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Novel study helps English II students learn about the Holocaust

It’s believed by many that if the Treaty of Versaille had not been enacted after World War I financially ruining Germany and many of the other Triple Alliance countries, World War II could’ve been avoided. Germany’s ruined financial status allowed Adolf Hitler to take power and through his leadership, even during the post Great Depression era, Germany became one of the richest countries during that time period.  

Ms. Mitchell’s 10th grade English class recently read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak which highlights a less glamorous side of urban life before and during the years of World War II and how the war took a toll on the Deutschland residents. This story, narrated by Death, follows little Liesel Meminger when she arrives on Himmel Street, himmel meaning ‘heaven’ in German, and to her, it turns out to be quite the opposite. Surrounded both literally and figuratively by Death himself and the effect he has on people, Liesel finds herself consistently encountering challenges posed by both the Fuhrer himself, who she believes took away her parents, and by beliefs often equated with her country that many of Germany’s inhabitants didn’t actually support. 

Many people find it difficult to sympathize with the struggles of Germany during the World War II era, mainly because they’ve been lumped into a stereotype grouping where they’re all seen as Nazi’s. Nazism and any of its symbols are illegal in Germany today, and at the time, although many were required to join the Nazi party, some didn’t support the values, and this posed a threat to their life. 

This is exemplified when Liesel herself becomes aware of the destruction of the Nazi Party, especially after she herself befriends a Jewish boy following up on a promise made nearly 20 years prior. This very easily helps us create a cultural distinction between the majority of the population of Germany versus the minority fascist ideology of those who held positions of power. A social distinction between the population can also be detected as nationalist pride fades and becomes terror under the reign of a totalitarian leader. 

Overall, the book gives us insight into life as a child, as well as the impacts of war, during that time. It also allowed for us to understand that things weren’t as they seemed and how historical propaganda has warped the image of German Nazism and combined it with German Nationalism.

Written by: Hannah Burnette, WHS Student
Posted: May 26, 2015 by Anna Waldrup

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