Book review

Hitler's Daughter by Jackie French (1999)

There are two stories in this book. First, there's the story about Mark and Anna, and Ben and Little Tracey who while away the time they spend waiting at the school bus stop by telling each other stories. Second, there's the story that Anna tells about Hitler's daughter, Heidi.

Did Hitler really have a daughter? No, it's pretty clear that he did not. So this is fiction. But by the end of the book you may be left wondering about the possibility, just like Mark in this story.

Anna tells the story of Heidi who is the unacknowledged daughter of Adolf Hitler. She is not acknowledged in public, but she is provided for by her father. She lives in isolation with a governess, Fraulein Gelber, and knows very little of the real political situation in Germany during the war. She receives very occasional visits from her father, whom she addresses as Duffi.

Now, this story is related very slowly over a period of a few days, so Mark, who begins to be drawn into the story, has time to consider the implications of the tale that Anna is telling him. He begins to wonder how it might really feel to be the child of someone wholly evil. Put simply, does that make the child evil too? No, of course not, but what can the child do about it? And how could the child continue to love someone who has committed a gross crime? These are difficult questions to answer:

The thought pestered him all through afternoon school.
People should do what they thought was right. But what if what you thought was right, was wrong?
Doing what everyone else did was no help either. If there was one thing that all that Hitler stuff showed, it was that most of a whole country could be wrong.
Had everyone back then really thought about things? Had they looked at the evidence ...?

As you will see when you read this book, Heidi simply keeps quiet and succeeds in making a new life for herself with a different identity after the end of the war. For her it is a question of going through life as 'Hitler's daughter' and bearing the notoriety which would automatically go with that, or just quietly being herself. Her father, Hitler, was dead of course.

Hitler's Daughter is just a story, but there are people alive today whose father's were known to support and assist Hitler. Wolf Hess, for example, is the son of Rudolf Hess, Hitler's friend. Rudolf Hess was the last remaining prisoner in Spandau Prison until his suicide in 1987. Wolf Hess campaigned tirelessly for his father's release from the prison claiming that his father's treatment was barbaric. There can be no doubt that Wolf Hess' life has been shaped by his status as the son of Rudolf Hess.

Don't be put off by the serious subject matter of this book. I enjoyed reading it very much. You really feel as though you are joining in with Mark and Anna as they come to terms with some of the worst aspects of our shared twentieth century history.

What can I read next?

The Second World War created many problems of conscience for us all. If you would like a 'safe' introduction to how it was during that war, for children, you might like to look at this book by Gaye Hicyilmaz about what happened to a Polish boy and his family:

Or this classic by Ian Serraillier:

Different war, but children are involved in every war - you might like to look at this diary by Zlata Filipovic who lived in Sarajevo:

Not a war story, but a story about a disturbed young girl, have a look at this book by Jacqueline Wilson:

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