Sunday, August 19, 2007
Daniel Half Human and the Good Nazi by David Chotjewitz
Daniel is half human. Now the logical question after this statement is: What is the other half? Perhaps Klingon? No, Daniel is half German and half Jewish and since Nazi Germany considers Jews to be a sub-human species, hence the half-human categorization.
Daniel, however, hasn’t always known about his Jewish ancestry. His mother wasn’t raised Jewish, and his parents have never mentioned it. So the story begins in 1933 with Daniel and his best friend Armin out painting swastikas on the walls of the town, trying to incite the local communists. They both desperately want to join the Hitler Youth, but their fathers won’t let them.
They are thrilled when the Nazis take control, but life soon changes drastically for them. Daniel finds out that his mother is a Jew and he cannot join the Hitler Youth because the background check will surely reveal his ancestry. Life becomes all about trying to hide who he is. Unfortunately, the secret gets out, and slowly the things that make up his life are taken away. His father, who is a prominent lawyer, loses his law firm because he is married to a Jewess, Daniel can no longer play soccer with his team and is eventually thrown out of school, and the family cannot enjoy doing such simple things as going to the cinema.
Throughout the story Daniel’s friend Armin sticks with him, but Armin does eventually join the Hitler Youth and has to make some very difficult decisions. Telling more would give away the ending so I’ll leave it there.
What made this book one of the best I’ve read this year? It was so very real and so very chilling. I truly understood how so many children were brainwashed in school to believe the superiority of their race above all others. The characters were real and sympathetic and I wanted each of them to end in peace with themselves and who they were. And finally, to watch the noose slowly being tightened around Daniel’s family’s necks, to know what happens in the end to the Jews who don’t manage to escape . . .
And then the ending. To be honest, I don’t know how I feel about the last page of the book. Obviously, I cannot talk about it without spoiling it, but it would make for great conversation. Let's say that it shocked me so much that I had to read it twice before it sunk in.
Last month I read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (I’m trying to read a play each summer). I would love to teach a class that used both the play and this novel because they would make for wonderful discussions. One of my favorite speeches is Shylock’s that reads in part “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” It is sad to think that in 2007 groups of people are still considered by other groups to be only half human. Will the day come when we just treat everyone like human beings?