by Abigail Stone
I rushed home from school, eager to get away from the endlessly repetitive lessons our days seemed to consist of these days. All of them seemed to relate to the Nazis, and to Hitler. A few weeks ago the Jews had all left the school. I don't like Jews much. Everyone knows that they're traitors to our country, and they always have been penny-pinchers. My parents don't agree, but I don't listen to what they say much anymore. It's exactly the opposite of what the rest of the world tells me, and I'm inclined to believe the rest of the world over two people. However, the Jews looked so pathetic the day they were told to leave, huddling together in little groups, their yellow stars bright on their dark coats, that I almost felt sorry for them. Free of them, the teachers began to teach us about our new government.
Alone in my room, I read my new Nazi youth handbook as I put on my Youth Movement uniform. I had attended my first meeting of the girl's group for my area the day before, and was supposed to meet some girls from school in a few minutes to go to a rally with our group. I wasn't yet sure what to think. The others seemed to enjoy themselves so much, and all of the hikes and camping trips sounded like lots of fun. I really wasn't sure about the teachings of the group--about Hitler and making babies to join his army. I had always imagined myself really doing something greater, though I wasn't sure what, when I grew up. But the other girls seemed to have so much fun. Also, my parents weren't Nazis. They just sent me to enjoy myself. The camps were free and everyone in our area attended. I put these thoughts out of my mind. There really wasn't much time for thinking these days and I had to hurry.
At the sound of a knock from downstairs, I straightened my brand new uniform and ran down to answer. The girls who had convinced me to join, Margaret and Annie, stood there, also in their uniforms. "Ready, Lisa?" Margaret asked, grinning. I smiled back, trying to forget my misgivings for the moment. I was very excited. My parents weren't happy about my going. They'd told me that the camp was fine, but rallies that went against their beliefs were not. At last, after I'd begged and begged, they'd agreed to just this once.
I had been thrilled when Annie and Margaret, the two most popular girls in school, had approached me about the group. I'd never had any real friends at school. I'd always been disliked for the fact that I was smart and teachers liked me. Once the Nazis took power even the teachers had hated me for my Socialist parents. So I was very excited to be asked to join the group, to be noticed and even possibly liked.
We hurried down the street. Around us were the other neighborhood kids, all dressed as we were, heading in the same direction. It felt good to be part of the group, not to be the only kid alone at home. We met our group leader and filed into the room where the rally was being held.
At the rally, a man lectured us about being good Nazis as we stood at attention. Caught up in the wild enthusiasm of the group, bursting with excitement and "heil"ing with all of our might when it was time, I forgot all of my earlier misgivings in the joy of being part of something greater than myself. For one of the first times in my life, I felt like I belonged. We would be led, told what to do. I'd never have to worry about being alone anymore. We would do all we could to bring back Germany's lost glory.
As we filed out at the end of the rally, the high, happy feeling I'd been having gradually went away, and I began to wonder again. However, the group feeling of the rally had been amazing. I wanted to learn more about this government that would change our country. Everyone's enthusiasm convinced me that if I knew more, I would be able to forget my doubts and give the Nazis my wholehearted support.
The next few weeks went by quickly. I was the happiest I'd ever been in my entire life. Now that I was a real member of the Nazi youth movement, my parents were forgotten. I always had somebody to eat lunch with. The other girls all suddenly became my friends. I even noticed a few boys looking at me. My grades in school came back up. And always, after school, there were the meetings, hikes and rallies with my youth group. I hardly had any time to doubt anymore or even to think, I was so busy. The only thing to ruin my happiness was the occasional sad glances from my parents, the looks they shared when I came home from a meeting or rally bursting with excitement.
Generally, my parents were a problem. As I mentioned earlier, they were Socialists. Not radicals or anything, but Socialists. And Socialists were traitors to the Fatherland. I had never heard anything traitorous from mother and father, but according to my group leader, we should watch our parents for signs of deviant behavior. She'd looked pointedly at me when she said it. Everyone knew about my family. Even so, I couldn't see reporting my own parents. I still thought independently in some ways. Even so, I watched and wondered.
