Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction, Childrens
Released: 13 October 1999
Publisher: Angus & Robertson
The bombs were falling and the smoke rising from the concentration camps, but all Hitler's daughter knew was the world of lessons with Fraulein Gelber and the hedgehogs she rescued from the cold.
Was it just a story or did Hitler's daughter really exist? And if you were Hitler's daughter, would all the horror that occurred be your fault too? Do things that happened a long time ago still matter?
I first read this book back in year seven, and enjoyed it then. For some reason, out of the blue, I was really keen to read it again, and it's definitely as good as I remember nearly eight years later.
The book is essentially a story within a story. In the first story, a group of friends wait for the bus in the pouring rain and decide to play 'The Game', which is where someone comes up with the idea of a story, and Anna tells it. This time, Anna comes up with the idea of Hitler's Daughter, and so begins the second story. Heidi is far from the genetically blessed ideal that Hitler is creating with his Aryan race. She has dark hair, dark eyes and a birthmark across most of her face. Yet, Hitler never sacrificed her, and while he may not outright claim she is his, he shows her some form of compassion. Outside, Germany is crumbling as World War Two rages throughout Europe, and while Heidi knows about the war, she is unaware that Hitler, her father, is the sole cause of everything that's happening. When it becomes clear that Germany is losing the war effort, Heidi soon comes to terms with just how dangerous the world is, and how little Hitler may really care for her. The story of Heidi strikes a nerve with Mark, who wonders if a child with evil parents will be evil also, and he begins to question how real the story actually is.
Now, this is a children's book, and the idea behind it is to introduce young audiences to World War Two and Hitler, without giving them the graphic details about the horrors that took place. Because it is a children's book, it isn't that long, which is a good and bad thing - good because it's manageable for kids, bad because at nineteen, I really wanted more of the story!
I really enjoyed the alternating between Heidi's story and Mark's story. It left you wanting more of one as you continued on with the other, and definitely keeps you interested. Through Mark, the reader is left with some ideas to ponder, mainly about how much of our parents shine through in us - just because our parents are one way, it doesn't necessarily mean that's how we will turn out. It would have been very easy for the story to be about how Heidi was in the midst of the battles, fighting for her father (like Ben kept insisting), but it was an interesting and thought provoking approach to make her live a relatively normal life away from the real horrors of war.
Heidi's story was really captivating, and made you really think about WWII from the perspective of someone living in Germany. Through many of the other characters, you are able to see how hard it was for people to watch family go off to battle, with very few returning home. Because Heidi is fictional (although some theorists do believe Hitler had a secret daughter) she gives readers a lot to think about regarding Hitler - what sort of father would he have been? What would it have been like to be his child? Would the child be like how Heidi is described, or more like the fighter that Ben wanted? Would Hitler have kept his own child if they weren't perfect?
This book is not about sympathising for Hitler, or lessening the horrors of WWII, but simply making you think about this point in time and imagining different scenarios that could have taken place. How many people would have thought about the possibility of Hitler having a daughter before reading this book? And even then, would you have pictured her this way?
I really enjoyed the book, and I am really excited to read the companion, Pennies For Hitler. Jackie French is a really great Australian author, and although a majority of this story takes place in Germany, her Australian setting feels like home to an Australian reader. She weaves in history so seamlessly that you don't realise that you're learning anything as you read. This is a must read for younger readers, and even older readers, who enjoy Australian authors, historic fiction, WWII, and just reading in general!