It is the story of a young man, Helmuth Guddat Hübener in Germany during Hitler's reign of terror. It is based on a true story. The boy is a German, and joins the Hitler Youth caught up in the glory of it all, at the start. On page 48 he says, "A savior is somebody who rescues someone or something from harm or danger,...That's what Hitler has done. He has rescued the Fatherland from poverty, unemployment, and inflation - just as he promised he would." He does not want to join because of his stepfather. His older brother is drafted into the army. He would not refuse to serve his country even though he was not a Nazi and did not believe in what he was going off to fight for. He left behind a short wave radio, which he told Helmuth not to use. It was locked in a closet. Helmuth did not listen, as is true of younger brothers and broke into the closet so he could get the radio.
Helmuth listened to the BBC and he begins to realize that people's rights are being denied, that the Jews are being threatened, and their livelihoods destroyed. Listening to the radio, he realizes that they are being lied to and that information is being censored. He realizes that the world is dangerous, at least in Germany. Ideas must agree with the party philosophy, because if they do not your life is in danger. "'Listening to foreign radio stations is forbidden,' continues the newscaster. 'Violations will be punished by imprisonment or death.'"(page 77)
It is in this world, this time that he comes to terms with many things. Friends can turn on you in a heartbeat, families will turn in family members to save them selves, and it is treasonous to speak out against Hitler. Helmuth takes a huge chance when he learns all this and decides to share what he knows with others. He enlists the help of two friends when he shares what he knows with them and begins a very dangerous mission to share what he learns on the BBC with others by writing up reports and passing them out in the night.
The book is written in novel form with flashbacks. It starts with Day 264 on Death Row in Plötzensee Prison, Berlin Germany, October 27, 1942. Helmuth was imprisoned for his crimes.
The first time he takes out the radio he knows it is a selfish act and that he is endangering his family, but he also knows that arresting people for their beliefs is wrong and on page 103 he says "Taking away our freedoms is a crime." It is his first step toward his execution. Listening to the radio he is shocked that the British are honest in announcing their losses. He writes a paper for school called “The War of the Plutocrats.” His teacher says it “suits the ideals of National Socialism…A plutocracy is a selfish government controlled by the wealthy, But National Socialism is a selfless government. A good Nazi works for the good of the Fatherland, not for self-interest and self-gain. A good Nazi is a good soldier for the Fatherland, one who can lead as well as follow.” (page 105) After class his teacher warns him that his idealism is dangerous and that he must be careful. Helmuth wants to tell him the truth, but is afraid instead he says, “I will go far. Just you wait and see. Someday you will hear something great about me." (page 107)
This is the story of a young man who not afraid to speak out, not afraid to speak the truth. I think it is an excellent book for use in the classroom and want to have my history students read it in the spring.
To find out the details of the story you need to read the book. It contains photos of the wall surrounding the prison, Helmuth, his family and friends. It also contains prints of a poster announcing his execution with the English translation, as well as Helmuth’s execution chamber. The horrors of Hitler extended beyond his horrendous treatment of the Jews. He executed children; Helmuth was 16 years old when he was executed. He was executed as an enemy of the state because he “fought for human rights, political freedom, and truth.” (page 167) Even worse was that his mother found out about his execution when she read about it in the newspaper, the following day and to add to that she was sent a bill for his execution, which included the cost of postage to mail it to her. Hitler's atrocities continue to be shown as we dig deeper and deeper into history.
How could such an evil man become a leader of so many? I pray history does not repeat itself.