And one day, everything changed. I came home a little early from our usual Saturday afternoon hike, extremely excited. Our beloved Hitler was coming here! He would be here for three whole days and he was going to speak to the youth movement! I rushed in, but stopped short at the sound of my parents talking in low, worried tones. Instinctively, I walked in slowly and stood silently in our entranceway, where I could hear their voices clearly. What I heard shocked me beyond anything I'd ever heard.
"That man is a maniac!" came my father's voice. "See what his teachings have done to our own daughter! I hardly even know her anymore!"
"So you think we should put our lives and hers in jeopardy by helping with this attempt on Hitler's life? We'll all be killed!" My mother's voice was frantic.
I leaned against the wall and slid to the floor, shocked beyond words. Then I realized that they were still speaking and listened hard.
"I've told you this before," said my mother in a tense whisper. "We can' do this! We've never been radical people. We should stay out of it."
"It's our duty to our country! If everyone were like you, just sitting back and waiting for others to take action, nothing would ever get done."
He sighed. "I refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Nazis today."
"You did what?" There was a long silence, and then some soft sobs.
"Don't you realize what you've done?" my mother cried. "You've signed our death warrants!"
"We must do what we can. Maybe it's only a small chance, but it's a chance. Maybe, even if we fail, others will be inspired to do something, anything!"
Mother sounded resigned. "I can't believe it's right, but if you truly believe this, I'll do what I can to help."
"I'm certain that it's the right thing. I'll tell them that we'll help. The assassination is scheduled to happen the last day of Hitler's visit."
I didn't stay to hear more. I dashed up to my room and flung myself on the bed. My mind was in turmoil. I couldn't possibly decide what to do! I had a duty to my Fatherland, but didn't I also have one to my family? I was supposed to report this, but how could I? I took out the little black notebook I'd been given to write down signs of traitorous behavior and stared at a blank page for a long time.
I spent the week before Hitler's arrival being completely mixed up and forgetting everything. Soon it was the day that Hitler was scheduled to arrive and give a speech to us. We marched into the room in subdued excitement, completely controlled. And then there he was. Our beloved leader! I passed the rally in a bit of a daze, with the same feelings I'd felt my first time at attending. We hung on every word he said. We were ready to help the Nazi cause with our lives if necessary. At the end of the rally, Hitler, flanked by bodyguards, came out among us. He spoke a few words to several of the children, smiled at them or shook hands. Soon he came towards our group. I held my breath as he came towards me. He said something to me, but I don't remember what. I felt euphorically happy as he ruffled my blonde curls and moved on to talk to others.
I returned home, still in a daze, to collapse into a chair with a huge, silly smile on my face. A change had taken place when Hitler touched me. I had no doubts anymore. Everything was planned out for me and I liked it that way. I would soon drop out of school and start having babies for Hitler's army. That was all I wanted from life now. The smile disappeared as I remembered my parents' plot on Hitler's life. But it didn't stay away long. I wondered how I could ever have possibly doubted my duty. Of course my parents were traitors! I had to report them right away, before it was too late! I straightened my uniform and left the house silently, walking towards the youth organization headquarters. I never looked back.
This second place story was seriously considered as the first place winner because it tackled a very difficult subject: Nazi Germany, as seen through the eyes of an insecure young girl who is coerced by her own psychological needs into joining Hitler's Jungen. Such an ambitious attempt to lead readers to empathize with the difficult point of view is commendable, especially for this age category. The author obviously did a great deal of research so as to recreate Germany as it was in the 1940s. The story, however, remains too much of a concept, without enough emotional depth and detail for us to truly enter the lives of its characters. Readers need to know the protagonist and her family far better if they are to accept the startling denouement. Nevertheless, it is impressive to see a young writer take the risk of writing about a difficult subject so thoroughly that, for a moment, we live in its world and wish for more."
--Linda Gray Sexton