the catastrophe he feared.

One of Hoover’s errors was his belief that local governments and volunteerism could stop the Great Depression. He opposed direct federal government aid for most of his presidency, though he did authorize loans for state and federal government projects in order to create jobs. Hoover also made some poorly thought out statements to the press that gave people the impression that the multimillionaire didn’t care about them.

To be fair, the depression continued for eight more years even with Franklin Roosevelt’s federal aid. Despite mistakes, Hoover’s administration introduced some progressive ideas. For example, he invited prominent black leaders to the White House, something his predecessors avoided. He also supported tax reductions for the poor.

Though he knew he would not win another term, Hoover’s love for America never wavered. After all, he had signed a law making The Star-Spangled Banner America’s national anthem.

Surprising Facts about US Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

As a young boy, Theodore Roosevelt often struggled to breathe at night because of his asthma. Although modern doctors would be appalled, Roosevelt’s doctors suggested that the boy smoke cigars to improve his symptoms.

The family thought Roosevelt’s brother, Elliot, later father of Eleanor Roosevelt, was most likely to succeed. Elliot struggled with alcoholism, however. Theodore soon outpaced his brother both physically and mentally. He was a voracious reader and would read almost anywhere about almost any subject. Even as president he snuck a few minutes between appointments to read nature books.

While in office he expanded the authority of the president. Roosevelt believed that the president could do whatever the law didn’t specifically prohibit him from doing.

Roosevelt engaged in a number of presidential firsts. He was the first president to understand and use the press to gain public support for his programs. In fact, Roosevelt enjoyed talking with the press so much that he spoke to a reporter during his morning shave. Roosevelt was also the first president to invite an African American (Booker T. Washington), to dinner at the White House.

Although he enjoyed being president, Roosevelt was disappointed to preside over the country in a time of peace. He believed that he could not be a great president without steering the nation through a great crisis.

Franklin Roosevelt

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FDR’s Official Presidential Portrait

Though he was a Democrat and his distant cousin Theodore a Republican, Franklin always admired Theodore. Theodore gave his cousin Franklin his blessing on more than one occasion. He supported Franklin’s marriage to his niece, Eleanor. He also supported Franklin’s desire to become a politician. After Theodore’s death, animosity grew between the two branches of the Roosevelt family. Theodore’s sons saw themselves as the natural heirs to their father’s success, but none of them came close to Franklin’s political achievements.

After a series of political appointments, FDR was diagnosed with polio. In 2003, scientists called that diagnosis into question. They suggested that FDR might not have had polio, but Guillain-Barre syndrome, an aggressive form of neuropathy. Regardless of the medical cause, FDR’s paralysis made him terrified that he might become trapped in a fire. His home at Springwood near Hyde Park, NY has an elevator that FDR could operate by pulling ropes in case the electricity failed.

Like his cousin Theodore, FDR had a good relationship with the press as president. As a result, he was rarely photographed in his wheelchair. While trying to get the nation out of the Great Depression, he created a variety of government programs that became well-known. There was almost nothing FDR would not try in order to stimulate the economy. For example, he tried to move the Thanksgiving holiday backwards so that consumers would have more shopping days before Christmas.

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.

Huey Long: Champion of the Poor

When he was eight years old, Huey Long saw a neighbor lose his farm at a sheriff’s auction.  The farmer owed money to a store, and once the farm was sold, the farmer and his family were homeless.  Huey remembered, “The poor farmer was out. I was horrified. I could not understand. It seemed criminal.”

The memory of that day stayed with Huey during his political career as Governor of Louisiana and later as a U.S. Senator. He made few friends in politics, particularly during his time in the Senate from 1930-1933. Huey thought that government in general was too concerned with the interests of Wall Street and thought Roosevelt’s New Deal programs did not do enough for the poor. Though his time in the Senate was short, he made the most of it by speaking out for the underprivileged.

He introduced his program Share Our Wealth to Congress. Instead of letting the majority of the nation’s money reside with a lucky few, Huey wanted a more equal distribution of wealth. The program called for a limit on how much money millionaires could make so that every hard-working American family could have at least $2,000 a year. At the time, that amount of money would be enough for a house and a car. He also wanted every child to have the opportunity to get a good education. As he stated in one of his Senate speeches, “From the worst to the best there would be no limit to opportunity. One might become a millionaire or more. There would be a chance for talent to make a man big, because enough would be floating in the land to give brains a chance to be used.” He emphasized that there was enough education, money, and land in America to make “every man a king.”  

With encouragement from Huey’s speeches and radio addresses, people formed Share the Wealth clubs throughout the U.S. They met to share Long’s ideas with each other. In 1935, more than 7.5 million people were club members. Obviously, the nation still suffered from economic difficulties despite the work of the New Deal.

Although the government did not act immediately on his ideas, many government programs today address issues that concerned Huey Long. These include college financial aid, housing assistance, the Works Progress Administration and food stamps among others.